London police chief, board want more control over officer discipline
Board to debate asking Ontario to give chief power to suspend officers without pay
It took the London Police Service three years to finally oust disgraced Const. Wesley Reeves, who pleaded guilty to five counts under the Police Services Act for insubordination and discreditable conduct.
Reeves, who was finally forced from the police service last month, collected his full salary for three years as the complicated police disciplinary process sorted itself out.
Reeves' case and other high profile cases like it have forced the London Police Service to question how much recent bad behaviour has tarnished the badge. It's also raised escalating questions about why it takes so long to discipline and punish bad cops who, throughout the process, receive their full pay – whether a tribunal finds them guilty or not.
The London police services board on Thursday will debate whether it should ask the province to speed up the process that would allow police chiefs to suspend officers without pay.
Legislation already exists, but it's not in force
Public pressure for police reform, along with calls to defund the police in the wake of outrageous acts of brutality and racism, such as the death of George Floyd in the U.S., have cast a new light on how police deal with police misconduct and officer accountability.
In Reeves' case, charges included assault, mischief, uttering threats, criminal harassment and intercepting a private communication. Those charges were withdrawn in court in the fall of 2018.
The police disciplinary tribunal that heard his disciplinary matter was also told Reeves used cocaine and steroids over an 18-month period while having an affair with a mistress, who was only identified as S.D.
Legislation already exists that grants police chiefs the power to suspend officers accused of major misconduct without pay. The provincial government drafted the Community Safety and Policing Act (CSPA) in July of 2020. However, the law is not yet in force.
Stephen Werner, the spokesman for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones told CBC News in an email Wednesday, the legislation must go through finishing touches before it becomes law.
"Staff in the ministry are currently consulting stakeholders and partners, and will continue engagement until the regulatory development process is complete, at which point the CSPA would be brought into force."
Both London Police Chief Steve Williams and London Police Services Board chair, Dr. Javeed Sukhera both told CBC News Wednesday they were unable to discuss the matter publicly until the motion had been debated by the police board at the April 15 meeting.
Police union wants board to direct priorities elsewhere
Rick Robson, the executive director of the London Police Association, said Wednesday that the provincial legislation relating to suspending officers without pay has been agreed to by all parties, including police brass, unions and civilian oversight boards for some time now.
"The motivation as to why this is topical now, I'm not quite certain," he said, adding he thinks the board should use its lobbying power to focus on what he considers to be a more pressing matter.
"I think we could focus our priorities on other issues such as the mental health and wellbeing of the officers themselves and the supports they get from the provincial government or our mobile health response team."
Robson said many police officers suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the stressful nature of their work and more could be done by the province to reform how Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board processes and supports their claims for psychological injuries.
The union also worries that if officers are suspended without pay, the power could be misused or wrongly applied, potentially cutting an officer off from their livelihood and mental health support during the six to 18 months it can take for a matter to make it to trial.
"To suggest that somebody should be judged prior to a conviction simply because they are a police officer — I have a problem with that."
Robson said while any withheld pay would ultimately be reinstated to an officer who was found not guilty, the officer would not be eligible for benefits, which could be catastrophic to a police officer suffering from severe trauma exposure.
"If you look across the province, a lot of members who are involved in [disciplinary matters] are linked to mental health issues.Those members would be cut off from any mental health supports during that time of suspension."
The motion, as it appears in the London Police Services Board agenda, recognizes "that police officers, by the nature of their public duties and powers vested in them, are particularly prone to allegations and complaints and, further, that officers have a right to due process."
But police chiefs should have the authority to suspend without pay as punishment "when they are faced with serious allegations prior to final resolution in court or by other means," the motion up for debate states.