Letter to Ottawa Police Board

Rideau-Rockcliffe Councillor Rawlson King submitted a letter to the Ottawa Police Service Board for its June 22, 2020 meeting concerning police reform.

 

June 22, 2020

 

Acting Chair L.A. “Sandy” Smallwood
Ottawa Police Services Board
110, Laurier Street W.
Ottawa, ON K1P 1J1

 

Dear Board Members,

Following the killing of George Floyd by police in the United States, we are witnessing a historic social movement across the world and here in Canada. This is a consequential moment in our history that impacts all of us. While this recent tragedy has occurred in the United States, we know that racism persists in Canada and here in Ottawa.

This tragic incident is especially painful in Ottawa as residents from our Black, Indigenous and racialized communities are also confronted by the same major and historical challenges, which include anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, police brutality, the controversial practice of carding, and the wide economic disparities encountered by Indigenous communities and people of colour.

Because too many people in Ottawa experience high levels of racism and injustice, which has been demonstrated with the deaths of Abdirahman Abdi and Greg Ritchie, it is important that we take continued steps to ensure that the human rights and dignity of all people are protected.  Therefore, I am supportive of Member Nirman’s motion to address systemic racism, discrimination and bias in order to create a more equitable and inclusive Ottawa Police Service (OPS). His motion calls for the redesign of long-standing structures and systems that exist within the OPS to ensure that they are more equitable and inclusive. We must all stand in solidarity and recognize that we all have a role in addressing and eliminating racism and humanizing all interactions with our community members. Consequently, I support the OPS in establishing a partnership with the City of Ottawa's new Anti-Racism Secretariat to ensure that the Police Service considers leading practices to address systemic racism.

Systemic or institutional racism is the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people. The Ontario Human Rights Commission defines systemic racism as "patterns of behaviour, policies or practices that are part of the structures of an organization, and which create or perpetuate disadvantage for racialized persons."  Systemic racism has a devastating impact when it serves to deny members of Ottawa’s diverse communities the equal opportunity to succeed.  It must therefore be the responsibility of the Police Service to address these challenges.

Systemic racism affects every aspect of life for Indigenous and racialized people. The impact of racism is so profound that the Ottawa Board of Health recently declared it an important health concern. Ottawa Public Health has acknowledged that people who experience racism, discrimination and stigma have poorer health, including higher chances of death. The agency notes that the harm that racism causes to the health of people from African, Caribbean and Black communities can be measured across several socioeconomic factors, including health and education outcomes.  The combination of these negative factors, in conjunction with the well documented failures and impacts of the criminal justice system upon these communities demonstrates the need to reform the OPS in order to address systemic racism.

Community members in Ottawa have long recommended that the OPS acknowledge and address issues of systemic racism that exist within the Police Service. They have previously called on the OPS to hire and promote racialized officers, address officer discipline for racist behaviour, extend race data collection to on-foot street checks, and monitor performance on key equity measures.  Members of the Black and racialized communities have also called for the Ottawa Police Services Board to hold the Chief of Police and OPS accountable for equitable policing.

Most recently, the Co-Chair of the Community Equity Council has called for improved community engagement and accountability concerning how "transformation" to end systemic racism within the Police Service can be operationalized. Community members, especially youth, have indicated that they want to be involved in Police Service reform and transformation.  I applaud their efforts, which is why I made an inquiry at Council asking City staff to review multiple options for a public engagement process on the subject of police reform, which should include input from members of the public, community organizations and City departments and agencies, including: Community and Social Services, Ottawa Public Health, and Crime Prevention Ottawa, among others.

I would like to acknowledge that progress has taken place toward improving equitable policing with the recent creation of the Respect, Values and Inclusion Directorate, which is designed to incorporate a “whole-of-service” approach concerning issues of workplace harassment, discrimination, human rights issues, as well as ethics, equity, diversity and inclusion principles. During the 2020 budget process, I asked the Chief of Police whether OPS had adequate resources for its equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives and we both concurred that more investments are required.  I believe that both the Chief and the Board are committed to meaningful cultural change at OPS, but that changes need to be more rapid and better funded, especially concerning EDI, to build public trust.

While I applaud the Chief of Police’s commitment to changes to policing in Ottawa, community members want to ensure that a meaningful public consultation process emerges that redirects funding away from traditional law enforcement to social services. I believe historically marginalized communities expect institutional reform, which is why a call to “defund the police” has become popular in the wake of mass protests throughout the United States, Canada and the world to address police violence, systemic racism and structural inequality.  The call for police defunding however is neither politically or legally applicable in Ontario since legislative and government expense structures do not permit the arbitrary removal of resources from police services at the municipal level.

As a separate and independent organization, OPS is governed by the Police Services Act and is accountable to Ottawa Police Service Board and other provincial entities, including the Ontario Civilian Police Commission. While several Councillors are appointed to the Board, their responsibilities are determined by provincial legislation and Council cannot direct how those Councillors execute their roles as Members of the Police Services Board.  The main objective of the Board is to approve an annual police budget, which by law must provide enough resources for “adequate and effective policing” in accordance with the needs of the municipality. While City Council ultimately approves the overall budget for the Board, it legally cannot accept or reject individual line items within the budget. If, in the Board's view, the budget set by City Council is insufficient to provide appropriate policing resources in the City, the Ontario Civilian Police Commission will be asked to determine the budget. 

Council does not have the autonomous capacity to alter the police mandate, direct operational functions of the police, withhold resources that inhibit “adequate and effective policing”, unilaterally cut the police budget in order to transfer money from the police’s financial envelope to other social investments. What Council can however do is allocate and advocate for more social investments under its direct purview, in order to facilitate early interventions to mitigate the disproportionate harm that Black, Indigenous and racialized people experience through their contact with the justice system.

A first step must be to make greater investments in communities to address the systemic causes of crime.  Therefore I am supportive of enhanced investments to support Ottawa’s social services infrastructure, in order to help residents and communities meet their social needs, maximize their potential, and enhance community resilience and well-being.  The Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres recommends that Ottawa City Council create a 2019-2022 Term of Council Priority that prioritizes social services, with clear targets for strengthening these services. The Coalition recommends investments of at least $5 million over and above existing funding to increase social services in order to provide adequate support to people who risk falling through the cracks.

Such investments in communities trumps police enforcement, which can allow our municipality to move away from reactionary, incident-driven responses and instead refocus efforts towards the long-term benefits of social development and prevention. Therefore, under this funding envelope we must increase investments in health and social service agencies.  Our federal government partner needs to assist our City government in providing these extra funds to community health and research centres and must also properly fund social programs led by Black and Indigenous people, especially in high-need neighbourhoods, in order to provide the proper level of support for these communities.  The Black community especially wants more community investments, considering commitments the federal government has agreed to by signing onto the United Nations Decade for People of African Descent (UNDPAD).

Senior levels of government must also assist the City with permanent funding for its Building Better Revitalized Neighbourhoods program, whose goal is to improve the health, vibrancy and liveability of priority neighbourhoods within the City of Ottawa.  The program allows for the creation of neighbourhood-specific action plans with the objective of delivering high-impact revitalization projects in high-need neighbourhoods which are completed by leveraging the efficiencies, opportunities and strengths that every Department in the City can leverage from land use planning to infrastructure improvements to parks and social services.  The program is a unique, made-in-Ottawa approach that needs to continue beyond its one-time operating budget mandates and be expanded throughout the City.

The City of Ottawa also needs appropriate resources to address emergency mental health crises. Our city needs to fund new mobile mental health crisis intervention programs so that we do not need to rely solely upon the Police Service to respond to people in crisis. Ottawa should emulate cities in the United States and Europe that have developed mental health crisis assistance models that work independently with the police.  Under such an approach, medical professional and crisis worker teams provide first aid in case of urgent psychological crisis. They assess, provide information, referrals, advocate for people and even bring them to another non-profit where they can get additional support.  This approach serves to reduce the role of police when they encounter people who suffer from mental health problems and thereby de-escalate scenarios which could result in police violence.

I also believe our City needs a comprehensive Youth Strategy, building upon past Youth Action Plans, designed to provide greater educational and recreational opportunities through new programming for at-risk youth. Such a strategy would aim to create proactive solutions to help our young people become better educated, better connected, better employed and better engaged with the community.  I believe that working proactively with our youth will help reduce the disproportionate amount of violent gang and street crime that our City experiences.

Lack of opportunities, a lack of programming in critical hours, and lack of employment alternatives to the illicit drug trade must all be addressed by a City-wide Youth Strategy.  Increased risk of high school dropout starts in early childhood in low-income communities, where dropout rates can reach 50 percent or more. Youth in low-income communities face significant barriers to education that impact their chances of graduating from high school which include – lack of access to nutritious meals, financial stability, educational resources and proper transportation. Local datasets demonstrate that three hours alone each day puts children at risk and one in five children and youth has a mental health problem. A larger social service budget allocation towards prevention will ultimately result with less money toward incarceration. Data also reveals that young adults who do not graduate from high school have lower labour force participation.   Oftentimes, the strongest factors that predict offending are growing up in a low socioeconomic status household, associating with delinquent friends, attending high-delinquency-rate schools, and living in deprived areas. However, all these adversities tend to be associated with individual and family adversities. One of the best environmental protective factors is high academic focus in schools (e.g., emphasizing homework, academic classes, and task orientation), along with increased investments in after-school community programs.

The goal of a comprehensive Youth Strategy should be to improve the overall quality of life of young people ages 13 to 24 residing throughout the City, with an objective of expanding the awareness of young people, their parents and the general public of the programs and resources available to youth, and increasing the engagement of young people in these activities; improving educational outcomes of our youth by reducing dropout rates and raising graduation rates; increasing the opportunities for young people to access good employment in the private, nonprofit and public sectors, and to job training programs; reducing the barriers faced by young people to affordable transportation; and increasing access by young people to barrier-free or affordable recreational programs and services. The City must also enhance its holistic investments in criminal justice diversion such as community projects conducted by Crime Prevention Ottawa, the Ottawa Child and Youth Initiative and Youth Futures and Youth Ottawa. While critics will suggest that we cannot afford to pay for all the additional investments, such sending ultimately makes economic sense. Each high school graduate in Ontario saves the provincial government $3,000 a year in social assistance, healthcare and criminal justice spending.  It will be important that the City Council and Board unite to work to seek additional funding for community programming.  As you might be aware, the federal government outlined in its Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Mandate Letter additional resources to establish a dedicated funding stream for municipalities to fight gang-related violence and expand diversion programs that keep at-risk youth out of the criminal justice system.

A unified funding request by Council and the Board for the federal government to support both social service funding for the City and an enhanced Youth Strategy would bolster funding for social programming directed to community resource centres in marginalized neighbourhoods throughout the City; along with crime prevention programming, and increased investments in after-school programs.  Ideally, such funding would also complement the City’s newly proposed Integrated Neighbourhood Service Teams, designed to maximize the impact of the City’s community development efforts for neighbourhoods and individuals facing the most complex needs.  Ideally, an additional $15 million investment from the federal government would address an enhanced effort during this Council Term for additional investments in social service infrastructure, culturally specific programming for Black and Indigenous communities, making the Building Better Revitalized Neighbourhoods program permanent, new mobile mental health resources and a renewed Youth Strategy.

A major component of this Strategy should also include Ottawa establishing itself as a “Child Friendly City”. More than 100 mayors throughout the world have signed declarations as part of  UNICEF’s Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFCI). These cities have committed to demonstrate concrete, sustainable and measurable results for children, advance meaningful and inclusive child participation and work to eliminate discrimination against children and young people in policies and actions. By declaring itself a Child Friendly City, Ottawa would build upon its recent child friendly proclamation and formally recognize the huge influence that our City government exerts on children’s lives and well-being. The CFCI guiding principles can provide a foundation for how we undertake reform. CFCI principles that focus on non-discrimination and the best interests of the child and equity and inclusion are some of these examples.  The CFCI framework has strategies for collecting data and monitoring progress so that as a City, we can employ this as a tool.  Declaring Ottawa as a UNICEF recognized Child Friendly City will also mean that a child friendly approach will have to be adopted into our policy making. It will be a statement to the world that Ottawa is serious about its future through investing in our youth as we will be held accountable through measurable targets.

As the Police Services Board moves to address the matter of severe distrust in the police force engendered by many communities across this City, there must be a renewed effort for sustained reconciliation and systemic change. The intention behind my motion to Council to reduce gun violence last June was to highlight the disproportionate impact gun related street crime is having on marginalized communities throughout the City. For decades, policing vulnerable communities in Ottawa has been conducted through an inadequate model of deterrence that prioritizes arrests over the well-being of the community.

What must be understood is that the current model of enforcement-driven policing has created intergenerational barriers. These barriers in turn contribute to the ongoing sense of distrust and disillusionment with the systems that are intended to protect our communities. The Ottawa Police Service has not been effective in reducing crime within marginalized communities with the current deterrence-centric model. My gun violence motion was thus designed to emphasize community policing and sustainable partnerships with social service providers, in order to develop a combined strategic approach that integrates City-led well-being strategies and increased neighbourhood resources, with a better model of community policing.

Our focus should be placed on crime prevention through enhanced community resources and youth diversion programming. This vision continues to build upon my constituents concerns around overcriminalization and over policing in high-needs neighbourhoods and community mistrust in the Ottawa Police Service. However, we must acknowledge the promising actions recently taken by the Ottawa Police Service, including the development of the Neighborhood Resource Teams (NRTs).  The teams provide a degree of cautious optimism for communities who hope to see policing in Ottawa move toward a sustainable model of community-based engagement. NRTs need to be enhanced to ensure that the model is emphasizing a problem-solving rather than an enforcement approach. The NRT pilot would benefit from emulating the model that the Ottawa Community Safety Services utilizes, which includes i) being present and approachable in the community; ii) responding to community concerns related to safety; iii) working in collaboration with residents and community partners and; iv) adopting a community-based problem solving approach.

Early indications have shown that the NRT pilot and Integrated Neighbourhood Service Teams have been more effective in meeting community expectations for the future of policing. Therefore, I strongly recommend enhancing the pilot to reflect more of a problem-solving approach, along with working towards continuity and permanence of the program for deployment on a much wider scale across the City. In addition, officers should be provided with the training and resources they need to assist victims, especially of violent crime experienced by the Black community, and disrupt the root causes of crime.

In recent years, municipal jurisdictions around the world have been moving toward "progressive service-oriented policing" as such a model emphasizes overall community recovery rather than traditional deterrence. Specifically, the Glasgow model of policing is an integrated approach, which encapsulates not just policing, but youth crime deterrence, along with community resources that encourage economic opportunity and community growth. Such an approach is premised on the basis that public order is dependent on addressing the social and economic realities facing communities, particularly those affecting young people. This model focuses on the reduction of anti-social behaviour at early stages of criminal activity by deploying teams equipped with the resources and community service connections necessary to directly assist at-risk youth. This approach should be studied and ideally adopted in Ottawa, as there remains considerable work to be done through building an integrated approach that will best address the interests of at-risk families, youth and disadvantaged people who would be better served through extending community services and opportunities rather than strategies aimed at subjecting them to traditional law enforcement models.

After having reviewed the OPS report supplied to the Police Services Board in response to my gun violence motion, I note that the report falls short of addressing illegal gun reduction efforts such as a buy-back program. There was mention of the ‘pistols for pixels’ pilot program and a dismissal of gun buy back options as ineffective. However, the report made no mention of alternatives which may be effective in reducing the number of illegal guns in our communities. The federal and provincial orders of government must lead the way on the issue of reducing gun crime, as the City has a limited legislative capacity to cope with the ongoing flood of illegal handguns into our jurisdiction.

For Rideau-Rockcliffe Ward, which encompasses one of Canada's poorest communities, the issue of gun violence is multifaceted and merits a complex response by all orders of government. I believe that residents within Ward 13 want the tools to be able to regulate the use and ownership of handguns within the municipality and look forward to the forthcoming legislative changes promised by the federal government and how it might be functionally adopted by the municipality.

Overall, I thank the members of the OPS and Police Services Board for the report in response to my motion to curb gun violence. I look forward to the substantive actions will be taken to address my request for a renewed emphasis on community policing and sustained community partnerships.

 

Regards,

Rawlson King

 

CC: Police Service Board

Police of Chief and OPS Senior Leadership Team

City Council

Phone: 613-580-2483
Address: 110 Laurier Ave W, Ottawa, ON, K1P 1J1