Policing: To serve or protect?

Relations between the public and the police are strained today: from charges of police violence, abuse and racial bias to calls for transparency and greater police accountability. At the same time, we expect the cops to take on new missions: counter-terrorism, cybercrime, and policing a changing society.

Policing: to serve or protect

6 years ago
Duration 0:44
Policing: to serve or protect

Relations between the public and the police are strained today: from charges of police violence, abuse and racial bias  to calls for transparency and greater police accountability. At the same time, we expect the cops to take on new missions: counter-terrorism, cybercrime, and policing a changing society. In this two-part series, IDEAS, CBC Radio One in partnership with the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, considers what it means to police and be policed in these complex and anxious times. Part 2 airs Thursday, June 22. 

Left to right: Professor Todd Fogelsong, Donald Worme Q.C., I.P.C., Inspector Shawna Coxon & Professor Ron Levi. (Lisa Sakulensky)

Do the police serve the public by doing what communities say they want and need? Or, do cops think they know what's best for public safety and must protect us? Inspector Shawna Coxon, Toronto Police Service, and member of the TPS Transformational Task Force; Todd Foglesong, Professor of Global Practice at the Munk School; Donald Worme, Q.C., I.P.C., Cree lawyer and founding member of the Indigenous Bar Association of Canada, based in Saskatoon; and moderator Ron Levi, Director of the Munk School's Global Justice Lab, debate the dynamics of policing, trust and public consent.

The panel was recorded in front of an audience at the Munk School of Global Affairs on May 15, 2017. Listen to the Question and Answer session which followed the discussion.



"I think that every time there are significant challenges around any topic, including policing, there are always the seeds of opportunity to work together to find solutions that are innovative and new and groundbreaking. And so the conversation can't happen in a box.  It's part of a much larger sociological conversation about what's happening here in Canada." --  Inspector Shawna Coxon

Inspector Shawna Coxon
Serving for more than two decades with the Toronto Police Service, Inspector Shawna Coxon has had a diverse career in uniform, community, intelligence, and investigative policing. Having just released 'The Way Forward' as a member of the Transformational Task Force, she has started an Organizational Change Management Team (a novel endeavour in Canadian policing). Prior to that, she was the second in charge of Intelligence Services where she implemented the inaugural Computer Cyber Crime Section. Inspector Coxon has a PhD in Criminal Law and her areas of research include criminal law and technology. She is a published academic who has lectured internationally. She has won numerous awards; however she is most proud of the letters of appreciation from victims she has worked diligently for.

"I'm worried that the ghosts of American policing and crime and violence are haunting the Canadian conversation about policing.  And they cloud everything, from the questions we ask in public opinion polls to the kinds of reforms that are proposed in policing.  And I think we need some fresh conversation." -- Todd Foglesong
Todd Foglesong
Todd Foglesong joined the Munk School of Global Affairs as a Professor of Global Practice in 2014. He writes and teaches about the role of indicators as instruments of governance in policing and prosecution around the world, competing strategies for measuring and managing the response to violence against women and pretrial detention, and the role of surveys in assessments of safety and justice. Between 2007 and 2014, Todd was a senior research fellow and adjunct lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), where wrote about policing in Los Angeles under a consent decree, the challenges of "making policing more affordable" in the United States, and the role of indicators of justice in the governments of Jamaica, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. 

"Given my career, I've had the opportunity to make certain observations which ground certain truths for me. And part of those truths are there is a deep imbalance in the system that negatively affects particularly my community, but not just that. But in fact, it inflames all of Canadian society to such a degree that we don't really have the kind of relationship that I think Canadians deserve and that our children or our grandchildren deserve." -- Donald E. Worme
Donald Worme, Saskatoon lawyer and former lead counsel for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, now represents clients seeking information regarding unmarked graves at former residential schools. (Submitted)
Donald E. Worme, Q.C., I.P.C., is a Cree lawyer from Kawacatoose First Nation, Treaty Four, Saskatchewan. For more than thirty years, he's practiced extensively in criminal law and Aboriginal rights litigation. He also has considerable experience in public law, including Judicial Inquiries and Commissions of Inquiry. Among his high profile cases: Donald Worme served as Commission Counsel to the Ipperwash Judicial Inquiry into the shooting death of Dudley George an,unarmed  Aboriginal protester; he was Lead Counsel to the family of Neil Stonechild in the public inquiry into the freezing death of the Aboriginal teenager in Saskatoon; and he represented the family of 18-year-old Mathew Dumas in the Coroners Inquest into his shooting death by the Winnipeg Police. Donald Worme is a founding member of the  Indigenous Bar Association and recipient of the Aboriginal Achievement Award for outstanding efforts in the field  of Law and Justice.

Moderator Ron Levi:

"So here we are, in May 2017, watching the U.S.; looking at ourselves, at their cops, at our cops at the cops and us. At best, relations are strained. At worst,  they're loaded with mistrust. So, to the panel, given everything we're seeing, how on earth can we trust the police?" -- Ron Levi
Ron Levi
Professor Ron Levi holds the George Ignatieff Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto, where he serves as Deputy Director of the Munk School of Global Affairs, and is an Associate Professor of Global Affairs and Sociology. He is a sociologist and legal scholar, whose research focuses on the legal and political dimensions of justice system responses to violence, crime, and human rights violations. Professor Levi is a past Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. He launched a Global Justice Lab at the Munk School, and was awarded the University of Toronto's Ludwik and Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize. He holds an appointment as Permanent Visiting Professor in the University of Copenhagen's Centre of Excellence for International Courts.

Sharry Flett
Sharry Flett has acted in theatres across Canada and played leading roles at the Stratford Festival (4 seasons) and the Shaw Festival (28 seasons). She will appear in Me And My Girl and 1837 A Farmer's Revolt for the 2017 Shaw season. She was twice nominated for Gemini Awards as Best Actress (CBC TV Drama). She's also taught acting at the Shaw Festival, George Brown Theatre School, University of Toronto, Queen's University, and the National Theatre School in Montreal.

RH Thomson
Acclaimed Canadian stage and screen actor RH Thomson, was awarded in 2015 the prestigious Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, was the recipient of the 2014 ACTRA Toronto Award of Excellence. He was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2010 and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Toronto, Trinity College. Recently, Mr. Thomson directed The Crucible at Theatre Calgary and performed in You Will Remember Me at the Tarragon Theatre. He is currently playing Matthew Cuthbert in the CBC/NETFLIX series Anne and producing the Canadian and international WWI Commemoration project The World Remembers- Le Monde se souvient.

Further reading, suggestions from program participants: 

From Inspector Shawna Coxon:

  • The Way Forward. An new action plan, defined by the Toronto Police Service, as the path forward to excellence for the Service. 

From Todd Fogelsong:

On the Specter of Change in Policing in the United States:

  • Enforcing Order: An Ethnography of Urban Policing, Didier Fassin (London, 2013).
  • Down, Out and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row, Forrest Stuart (Chicago, 2016).

On the meaning of "trust" or "confidence" and other attitudes and perceptions of policing:
Most research on public attitudes about policing in North America asks about people's "confidence" in the police, especially their ability to do certain things, such as "control crime." Most surveys of opinions about the police ask residents whether they "believe" the police treat all people fairly or equally; only a few ask direct questions about "trust." For examples of research that investigates trust specifically, try: 

Here's a link to a poll on levels of "trust" in police among residents in Toronto in the wake of the conviction of a police officer for killing a citizen on a street car.

On the "demand" for assistance from police and other agencies in Toronto:
  What we know about public "demand" for assistance from the police usually comes from reports on the number of "calls for service" on either 911 or 311 or other urgent lines of communication between residents and city officials. Unfortunately, rarely do government agencies publish their analyses of these calls – whether repeat callers come from certain neighbourhoods, what kinds of problems are chronic and recur, and whether the problems are solved by the dispatching of police or other city services. For examples of how these figures of "demand" are reported, see:
The Toronto Police Scorecard & The Toronto Police 2014-2016 Business Plan.

On the Evolving Justifications for "Carding" and "Street Checks" in Toronto and New York City:
  The debate about the "effectiveness" of carding in Toronto, as with "stop question and frisk" in the U.S., focuses mainly on two things: 1) the immediate aftermath of a resident's involuntary encounter with police -- such as the rates of a search being conducted, the "yield" from such searchers, and rates of arrest that follow a stop; and 2) the incidence of reported crime in areas in which stops take place. There is some research on the "effects" of such policing on disadvantaged communities, such as whether residents avoid contact with government or develop alternative strategies for safety. But there is little discussion and scant research on the impact of this particular law enforcement practice on long-term patterns of crime and violence and the illicit circulation of weapons and other goods.

On "predictive policing" as practiced in Chicago and the "selective subjects" list:
There is controversy over both the practice and effects of a particular brand of "predictive policing" in Chicago that forecasts the likely victims of future violent crime and is designed to put them out of harm's way.  Here are links to a study and story that find the practice ineffective and harmful. 

On the Incidence of Police Force, Lethal and non-Lethal:
The incidence of fatal encounters between law enforcement officers and residents in the US is many times higher than in Canada.  In Ontario, which has a population of just over 13 million residents, there were 9 police shootings in 2015, six of which were fatal, according to the annual report of the Special Investigations Unit. In the city of Los Angeles, with a population of 4 million, the police reported 48 police shootings in 2015. There is no official record of the total number of police shootings and fatalities in the US, although many scholars are trying to fill this hole and many reliable estimates exceed 1,000 incidents each year. There is also no national register of the number of incidents in which residents were subject to and/or injured by the use of non-lethal force, including tasers, batons, flashlights, or other implements. Only a few local police forces in the US report the incidence of officer-recorded use of force.

From Ron Levi:

From Donald Worme Q.C., I.P.C.

The Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto  brings together the best minds to advance the latest thinking on  global issues. Its mission is to integrate research on global affairs with teaching and public education.

**This episode was produced by Sara Wolch.