NOTE: This is a longer post than I normally put out, but to express completely what I wanted to say required a longer than normal piece, I hope you enjoy it. Please provide your feedback, I look forward to hearing from you.
In post #111 I wrote about how the change in policing is out of our hands and in the hands of the Ontario government. A new Police Services Act is due to be introduced in Queens Park following the multiple Safer Communities consultations. Former Community Safety and Corrections Minister Yasir Naqvi was hot on the trail for changes in policing before he was shuffled to take over the Attorney General Ministry. New Minister David Orazietti has not said much about any new legislation until this week’s Association of Municipalities conference.
During the Safer Communities meetings you could decipher which direction the government was heading by the questions it asked.
In the “Safer Communities” consultation, themes discussed were:
Community Safety and Well-Being; The Role of the Police Officer in the 21st Century; Education and Training; Accountability to the Public
Around these themes the following questions were asked:
In what way can the relationship between the police and members of your community, including vulnerable people, be improved?
What public safety roles personnel other than police officers, in your community, could do?
What, if any, forms of technology would improve community safety?
What should be the required minimum level of education for new recruits?
What police skills do you think are the most important?
Looking at some of these questions, there is a subtle direction from the government to take the police, or some of them, out of traditional police roles and to put them in the community. However I want to concentrate on two specifics in making our communities safer.
I do think the most important question that we need to spend a lot of energy on when it comes to policing is how we protect the vulnerable in our community. Until as a society we can treat and provide shelter for those with mental illness in a true caring manner we need to adjust how we protect those with metal illness and also prevent harm being done to others by the vulnerable. Should the police be taken out of the equation when a call comes where mental distress is at the centre of the issue is that the answer. There is talk of having social workers trained in these areas ride with police in a so-called Community Care Cruiser. This would be impractical as not all calls are about mental illness vulnerability and in other calls it places these social workers in a line of potential harm.
The government and policing itself needs to strongly consider police officers with social worker training and education as part of a specialized unit to work with healthcare workers and shelter providers protecting the vulnerable and being to diffuse very sensitive and troubling situations. It would take time, perhaps years to have these fully functional, staffed and running – but consider how the outcome of Abdirahman Abdi could have been different with such units in place in Ottawa.
Another of the interesting debates that I heard was around what educational background our new recruits should have. It was overshadowed by the larger topic of what skills a police officer should have. In one session 73% thought a new recruit should have a college or university education while only 23% believed a high school or equivalent diploma should be the minimum needed.
For a while I was part of the 73% that is until I spoke to a friend of mine who is in the policing community. The sense of the question was ‘do we get rid of high school graduates and require a higher education prerequisite?’ As I stated, I was part of the 73%. My friend put a strong case forward for recruits that join a force with no post secondary education. It was her experience that these police bring a skill set that education cannot teach – compassion, humanity and a down to earth temperament that is needed and cannot be taught. These police may not rise high in a force, but they can turn a force from being about policing to one about being part of a community. Understanding that we want our police to reflect our community it should mirror our society, we need to allow all educational backgrounds to have the chance to serve in our community in a policing role. If the government places an educational background minimum higher that high school our communities lose the opportunity to reflect our Ottawa and our Ontario. You can now put me in that 23%
A new Police Services Act is due to be introduced early fall following these consultations. Asked at the municipalities’ conference when the new legislation would be introduced, the Minister said “We will do our best for the fall, but it is not definite. We want full discussion.” When that legislation is introduced the public will have further opportunity to provide input into the conversation. Recent events involving police in Ottawa and other centers will certainly motivate the outspoken to appear. It is important that all temperaments towards policing speak to give a balanced view for the government to hear.
We don’t know where this will lead, but the government certainly has built a path they want us to take.
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