Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Improving Transparency and Accountability

With Project Accountability, acting Chief Al Frederick has demonstrated that he is prepared to respond to the public demands for accountability and transparency following allegations of police misconduct including the vicious beating of a local doctor and attempts to cover it up.

The blueprint for change and its 27 recommendations should lead to significant change in both culture and procedure. In particular, the adoption of the more liberal definition of "serious harm" which triggers the duty to report incidents to the SIU, enhanced training, new conflict of interest rules, organizational review and a comprehensive external policy review that will be conducted by the OIPRD are all salutary measures. The acting chief has shown strong leadership and should be considered as a viable candidate to be the next chief.

However, other actors in the justice system such as judges, Crown attorneys and defence lawyers also play an important role and must respond appropriately to police misconduct.

If, for example, the police believe that Crown attorneys will not report their misconduct or that judges will not make findings of misconduct or denounce it through appropriate sentences, any efforts by police administration will be thwarted.

Any blueprint for change must include these key actors.

It must also be acknowledged that there are human rights issues facing the WPS that need to be remedied. For example, unconstitutional strip search practices, allegations of discrimination, and the recruitment, retention and promotion of female, racialized and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender officers.

Former chief Gary Smith was a leader in his commitment to changing the human rights culture of the WPS. He partnered with many organizations including the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Windsor Law's LEAP (Law Enforcement Accountability Project) and EGALE (Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere) to bring about change. He faced resistance to these initiatives and there is likely a change-resistant faction happy to see him gone.

So in addition to Project Accountability, here are some additional ideas that could form part of the blueprint for greater accountability and transparency:

* Commit to the human rights audit by the Ontario Human Rights Commission of practices and procedures initiated by former chief Smith, and implement the commission recommendations.

* Investigate the feasibility of a policy requiring all officers on duty and in the field (including officers employed by private organizations like bars) to wear a camera installed on their uniform. Technology now serves as the greatest engine of accountability as we saw with both the David Van Buskirk and Brad Snyder cases. The camera will protect officers from unwarranted accusations as well as to capture misconduct. It will also protect officers from abuse and violence as individuals will know that they are being videotaped. The head of the Ottawa Police Association has recently recommended that Ottawa implement a similar measure.

* Request that a Crown attor-ney be assigned to vet all cases involving police-initiated charges such as assault police, resist arrest, cause disturbance arising out of interactions with accused. The chief should be notified of any case where the Crown believes that the officer has used these kinds of offences to shield their misconduct and the charges should be withdrawn.

* Require the Crown Attorney's Office to notify the chief of any case where there is a judicial determination that an officer has engaged in misconduct or has provided false evidence. The chief should be required to notify the Police Services Board of all such communications from the Crown and how the matter has been dealt with. The Toronto Police Services Board is considering a similar policy.

And finally, the Windsor Police Services Board should consider moving its meetings out of the police station to more publicly accessible and friendly locations. Members of the public are much more likely to attend in these circumstances. And to gauge the concerns of the public and effectiveness of any reforms initiated, it should invite yearly deputations from community groups, experts and other interested individuals to provide information about issues surrounding the delivery of services.

Windsorites are proud of their police service. It has a strong record in crime reduction, building community relationships and moving the service forward to meet the challenges it faces.

With Project Accountability and consideration of these recommendations, it should not be long until public trust is restored.

David M. Tanovich is a professor of law at the University of Windsor and academic director of the Law Enforcement Accountability Project (LEAP).

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