Windsor police chief says report from Ontario Civilian Police Commission didn't come with many surprises

Windsor police chief Pam Mizuno was not surprised by the findings in a report released last week from the Ontario Civilian Police Commission that investigated an allegedly "poisonous work environment" at the organization and complaints from several officers. 

Chief Pam Mizuno says gender and racial diversity is one of the service's 'highest' priorities

Windsor police chief Pam Mizuno says the service has already been working to address many of the issues the report highlights. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Windsor police chief Pam Mizuno was not surprised by the findings in a report released last week from the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) that investigated an allegedly "poisonous work environment" at the organization and complaints from several officers. 

The 72-page report includes 37 recommendations for the Windsor Police Service and Windsor Police Services Board that are based off of an investigation the OCPC, an independent oversight agency, launched in May 2018. 

While the report noted that "the service has much to be proud of," it also highlighted systemic issues related to diversity and transparency. On Wednesday, Mizuno told CBC News that many of the recommendations are focused on areas the service has already considered and been working on. 

"We do have a lot to be proud of, but there are some issues that we need to tackle moving forward and these issues really were things that we already considered over the years so I don't think there is too much that came as a surprise," said Mizuno, who became police chief in October 2019.

The initial complaints that sparked the OCPC investigation were made between January and April 2018. Concerns cited "improper interference in specific legal proceedings," allegations of a "poisoned work environment," and transparency in the hiring and promotional process. 

Several complaints brought forward from Windsor Police Service members were investigated by the OCPC, which made 37 recommendations to the service and its board. (Jason Viau/CBC)

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 sparked concerns over the lack of transparency by the police service.

Diversity is a priority for the service, Mizuno says 

Thirteen of the report's recommendations are related to diversity and suggest ways the service can include more female and racially diverse officers. 

One the service's "highest" priorities, Mizuno said, is diversity. 

"We really are striving toward making our service representative of the community. And we have made some improvements but we do still have a ways to go," she said.

"It's always a challenge to recruit qualified members let alone diverse members and female members to the service. And we need to look at ways on how we can make improvements in that area and attract people to the profession of policing."

Mizuno added that on Tuesday, Staff Sgt. Ed Armstrong became the first Black staff sergeant in the history of Windsor's service. 

Newly appointed staff sergeant Ed Armstrong says Windsor Police Services is committed to hiring and recruiting more diverse officers but that his promotion came from a lot of hard work. (Windsor Police Services/Twitter)

The report also assessed the service's workplace harassment policy, which it said hasn't been updated for six years.

It added that the policy "suffers from significant deficiencies," such as not outlining, step-by-step how informal and formal complaint processes work and the types of resolutions possible.

It also says under the existing policy workplace harassment complaints against the chief or deputy chief are to be dealt with by the board and investigations are done internally, rather than provide the option for external reviews when needed. 

"I think we can always make improvements to our workplace harassment policy," Mizuno said, adding that they are already working on some of the suggested improvements, including a workplace harassment committee that can guide investigations of this nature. 

Report highlights discrepancies around service's morale, lack of pushback from board

Though the report stated that some officers reviewed the workplace positively, others reported that morale is low.

"There's always going to be issues in any organization. And I don't think that you know our morale is suffering any differently than any other organization," said Mizuno.

Windsor Police Service board member and city councillor Rino Bortolin said whether the environment is toxic or not, if they have a significant number of complaints about that then something needs to be done. 

Windsor Police Service board member and Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin says the board needs to offer more push-back on key issues the service deals with. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

"For any workplace to go in to the workplace and have a large number of your employees say that there is a toxic environment, true or not it has to be dealt with," Bortolin said. "We have to look at this report with humility, regardless if they are real or perceived there are issues there." 

He added the board doesn't do a good job on pushing key issues with the service and could be more transparent with the public. 

COVID-19 has brought additional challenges to the service 

The pandemic, Mizuno said, has brought added complexities to her role and the changes they seek to make, but she looks forward to reviewing the recommendations and responding to the OCPC in a year's time. 

"This year's been unique with COVID-19 coming in March...really it's been a struggle to move forward on some issues, it's a challenge," she said. 

"We cannot police our community without public trust and it's very important that we build and maintain that trust. We are committed to continue doing that as we move forward."