Police Board Follows Mayor’s Lead on Tackling Better Community Relations

Considering the moment, it’s understandable why a lot of eyes were on the Guelph Police Services Board meeting on Thursday. Mayor Cam Guthrie brought a series of motions to this meeting with the hope that they might answer community demands for more transparency and accountability to the community from Guelph Police, and, for the most part, everyone at the meeting agreed that these changes needed to be made.

Before discussing the mayor’s motions, Guelph Police Chief Gord Cobey addressed the current events saying that he and his officers have spent the last few weeks considering how they and they’re work is being perceived by the Black, Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC) community.

“It’s caused us all to recognize and acknowledge as a country, as a community, and as a police service that racism, prejudice, and bias does exist, and this is unacceptable,” Cobey said. “We are committed to listening, learning, and taking steps to better understand the extent of this reality in our community, and in our service, and to take action to achieve real and lasting change.”

Cobey explained that he and others in the Police Service’s leadership have been engaging with community members both before and after the Black Lives Matter march in Downtown Guelph on June 6. He said that as recently as Thursday morning, that he, the members in charge of training and recruitment, and the chair of the Guelph Police’s internal Diversity Committee met with members of Guelph Black Heritage Society.

“We’ve all committed to expanding this conversation so that we can work together to make sure our community becomes an example for all others to follow,” Cobey added. “We began the process to review our practices and programmes with a view to listen, learn, and best represent and serve our community.”

On Wednesday, Mayor Cam Guthrie shared 11 motions that he was bringing to Thursday’s meeting of the Police Board to help enshrine that commitment. Guthrie said that when it came to his intention with all the motions thatt he submitted, “the process needs to strive towards betterment, not punishment.”

“If we want to look at processes, if we want to have conversations, or if we want to look at policies to make things better, then sign me up, but I am not here to punish the good men and women on this force that do one heck of a job for our community,” Guthrie said.

Here are the 11 motions from Guthrie:

1. Current status and details of the IMPACT program along with any recommendations for expansion of this program.

2. Details around current Community Policing Partnerships that exist in the community, with any recognition of gaps that may exist, and to identify further opportunities and recommendations to create sustainable and meaningful relationships with identified groups within the City of Guelph, focused on those identified within the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour in our community. Along with consideration of current partnerships that may no longer be required.

3. That further consideration for use of technology be considered with a focus on increasing trust, finding efficiency, and ease of use for our citizens.

4. A report outlining all training, (pre-badge and during badge) on de-escalation techniques,diversity and cultural sensitivity training (both internal and external facing from the membership) and that the Chief include any recommendations for furthering this training to the Guelph Police Services Board for further consideration, and that the Guelph Police Services Board members commit to training on these issues on an annual basis.

5. That a report outlining the public complaint process be brought forward for information with any recommendations as to provide ease of access to any methods of submitting complaints.

6. That a report on street checks or “carding”, including any metrics or data over the last 5years within Guelph be brought forward for information and consideration of next steps.

7. That information on data entry, including how calls for service are entered into the record management system be examined with any recommendations for further expansion of data entry to identify interactions with anyone from the Black, Indigenous or people of colour community to further transparency.

8. To outline any information brought forward from the Ontario Chiefs of Police on policing reforms so that further advocacy considerations can be reviewed by the board.

9. That the Chief of Police be directed to establish a Police Diversity Advisory Committee and that the terms of reference be brought forward for further consideration which includes a quarterly update with any recommendations to be included. And that, the Board respectfully asks that the Police Services Association participate in the creation of this committee.

10. That an independent, third party process, be considered for monitoring through surveys,interviews or other methods of feedback on interactions between the Guelph Police Service and Guelph Citizens.

11. That the Chief of Police examine opportunities with Guelph’s Local Immigration Partnership on initiatives to connect with newly arrived immigrants and refugees in tandem with the “Welcome to Guelph” package.

Over the course of 20 minutes, the Board sought clarity on certain points including clause #9’s request to establish a Police Diversity Advisory Committee, and how that would be different from the current internal Diversity Committee. “That committee is evolving as we speak, but to [Guthrie’s] motion, it would be our hope to establish an external group as well to make sure that we also have a holistic community approach to work together and learn from our community,” Cobey said.

Councillor Christine Billings, who also sits on the Police Board, asked if clause #4’s reference to “de-escalation techniques” would include use-of-force training. Guthrie said that it was an oversight on his part to not explicitly mention the use-of-force as part of the report on training needs and requirements that are requested in that clause, and it was added in an amendment.

Outgoing Deputy Chief Paul Martin asked about the kind of public complaint process that Guthrie was asking for because there’s already a public complaints process, set out in legislation, that goes through the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, and reported to the Police Board on a quarterly basis.

“I have been hearing some issues within the community that there is no knowledge about how to make a complaint when they feel it’s warranted,” Guthrie said. “I would love to hear back in a report how the community can learn about this process, where they can find the information, or while you’re doing that research on a staff level, identify some gaps on where you could make things easier, or create more awareness in the community.”

In a separate agenda item, Guthrie brought forward three motions regarding the 2021 Police Budget.

1. That the Police Services Board direct the Chief of Police, alongside the Senior Leadership Team, and to respectfully ask the Police Services Association, to collaborate and strive for a 0% budget increase for the year 2021 and that options to achieve this goal be brought to the Board no later than October 1st, 2020 for further consideration.

2. That recommendations to further outreach, communications, engagement and transparency for all public Police Services Board meetings be tabled for considerations at an upcoming board meeting.

3. That a continuous scan of other Police Service Boards be done to identify best practices, policies and procedures on eliminating any negative culture within the police force, racism and intolerance.

Billings asked for an amendment to clause #1 to clarify that this measure was being taken in response to the pandemic noting that the night before at city council a measure was passed asking for all of Guelph’s partner boards and agencies to look for efficiencies for their 2021 budget.

“I think that we have been very mindful of the support, and the much needed expansion in last year’s budget, and it was actually my assumption that COVID-19, and the economic reality, was, in fact, the intent for number one versus some of the other economic conversations around policing in the last couple of weeks,” Cobey said.

The other “economic conversations” that Chief Cobey was referring to is the so-called “Defund the Police” movement. Toronto City Councillor Josh Matlow recently put forward a motion to cut the Toronto Police budget by 10 per cent, and re-invest those funds into other community programs.

“[Clause #1] is in relation to the fiscal realities of cities, and the taxpayers that keep our cities running,” Guthrie clarified. “This is a great opportunity for us to really roll up our sleeves and try to figure out some next steps on how to look at the fiscal realities of affordability within the community. And it’s also an option for us to look how to better serve as a police board.”

Both motions were passed unanimously.

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