Wednesday, July 14, 1999

John Duncanson

p. A1.

Police brass slammed on discipline

Watchdog finds many problems within force

Toronto police brass and their civilian bosses have come under attack by Ontario's police watchdog for falling to fix the force's badly flawed discipline system. The Star has learned.

In a highly critical, 60-page report, that took 14 months to complete, the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services says the Toronto Police Association was right to launch a formal complaint with the province over how the force metes out punishment.

While the commission found no clear proof that there was one standard of punishment for its members and another for senior command — the reason for the union's complaint — the wide ranging civilian probe unearthed scores of other problems areas in the management of the force.

Primarily, it found an overly complex discipline system that is neither fair to rank-and-file police officers nor to the public.

"In our view there remains much to be done in order to put in place a system of discipline that is credible not only to officers and civilian members but to the public complainants, victims and other members of the community," the commission concluded in its report.

The commission — which has broad powers to investigate, call inquiries, and if necessary, mete out punishment — also criticized senior command officers for the handling of the force's troubled firearms registration unit and for their apparent ignorance of how a unit so vital to the force was being run.

The commission cited internal documentation that showed serious problems had existed in the unit for some time before a criminal investigation was launched, which eventually led to charges against five civilian members of the unit.

"It is troubling that Senior command was apparently not aware of serious problems in an operational unit responsible for sensitive items such as firearms and narcotics, many of which are court exhibits, and property that has been seized, found or surrendered to police," the report says.

"We acknowledge that steps have been taken to address these matters but it should never have reached that point," the report concludes.

Police discipline system attacked as unfair

In all, the commission handed down 13 recommendations in its report, some of which have been made before but were ignored by the force and the board.

They include:

  • Police board members must participate in training and other professional programs relating to their oversight role. The board is in the process of addressing those issues.
  • The board and the force must examine the systems that hold middle managers and officers in specialized functions accountable and ensure that the systems are working.
  • The seven-member board must also be held accountable for ensuring its policies are being followed by the force. It must periodically require audits to ensure its policies are in fact being implemented and adhered to.
  • Manager's in charge of areas where policies are not being complied with should be held accountable and reported in the chief's annual performance review.
  • Officers facing internal charges should be dealt with swiftly, with a hearing held within 60 days following an investigation into alleged misconduct. Any delays must come with an explanation and those responsible held accountable.

The watchdog commission has required Chief David Boothby and the board to report back on the force's progress in addressing its recommendations by the end of the year.

An underlying theme in the report was the commission's view that the internal police discipline system was being used to punish officers for minor work performance problems rather than dealing with serious allegations.

The commission's study of internal discipline files determined police in Toronto are far more likely to face discipline charges for minor breaches, such as being late for work, missing a court date, or disobeying an order, than for matters of major misconduct.

"This is not an effective use of the disciplinary process," the commission said in its report.

The force must report by year's end

The commission also chastised the force and board for failing to adequately address recommendations stemming from past inquiries into the force's business.

In particular, the commission pointed to broken promises made by the force and board to implement changes following the commission's 1992 inquiry into the so-called Junger/Whitehead affair. That inquiry looked into secret deal-making in internal investigations and also scrutinized the discipline system.

"While we acknowledge that there has been some progress in attempting to address some deficiencies, there has been a failure on the part of successive police services boards and senior command staff to do what they said they would do — follow through and implement meaningful… improvements,' the report reads.

"The longer issues remain unexplained, the more entrenched the cynicism and mistrust of the process and the people involved becomes."

The commission goes on to say that the complexity of the discipline system and the confusion it breeds fuels feelings of mistrust and suspicion of police hierarchy in the minds of the rank-and-file.

Reached for comment last night, police association president Craig Bromell said the union would respond to the report today.

A spokesperson for Boothby, who is stepping down from the job in February, also declined comment, saying the force needed more time to study the report.

Only Councillor Norm Gardner (North York Centre), who chairs the police services board, offered a take on the findings. In his opinion, many on the issues raised in the report are already being addressed.

In a series of stories published last year, The Star detailed some of the internal problems in the force's gun and property units, including the fact Deputy Chief Reesor and other senior officers had been involved in gun transactions connected to the gun unit.

Last April, the 7,000-member police union took the unprecedented move of filing its formal complaint with the provincial police commission against its own management.

The union felt Reesor was treated too leniently

At the time, the union said it had no choice but to call for an outside investigation because its membership had lost confidence in the way the police hierarchy was treating rank-and-file officers.

One of the key reasons the union complained to the province was Boothby's handling of Reesor's involvement in the gun sale.

Reesor was counselled by Boothby for selling his own personal handgun with the assistance of the former boss of the gun registration unit, Paul Mullin.

Reesor, as deputy chief in charge of operational support command, oversees the gun unit.

The police union said it was unfair that Reesor received no real punishment when some civilian members charged and convicted in the scandal were fired outright.

At the time, Boothby described Reesor's gun sale as more of a "management" issue than a discipline matter.

The commission, for its part, stated: "The chief did not consider (Reesor's) actions to amount to a breach of discipline, but rather an error in judgment. To our mind, this is a distinction without a difference.

Mullin pleaded guilty last year to one count of breach of trust for illegally selling two guns through the unit and was handed a suspended sentence. Those sales did not involve Reesor.

But four other civilian members of the gun unit were charged criminally during an internal affairs probe that was described as a gun-for-profit scheme.

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

Created: October 9, 2000
Last modified: October 9, 2000
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