By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
After a quarter century on the books, the province’s Police Services Act is up for review – and according to the members of the Durham Police Services Board, updates are long overdue.
In a letter to Yasir Naqvi, the provincial minister for community safety and correctional services, Roger Anderson, the regional chair for Durham and head of the police board, laid out some the changes he’d like to see, including having future officers already be trained by the time they start work with the force, changing how officers can be disciplined when they do something illegal and the role of police in the community.
“There are some things that some people would like and some people wouldn’t like, but when you look at some of the issues that are hitting the newspapers today, they seem to be the same things over and over again,” Anderson told The Oshawa Express shortly after the board approved the letter’s recommendations.
“After 25 years, the public expects something a little different.”
School before work
Under the current system, those wanting to become a police officer in Durham Region, as well as other police forces across the province, are sent off to get proper training before being put on the streets.
Anderson, however, says this approach is backwards compared to the rest of the work force.
“We’re looking for officers to be trained in advance of hiring them. I think that’s important. A lot of people today, we pick and then send them off to school,” he says.
“If you want to be an engineer, you go off to school to become an engineer. If you want to be an ambulance personnel, you have to go to school to be an EMS person. We think police services shouldn’t be paying for employees to learn the first part of the job. They should be doing this because they went to school for it and want to do it.”
Currently, prospective police officers will have a degree or other education in a field relating to policing, such as criminology or forensics. Once their application is accepted by a police force, they are then sent for training at the Ontario Police College in Aylmer, approximately 30 kilometres southeast of London. After a 13-week training program, graduates are able to become a cop anywhere in the province.
Getting paid while suspended
Another facet of the current iteration of the act that Anderson says he’d like to see changed is police officers still being paid while they are suspended.
“That change is long overdue.”
Currently, suspended cops in Ontario are still paid their salaries while under suspension, with those funds only being cut off should they be given a jail or prison sentence for their illegal actions.
Paul Martin, the chief of police for Durham, agrees that such a change needs to be made.
“Suspending someone for a lengthy period of time for, in some cases, acts they’ve committed off duty, yet paying them for long periods of time until the case itself winds its way through the system, I think is past its date,” Martin tells The Oshawa Express.
Martin says that at one point in time, the idea of having officers still being paid while under suspension had its purpose, but that now it simply isn’t working.
“I understand the intent of what that suspension with pay was intended to do, and that is as police officers, we’ll get into controversial situations. I think the…spirit of the legislation was pay people while allegations were making their way through the court as a result of their duties,” he says.
“But in some cases, we’re seeing cases where they’re off duty and they’ve committed serious offences. In some cases, they’ve been convicted of criminal offences, and yet we’re still winding our way through the Police Services Act trials and…all the appeals that go with that, and we’re continuing to pay them. Frankly, the community is not supportive of that anymore, and I can see that.”
Dave Selby, a spokesperson for Durham police, says that three officers are currently suspended with pay from the force.
The changing role of police
Martin says another thing he’s happy to see being proposed is the changing role of police, as well as how it interacts with outside agencies.
“We realize that we’re one component in the safety and security web of the Region of Durham, and what we’re trying to do is work with our partners that are, quite frankly, more qualified than we are to deal with issues of mental health, homelessness, poverty, other issues that impact on community safety,” he says.
Durham police have introduced new measures in recent years to deal with these growing issues, such as the creation of the Mental Health Support Unit and partnering with outside agencies for getting people off the street and into housing or shelters.
However, while Martin says police play a pivotal role in dealing with these issues and will continue to do so, there are other people in the community that are better equipped to deal with these issues.
“We don’t want to criminalize things like mental health, poverty and homelessness. That needs to be dealt with in the appropriate venue. Although we encounter it because we’re a 24/7 agency, we’re out there all the time and we’re there at the call of anyone,” Martin says.