Windsor police respond to recommendations 1 year after Ontario Civilian Police Commission issues its report

One year since the Ontario Civilian Police Commission directed the Windsor Police Service and Police Board to address a number of systemic issues — including racial diversity and the low representation of women on the service — police officials detail how they've responded.

26 of the 37 recommendations have been completed so far, according to police

The Windsor Police Service was investigated by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission for an allegedly 'poisonous work environment.' (Jason Viau/CBC)

One year since the Ontario Civilian Police Commission directed the Windsor Police Service and Police Board to address a number of systemic issues — including racial diversity and the low representation of women on the service — police officials detail how they've responded.

In the report included in Thursday's police board meeting agenda and submitted to the OCPC on Aug. 6, police officials say they've completed 26 out of 37 recommendations, and detail how they plan on completing the rest of the recommendations by 2022, while noting that "considerable progress" has already been made on those outstanding points.

The report stated that the OCPC investigation and its recommendations compelled the service and the board to "look into the way business was being conducted."

"The initiatives and policies that subsequently emerged are long-term in scope and have the ability to change the culture at the Windsor Police Service for the betterment of our membership and the community," the report read.

The board held an online public meeting Thursday to discuss the report, but only talked about the 79 page update for about five minutes. 

Frank Providenti, deputy chief of operations for the service, spoke with CBC News after the meeting and said it's been "a lot of work," but they're embracing the recommendations. 

"What we've learned is that we need to work together to figure out what needs to be done to create a better workplace to listen to people and to bring about positive change," he said. 

Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens, who is also the police board chair, was unavailable for an interview Thursday. 

WPS deputy chief of operational support Frank Providenti told CBC News they are checking in with their officers as they continue to make changes. Consultants have provided town hall meetings, surveys and one-on-one chats. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Investigation prompted after several complaints

The OCPC report, first released in August 2020, was completed after a two-year investigation into the service following a number of complaints from members raising serious concerns about the workplace environment.

Some of the concerns cited "improper interference in specific legal proceedings," allegations of a "poisoned work environment," and transparency in the hiring and promotional process.

The investigation was also expanded to include how a 911 call was handled at the home of former Windsor police chief Al Frederick in November 2018. The call and investigation was first reported by CBC News, several months after the incident, citing concerns about the lack of transparency by the police service.

At the time, the commission, which is an independent oversight agency under the Police Services Act, made recommendations around racial diversity, the low representation of women on the police service and the need for greater transparency in the hiring process for chiefs and deputy chiefs.

It also pointed out the need for enhancing policies around how investigations concerning chiefs and deputy chiefs are handled.

The Windsor Police Service says 26 of the 37 recommendations from the OCPC have been completed so far. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

The report presented to the police board Thursday said the service hired external consultants, including one team specializing in equity, diversity and inclusion and another specializing in communications, to help make changes within the force.

According to the report, the service is still in the process of hiring an Employee Assessment Initiatives consultant to improve the promotional process and address issues around equity and diversity.

Steps taken

Here are some of the other key actions outlined in the report in response to recommendations:

  • The service has updated its conflict of interest policy to make it clear whether and when some cases should be referred to an external agency for investigation, and what the protocol is when an investigation involves someone like the Chief of Police.
  • In response to the OCPC recommending the service re-evaluate its promotional process, the service's Promotional Process Advisory Committee is to provide direct input during promotions and re-evaluate the process each year.
  • The service proposed the removal of seniority as a scoring category during the promotional process, and it was approved by the police association given that it can be a barrier to recruitment and promotion, particularly around racial diversity and representation of women.
  • A strategy is being developed to increase diversity and recruit women within the service led by the equity, diversity and inclusion coordinator.
  • Developed education and training around stigma concerning accommodations, human rights training rolled out online and harassment training provided to new employees.
  • In response to being tasked with improving its handling of workplace harassment, the directives around the process have been amended.

Here's some of what's still in progress: 

  • The implementation of a "field-tested and legally defensible" promotional process to address equality and diversity within the service. The service is still working on selecting a third party vendor to develop this but it's anticipated to be completed by March or April of next year.
  • Efforts to address the underrepresentation of female sworn officers in the service is still in progress, but the goal is to create a strategic plan for recruiting women and candidates who "represent the community's diversity." It's anticipated to be completed by October.
  • Efforts to assess and promote morale in the workplace are still ongoing, but is expected to be completed by next month. An internal consultation survey was launched, and the development of a communications strategy is underway.

Also included in Thursday's agenda was an email from Thomas Lockwood, the external counsel for the Ontario Civilian Police Commission acknowledging receipt of the report submitted by Police Chief Pam Mizuno. 

"The service and the board are to be commended for their efforts," Lockwood wrote in response.

Though they're well on their way to implementing all of the recommendations, Providenti said the work doesn't end once all of the changes are made. 

"This is an ever-evolving situation, you just don't stand still and take these recommendations and say OK we're done," he said.

"You have to reassess on a yearly basis. You have to look at all your policies on a yearly basis and take into consideration what works and what doesn't. Some things may not work and you might have to reassess, but you have to listen to the membership." 

With files from Katerina Georgieva, Jennifer La Grassa