The delivery of effective and accountable policing services to the people of Ontario is vital to the overall safety and well-being of everyone who makes Ontario their home. Every person in our province has a right to feel that they, their loved ones, colleagues, and neighbours live and work in safe communities. To that end, public safety depends on police professionals who are ultimately accountable and dedicated to serving their fellow Ontarians.
Critical to effective and accountable policing services is the Chief of Police. Whether they oversee large or small organizations, services that police a municipality, a group of municipalities or a region or in urban or rural settings, Chiefs are required to provide the leadership needed to ensure their members are well-equipped and supported in performing their duties. The accountability of the Chief of Police is an important component in ensuring public accountability. In this regard, police services board (on behalf of the community) have a vital role in assessing the performance of the Chief.
In public comments made by a police association leader, it was suggested that a police association is in the best position to assess the performance of the Chief of Police. While police associations play an important role in labour relations and in the representation of their members, it needs to be clearly understood that police services boards have both the legal jurisdiction and the public mandate to direct Chiefs of Police and monitor their performance.
In accordance with section 31(1) of the Police Services Act (PSA), police services boards are responsible for the provision of adequate and effective policing within their respective communities. A board’s statutory responsibilities include:
- Establishing policies for the effective management of the police service,
- Recruiting and appointing the Chief of Police and any deputy chief of police, and
- Directing the Chief of Police and monitoring his or her performance.
Boards play an important role in maintaining, in the words of Sir Robert Peel, “the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police.” They embody the public’s oversight of a police service with board members appointed in equal number from the duly elected regional or municipal council and by the province, plus one community member chosen by the council [PSA, s.33].
Boards consult and work with members of the public, through the development of their business plans [O. Reg. 3/99, s.30] and in their participation in the preparation of municipal community safety and well-being plans [PSA, s.145(1)7.]
It is the duty of the Chief of Police to administer and oversee the operations of the police service in accordance with the objectives, priorities, and policies established by the board [PSA, s.41(1)(a).] They must also ensure that members of the police service carry out their duties lawfully and in a manner that reflects the needs of the community, and that discipline is maintained within the police service [PSA, s.41(1)(b)]
The foundation of any police service rests on two important pillars:
1. The members who serve under the Chief’s command,
2. The community that they all serve.
Both pillars are equally deserving of a voice. As public scrutiny of policing continues to grow, Chiefs of Police are expected to be agents of change. In turn, Chiefs are counting on police services boards to provide effective governance and to assess the Chief’s performance in accordance with the law and their communities’ needs.
The experiences and views of police service members are important to the overall well-being and effectiveness of a police organization. Every Chief of Police endeavours to engage with members at many levels – on the job, through their engagement with the police services boards, in their internal communication to members, in the community, etc. Healthy, effective police workplaces require every member to do their absolute best to serve the public and support their fellow police service members.
The best way to address issues in the police workplace is clear and honest dialogue between senior management and frontline members. Police associations are an important partner in this, as are police service boards.
Police boards have clear responsibilities, among which are the exclusive responsibility to assess the performance of the Chief of Police. Police associations should be in constant dialogue with the Chief and senior management on issues that are important to their members. However, it must be reiterated that it is a legislative fact that Boards have the legal jurisdiction and the public mandate to assess the Chief’s performance.
There are significant challenges (and opportunities) facing policing. The public is clear that they expect to see effective, accountable police services that meet the changing realities and needs of the communities they serve. They expect the public’s significant investments in policing to deliver community safety and well-being to all members of the community, in a transparent and respectful manner.
It is time that all police actors – police services boards, senior managers, police associations – commit to honest dialogue, positive change, and collaboration in relation to their common goal of serving the public and supporting police personnel in accomplishing their important task during challenging times.
Chief Jim MacSween
President, Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police
Chair, Ontario Association of Police Services Boards