London

London Police want you to know they're human, they screw up and you can complain

After a series of high profile cases of London Police officers behaving badly, the London Police Service stood in front of the city's major media and some of its most respected civic leaders to say officers are only human, that they make mistakes and there's also a way to complain.

Bad cops have made so many headlines, police hired a pollster to see whether they tarnished the badge

The London Police Service outlined its complaints process at a Thursday meeting of the London Police Services Board in response to a number of high profile cases of its officers behaving badly. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

After a series of high profile cases of London Police officers behaving badly, the London Police Service stood in front of the city's major media and some of its most respected civic leaders to say officers are only human, that they make mistakes and there's also a way to complain.

"We don't want the perception to be that we're covering something up or that we're not being transparent," said London Deputy Police Chief Trish McIntyre. "When you know better, we do better. The complaints process fuels that for us." 

It's why the police service took nearly a half hour at Thursday's Police Services Board meeting to outline its lengthy and often complicated complaints process in a very public way.

It follows a number of high profile incidents involving London Police officers that have raised eyebrows to say the least:

  • Const. Steve Williams, who faces a laundry list of charges, including sexual assault, harassment and doing background checks on citizens for personal reasons.
  • Sgt. Michael Hay, a former human trafficking cop who let a fellow officer go when he was caught in a prostitution sting. 
  • The story of Dayna Hildebrandt, the London woman who had her integrity questioned and was humiliated by officers when she reported a sexual assault after the service vowed to take such cases more seriously.
  • Or the story of Peter Paquette, the London Police Sergeant who beat a woman in custody while she was in handcuffs and four other officers looked on. 

Police hired pollster to gauge public's trust

London Police Service Deputy Chief Trish McIntyre.

Stories like these have not only grabbed headlines, they've created a real and tangible worry among the London police brass that such incidents have actually tarnished the badge.

So much so, they hired pollster Leger Marketing to find out exactly to what degree. 

Those findings were presented at Thursday's meeting too. The September telephone survey of 500 people in London suggests that 88 per cent of respondents trust the police.

It's reasonable to assume most people would, since most of us rarely deal with police as victims of crime (Canada's crime rate averaged 5,334 incidents per 100,000 population in 2017) and even fewer of us end up on the business end of a pair of police handcuffs (Canada's incarceration rate averaged only 139 in 100,000 in 2017).

When officers screw up, people get upset

Inspector Kelly O'Callahan works with the professional standards branch of the London Police Service. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Still, officers screw up and when they do, people get upset and naturally start asking questions. 

"The public gets upset about certain issues and they want to know why they weren't told," said London Police Inspector Kelly O'Callahan, who investigates bad behaviour among her peers. 

"Part of this is explaining why we can't explain all these things publicly," she said. 

O'Callahan said just like your workplace, the London Police Service isn't going to spill the beans on every single indiscretion.

Only bad cops who pull off potentially career-ending moves ever get the full glare of the media spotlight in a court of law or in front of a police disciplinary tribunal.

'We're human and we make mistakes'

The relatively smaller stuff, what police call "informal" and "unsubstantiated" cases are usually handled behind the scenes, but they're no less important according to Deputy Chief Trish McIntyre.

"There's a lack of understanding and we wear that," she said, noting people often don't understand that the London Police Service appreciates any and all feedback about the service it provides. 

She said anyone who feels they were treated unjustly by a police officer is more than welcome to complain

"This public complaints process gives them a place to be heard," she said. "Not 'am I right,' but 'did you hear me' and was there a takeaway there and can we course correct as an organization to do better." 

It's the police putting into practice the kind of advice that gets dispensed in self-help books: admit your mistakes in order to potentially gain credibility and a new sense of inner-strength.

"We're human and humans make mistakes," she said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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