In his review of police oversight, Justice Michael Tulloch recommended that Ontario follow the lead of England and Wales and create a College of Policing to develop “a culture of professionalization through a more regulated body.”
Chief Constable Alex Marshall references midwifery more than you might expect for lifelong cop. But in his current role as chief executive officer of England and Wales’ College of Policing, the business of birthing babies helps explain how the world’s first professional police body came to be.
When a midwife arrives at a home, he explains, you assume that as a member of a regulated profession she is qualified to deliver a baby. She knows best practices for complications that arise, based on up-to-date research. She is properly accredited and has specialized skills.
But if a police officer shows up at the house next door, where a woman is being abused by her husband and their children are at risk, he’s not certain equivalent assumptions can be made.
“Are they qualified to the same level? Did they undertake the same continuing professional development? Are they up to speed with the latest developments in their profession?” Marshall, who has been in policing for nearly four decades, asks in a recent interview.
“Over here, I think if you make that comparison, we haven’t supported the front-line police officers sufficiently that the answer would be yes. The answer at the moment would be no.”
England and Wales are working toward that “yes” thanks to the ongoing move to professionalize policing, creating in 2012 a College of Policing similar to regulating bodies overseeing lawyers, doctors, teachers, nurses, midwives and more.
Headquartered in London, the policing college — which oversees 200,000 police personnel, serving 50 million people — is in the midst of implementing significant changes, including introducing post-secondary educational requirements, licensing for specialized roles within policing, and developing ongoing training to reflect the shifting demands of police work, including interactions with people with mental health challenges.
“In essence it’s to raise professional standards in policing and particularly to recognize that police work has changed really quite dramatically in recent years,” Marshall said.
The unprecedented model is one Ontario would be wise to study, according to Justice Michael Tulloch.
In his far-reaching report on police oversight the Ontario Court of Appeal judge recommended Ontario give “serious consideration” to establishing a professional body for policing.
Stressing that it would not replace the watchdogs he was tasked with reviewing, such as the Special Investigations Unit, Tulloch said a college of policing could ultimately reduce the work of the province’s oversight agencies “through the selection, promotion, and support of officers who embody the ideals of professionalism.”
Among the central aims of such a college, Tulloch said, would be establishing province-wide standards for hiring and promotion. Requirements needed to enter and continue in policing “remain largely static, ill-defined, and inconsistent,” Tulloch wrote.
All police officers undergo training at the Ontario Police College, located in Aylmer, Ont. which provides basic recruit training as well as refresher and specialist courses. But some services, including the Toronto police, provide their own additional training from the recruit stage onward, meaning there is no “consistent, province-wide professional standard.”
Additionally, a college of policing could establish greater mandatory education for all Ontario officers in the increasingly vital areas of anti-racism studies, mental health, domestic abuse, social and cultural said the development of a professional body could help achieve a more progressive and inclusive police culture from the ground up, countering the “indoctrination” that happens “as early as initial training.”
“Stakeholders told me that training emphasizes traits such as physical strength, stoicism, and loyalty to fellow officers. While those traits are admirable and may be beneficial to the work of a police officer, they should not overwhelm other traditional traits such as empathy and compassion.”
Indeed, during the development of England and Wales’ college, Marshall says there was initial resistance from police ranks, in part because of the “British Bobby” tradition — an old-school term for what’s now considered an outdated definition of a cop, prized for traits such as toughness and bravery.
“They need that as well, but that’s rather underestimating the critical thinking you need from people in policing now, dealing with complex child abuse cases, domestic violence cases, online cyber fraud — it’s not quite as it was when I joined 37 years ago.”
Buy-in from the front line, Marshall said, is “improving all the time,” though he acknowledges that there is still a long way to go. What has helped is sending the message that the college exists to help officers better understand the role of modern police.
The college’s code of ethics, for example, is intended to help officers “make difficult decisions and stay on the right line ethically — it’s not the naughty book on the things you can get wrong,” Marshall said.
Bruce Chapman, president of the Police Association of Ontario, said called a professional police college an “interesting concept” and said learning more about the England and Wales model is high on his priority list following Tulloch’s recommendation.
But he said there are “a million unanswered questions” about what college would look like in Ontario — including how existing training programs, such as post-secondary “police foundations” courses, would fit into the picture.
He also said there is already a similar training and standards requirements for specialized roles within policing.
“To be an expert witness in, say, the drug squad, you have to go through the educational component. So whether you attach a certification or a license to it, basically they are all certified anyway,” Chapman said. “If the college wants to standardize it . . . I don’t think we have any issues with it.”
Terry Coleman, who spent decades with the Calgary Police Service and is a former Moose Jaw police chief, agreed with an important distinction Tulloch made in his report: “policing language is always about training, but what we’re talking about is education.”
Coleman strongly supports the idea of developing a licence for some roles within policing, saying it could go a long way toward the central goal of policing today: the establishment and maintenance of public confidence, he said.
Paul McKenna, Paul McKenna, a public safety consultant and adjunct professor at Dalhousie University, also supports the professionalizing policing, saying that across Canada there needs to be an “unpacking” of what police academies teach.
“It still strikes me as very bizarre that in the 21st century, when we’re trying to create a different kind of officer — someone who has communication skills and can de-escalate — that we still spend huge amounts of time on close-order drills, so that we teach them to march.
“That to me symbolizes part of what is, perhaps, wrong with the model of police training right now.”
Ontario’s Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said his ministry, which commissioned Tulloch’s report on police oversight, will closely review the judge’s 129 recommendations.