'We hear you': Police board backs steps to address racism

London's Police Services Board approved a number of measures aimed at addressing problems of anti-Black racism in policing with Chief Steve Williams saying it's a priority for his force.

Chief Williams says addressing racism is 'a priority for this police service'

A demonstration against anti-Black racism by police drew thousands to Victoria Park earlier this month. Today the Police Services Board endorsed a list of steps aimed at addressing racism in the force. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)

London's Police Services Board has voted to take a number of steps to address racism in policing, moves that come in the wake of widespread calls for change.

The moves were outlined in a letter to the board by its chair Javeed Sukhera and discussed at the board's Thursday meeting.  

They include: 

  • Direct Chief Steve Williams to report on possible cost-saving measures and where that money could be re-invested. 
  • Direct Williams to report back on mental health calls and trends, advocate for sustainable funding for community-police partnerships in mental health and create a proposal for a roundtable on anti-racism and mental health crisis response.
  • A consultation with school boards on the role of school resource officers.
  • An affirmation of the board's commitment to addressing racism and bias. 
  • A request for Williams to report back on "proposed internal reforms regarding transparency, discipline, and improving culture/climate within London Police Service (LPS)."
  • A call to work toward a race-based data collection, analysis and reporting strategy.

Sukhera said the steps are part of a move to shift the culture of policing and address systemic racism.

"Incremental reforms are not substantial enough to achieve the transformational change that is necessary," he said. "We can and should take decisive action on the issue of anti-Black racism." 

Chief Williams said he's committed to "concrete actions" to address racism.  

"Our message to the public is: 'We hear you. We're taking these conversations very seriously," he said. "They are a priority for the administration of this police service. We recognize there are problems in policing, in the culture of policing. Maybe in the past we've done too much talking, being more enforcement-oriented. Maybe it's time that we listen more." 

CBC News reached out to a representative of Black Lives Matter London for comment, but was told the group needed more time to review the measures before commenting.

New police hires delayed

London's Police Services Board voted to delay a plan to hire 10 new police staff members this year. A report coming to the city's strategic priorities and planning committee next week is calling for that request, which was approved by the board last fall, to be pared back to five positions due to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new positions were to be paid for by assessment growth dollars, essentially extra money the city collects from increases in property values.

But city staff are calling for new spending to be reigned in wherever possible. 

Chief Williams reluctantly agreed Thursday to knock that request down to two new immediate hires, but said those ten staff positions are needed to maintain service levels. 

He said the force is dealing with complaints about slow response times, and said there are concerns about stress and officer burnout. 

Williams said calls to police dropped when the COVID-19 shutdown began in March. However, he said call volumes are now back up to near pre-COVID levels as pandemic restrictions are starting to be lifted. 

The board agreed to approve two communication operator positions now, and delay the hiring of the other positions until next year.

Ross Towing contract extended 

The board agreed to extend its contract with Ross Towing by a year. The move is intended to give the city time to look at creating towing licensing rules and changes to allow other towing companies to organize in a way that might allow them to get a greater share of police-initiated tows. 

London Police use Ross towing exclusively for tows they request, and for tows following accidents that require vehicles to be impounded. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Ross has the exclusive contract to handle police-initiated tows that require vehicles to be impounded, although drivers can request another company in cases where impounds aren't needed. 

Ross's three-year contract with LPS began in January 2018 with an optional fourth year at the discretion of the board. Unless the optional year was approved, the contract would end on Dec. 31, 2020.

The contract has been controversial, will some smaller companies complaining that it cuts them out of a lucrative share of the business. However, a previous report to the board outlined that Ross — a large company — has services police need, including two large impound lots with 24-hour access. 

Board Member Susan Toth said police should not be favouring one business over another. 

"Right now the food truck industry in London is more regulated than towing," she said.