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'Trust is fundamental': Thunder Bay police launch 2018 Citizen Satisfaction Survey

The Thunder Bay Police Service officially launched its 2018 Citizen Satisfaction Survey Wednesday, just days after a video of a female officer, who was shouting "don't spit on me" before she struck an Indigenous teenager on an ambulance stretcher, went viral.

Asking about trust 'gets at the relationship between the police, community in a deeper way,' says researcher

Leisa Desmoulins (left), an assistant professor in the faculty of education at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., is assisting the Thunder Bay Police Service with its 2018 Citizen Satisfaction Survey. The survey includes questions around trust, which is 'fundamental' in policing, says Chris Adams (right), the police director of communications. (Cathy Alex/CBC )

The Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) officially launched its 2018 Citizen Satisfaction Survey Wednesday, just days after a video of a female officer, who was shouting "don't spit on me" before she struck an Indigenous teenager on an ambulance stretcher, went viral.

Ontario's Police Services Act dictates that police forces across the province conduct a satisfaction survey annually "to get feedback from the public on how we're doing," said Chris Adams, the director of communications for the TBPS.

The 2018 survey, with both online and interview components, is unique however, because it's being conducted in partnership with a researcher at Lakehead University and "we're excited about that because it gave us a whole new perspective," he said.

 "Trust really gets at whether or not people believe the police treat them fairly, and that they make decisions fairly, and I think those are key elements the police want to know in terms of the effectiveness of their services" - Leisa Desmoulins, assistant professor, faculty of education, Lakehead University

This survey drills into the issue of whether or not people in the northwestern Ontario city trust their police service, which is currently being examined by the Ontario Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) on the issue of systemic racism and how it how it handles the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous people. The OIPRD report and recommendations will be released on Wednesday Dec. 12, 2018.

If you live in Thunder Bay, now's your opportunity to share your thoughts about policing in your city. The Thunder Bay Police Service officially launched its 2018 Citizen Satisfaction Survey yesterday. The Ontario Police Services Act mandates that local forces conduct research of this kind annually. But this year, the Thunder Bay police have enlisted the aid of a researcher at Lakehead University. It's part of an ongoing change project for the police force, which includes a revamping of its Aboriginal Liaison Unit, and an examination of how to diversify its ranks. This year's survey has a special emphasis on the issue of trust between officers and the public. To find out more, the CBC's Cathy Alex spoke with Leisa Desmoulins, a professor in the faculty of education at Lakehead University and with Chris Adams, the director of communications for the Thunder Bay police. 7:21

Examining the issue of trust "gives a dimension that is somewhat different than satisfaction, and it also gets at the relationship between the police and the community in a deeper way," said Leisa Desmoulins, an assistant professor in the faculty of education at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.

"You can be satisfied with something but trust really gets at whether or not people believe the police treat them fairly, and that they make decisions fairly, and I think those are key elements the police want to know in terms of the effectiveness of their services" she said.

"You can't get away from the reality that we've had a number of years where we've had challenges with our relationships, especially with the Indigenous community. So trust is a very fundamental thing when it comes to policing,- Chris Adams, director of communications, Thunder Bay Police Service

"You can't get away from the reality that we've had a number of years where we've had challenges with our relationships, especially with the Indigenous community. So trust is a very fundamental thing when it comes to policing," said Adams.

"If an officer investigating a crime doesn't have the trust of the people they're working with — say a witness, a victim or even sometimes an accused — it's difficult to get to the information they need, to get the evidence they need to be able to solve a case," he said.

The survey dates were decided weeks ago, Adams said, long before the force knew when the final OIPRD report would be released, or what incidents might happen in the meantime.

Survey is 'snapshot in time'

"The way the survey's been constructed, and the fact there's even door-to-door surveying that will happen, we're hopeful that it will give us a true and accurate picture. It's a snapshot in time after all, and I think people have to remember that too, that people's perceptions and beliefs and things that they hold to be true are sometimes relative just to the time that they're in, the present, so really how can we control that?"

Researchers from Lakehead University will be visiting homes in a variety of neighbourhoods and asking survey questions in person, in efforts to "get representation across Thunder Bay," said Desmoulins.

The survey is available until December 19, with an analysis of the results expected in early 2019.

You can hear the full interview with Leisa Desmoulins and Chris Adams on CBC's Up North  here.