Update: see previous post – September 6, 2015 Ontario: To Serve and Collect – Police Carding in Province
Police boards are meant to provide democratic, civilian oversight of local police. But where does their power begin and end?
Oversight or interference?
Police boards are meant to provide democratic, civilian oversight of local police. Provincial legislation — the Police Services Act — grants these boards special powers to direct and influence policing, hold chiefs accountable and more. But where does their power begin and end?
What is the role of a police board?
Civilian police boards serve the vital role of writing policies that direct police activity. The chief’s role is to implement those policies — or, in police lingo, to “operationalize” the policies.
If a board, hypothetically, wants a community policing program implemented, the chief will go back and dictate how that applies on the ground, by creating new positions, developing community outreach initiatives, and so on. The board controls the big picture, the chief takes care of the details.
The rationale behind this division is that it keeps board members from interfering in daily operations. The Police Services Act states: “The board shall not direct the chief of police with respect to specific operational decisions or with respect to the day-to-day operation of the police force.”
How can Peel Chief Jennifer Evans just refuse to stop carding?
The Peel police board only “recommended” on Friday that Evans suspend the controversial practice, based on legal advice that they could not force her to end it because of the limitations on “operational” involvement.
Boards can take action if a police chief is being insubordinate — that is, not following policies set by the board. But in this case, Evans is within her rights to decline to act because it was not a demand.
Ian Scott, former director of the province’s Special Investigations Unit and author of Issues in Civilian Oversight of Policing in Canada, said however that a chief should seriously consider all recommendations from her overseers.
“When you get down to it, this is the democratic civilian oversight body making the recommendation to the equivalent of a CEO of an organization, and (she’s) ignoring it,” he said. “What’s the point of having a board, if they’re going to be ignored?”
Scott said he hopes the Peel board will ratchet it up to a higher level and create a policy stating that carding must be temporarily suspended.
Has this division between policy and operations previously caused problems?
The Toronto police board experienced a major breakdown leading up to the disastrous policing of the G20 summit in 2010, according to retired judge John Morden, who wrote a harsh report examining the board’s failure to exercise proper oversight.
Morden called the Toronto police board a “voiceless entity … a mere bystander in a process it was supposed to lead.” A major part of the problem, Morden found, was that the board underestimated its powers because it knew it could not direct policing operations. The result was that the board did not ask enough questions about policing plans for the G20.
“(The board) viewed it as improper to ask questions about, comment on, or make recommendations concerning operational matters,” Morden wrote, saying it must inform itself about police operations and make suggestions.
The Toronto board also found itself at loggerheads with ex-chief Bill Blair after passing a new policy on carding in 2014. There was a months-long delay in Blair implementing the policy, which was resolved only when the board passed a severely watered-down version — to fervent public criticism.