London Police Service - our current situation and a path forward
Courtesy of londonpolice.ca
Police officers have always been a big part of my life.
My dad joined the RCMP in London after a drive down from Woodstock at the age of 20.
After his training in Saskatchewan, he was stationed in Burnaby, British Columbia. I was born there and spent a total of ten years living in Langley, BC. My dad was my hero. and larger than life to me.
He would commute an hour each way to work, spend his shift chasing down drug dealers, and then come home for bath and wrestle time. For the first 25 or so years of my life, it was my plan to follow his footsteps. A few challenges got in the way and I'm happy with the new direction of helping the community I was able to pivot to. Policing is a hot button topic in London, and one that I have first hand experience in and want to participate in solutions alongside.
London Police Service has had its share of negative publicity between investigations and members that have drawn media attention, and the lens under which police brutality has been viewed leading up to and even moreso ever since George Floyd's killing and the Black Lives Matter movement.
I've supported the BLM movement and anti-racism training in general with donations and facilitating important conversations between leaders from our community and those who want to learn more in both my paid and volunteer roles.
I'd like to share some thoughts and findings based on my research in the current status of London Police Service and what I need to know as a City Councillor.
But first, some disclosures:
I am friends with a number of police officers. My brother-in-law is an officer. I serve on a Board of Directors with a LPS Sargent. I volunteered with a number of retired officers as an Oakridge Optimist. I played in The Joe League as a kid, and the Officers who coached it left an indelible mark on me in terms of the good local officers we have and how much they care for our community.
It's been an honour to help with and sponsor Rookie League through Dad Club London, and donate to and help coach The Joe League as a former alumni.
Speaking to the 2020 Joe League about my experiences in the program and where they took me
Presenting a program donation to send two players to Summer Basketball Camp
Dad Club London is fortunate to have a number of engaged and caring local officers in its membership, and we are grateful to have had a strong ongoing relationship with LPS in our community initiatives.
They have also supported us in kind, including sponsorships and donations to a number of programs through the London Police Association.
DCL Member tour of LPS HQ
I realize and respect that not everyone is fortunate to share our same privileges in their dealings with police.
I realize that as a white man, I have a different experience than others. This reality has been shared with some close friends of mine in policing and caused some strain in those relationships. Others were willing to discuss it in detail. These conversations are important.
I believe that we have many good and a much smaller number of not-so-good officers, much like any other workplace. The not-so-good should not and can't ever receive a free pass, when their efforts can impact the community so easily and greatly.
I believe that London Police Service has an excellent Board of Directors, governed by some of the finest individuals in our area.
Their membership and other board information can be found here.
I believe that London Police Service plays a crucial role in maintaining the safety and personal liberty of the residents of the fastest growing City of Ontario; a role that they mostly signed up for, but in some areas have simply inherited because of lack of a better structure in place.
We have a homeless crisis. We have an opioid epidemic. We have a human trafficking crisis. We have an underfunded and burnt out healthcare system. These and other systemic challenges all intersect locally at the feet of London Police Service.
As a Non-Profit leader and a Social Services employee, I have frequent and ongoing discussions with marginalized individuals from many different backgrounds. I have had raw and unfiltered conversations about Police locally, nationally, and internationally, and their impact on the lives of those individuals. I am a listener and a believer, but I also think that the only way to create positive change is by accountability, listening, and moving forward together to a new "better".
As a City Council Candidate, I have discussed London Police Service's role in our community with leaders in a number of areas, including housing, homelessness and mental health, human trafficking, violence against women, and with London Police Association leadership themselves.
A few things to be aware of to quantify the situation:
- London's population is 422,324 according to the 2021 census.
- The London Police budget in 2021 was $130,528,857. 95.8% of that was for personnel.
- We had 28,545 crimes reported in 2021. An average of 78.21 crimes every day
- London Police serves 422.9 square km with 623 officers and 258 civilian and cadet staff
- In 2021, London Police averaged 669 calls for service per day, which averages to 27.9 per hour, or a call every 2.2 minutes
- As of 2021, policing cost every Londoner $285.54 per year
- 14% of overall City budget is a standard rough figure for policing across Ontario
In 2023's Multi Year Budget request, London Police Service will be requesting 52 new officers in November 2022.
Now that the Police Service Board (PSB) has approved the budget, this goes to Council for approval.
Council's options are to approve, or not approve. They are not able to decide on funding on a line by line basis, or to tell LPS what they should spend their funding on.
If Council does not approve, the PSB can arbitrate. The arbitration is handled at a provincial level and has a strict set of rules as to why a budget should or should not be approved by Council.
City Council has voted no once ever, in 2016, and changed their minds prior to arbitration.
Some candidates have referenced "Defunding the police" or changing their funding priorities or staffing choices.
The Chief decides how resources are to be allocated, after considering input from the community and from an internal committee. This is an operational matter, outside of the governance purview of the PSB or City Council.
London Police has faced a number of challenges in its recent history, including the growth and urban sprawl of London annually, and the civillianization of many roles.
"Does it need to be someone in a uniform and gun that responds to every call for service?" is a valid question to be asked both by police leadership and by the public they serve.
As our city and tax base grows, every service is affected. We have more residents with more various types of needs, found in more locations spread further and further away from social service providers, healthcare providers, and from our one central police station.
To become a more effective city, we need to do a number of things to reduce both the need for and draw on officers.
One of many minor options to make things better would be for City Council to pass a bylaw that requires all Gas Stations to make all transactions pay before you pump, eliminating the need to call police when someone pumps and drives off without paying. Small process improvements like this one can mitigate the likelihood of a crime occurring and the need for a call to police.
Other service needs can be passed off to more cost-efficient bylaw officers operating at more times in a 24-7 city, and eliminating the standard of using a LPS officer to respond outside of City Bylaw enforcement hours.
Dispatchers can and should be transferring those service calls to a better staffed and trained bylaw department. CUPE 101 leadership has valid concerns about the increase in duties being asked of by Bylaw officers, including visiting homeless encampments, and will be having ongoing discussions with relation to job duties and training provided to complete them.
I have had encouraging conversations with local non-profit leaders with regards to the expansion of training of London Police Service officers in important areas, such as that My Sisters Place gave training to 650 front line officers on how to better support individuals experiencing homelessness, addiction, and mental health crisis.
This is positive and should expand and continue until the social and legislative issues that create so many intersectional challenges can be better addressed, and a system can be designed with more clearly defined roles and service provision.
I have also heard from leaders in service provision for violence against women and girls that LPS has come to the table, listened, participated in changing processes and procedures, and played a stronger and more positive role in combatting human trafficking in our city.
A very important topic in local policing right now is traffic. London is having a growing problem with hit-and-run violence and vehicular homocides in general.
Our Traffic and Road Safety department currently employs 14 members , and a vehicular homocide like Jibin Benoy's can tie up one of those fourteen officers for hundreds of hours. Roads can be made safer through design and enforcement, and fourteen total officers over 422 square kms is simply not enough.
We need to design better and safer roads, and can introduce traffic calming measures such as more speed humps, red light cameras, and other ideas that other jurisdictions that have successfully mitigated a high level of traffic fatalities such as New Zealand have used: Paper 1 and Paper 2
The Chief of Police decides how officers are staffed and the types of calls that officers do and don't respond to, but with so many calls for service and so much violent crime, Motor Vehicle Fatalities, and more major investigation-heavy issues like fraud and human trafficking take more intensive resources.
Even with the request for 52 new officers, resolving the staffing challenges aren't as simple as pressing the "yes" button around the Horseshoe when the vote is called for the sitting councillors.
London Police is limited by recruiting and hiring capacity, as well as training capacity at Ontario Police College, along with officer retention. Of the 881 current staff on London Police Service, 70 officers have their 30 years of service in and can conceivably retire anytime with a full pension. So that 52 new officers could become up to 122 new officers needed with a moment's notice, and can't be quickly addressed either.
Recruiting has been difficult, as there are not as many applying as there used to be for roles in policing, and many of those applying do not understand that what they did in their private past can make them ineligible for police work.
Despite this, I am happy to share that two dear friends of mine, who are racalized community leaders, are in the final stages of becoming London Police Service officers.
One is Indigenous and the other is Black, and they are both the types of people we would be proud to introduce our children to as police officers. This makes me greatly excited to hear, and I am beyond proud of them for taking this next step in their careers and grateful that they were given the opportunity to better reflect the diversity of our city and the calm reassuring people-first strategy of public service.
As a path forward, I hope that three things can happen. 1. The public can understand the operating conditions for London Police, and support asking the Province and the City of London to be active participants in finding solutions to problems that uniformed officers don't need to respond to by default. The Public also should participate in the LPS public consultations as part of their new strategic plan in the works. More information here: https://www.londonpolice.ca/en/community/virtual-community-consultations.aspx
2. Support programs that change policing from the "boys in blue" image of hands on tactical resolution of the 80's and 90's and pivot more towards a community based approach. An example of this is the COAST team. COAST was the idea of LPS leadership, and is currently funded by their pilot dollars. LPS officers are paired with Mental Health crisis workers and other medical staff in more business casual clothing and with proactive interventions and care access supports. We need to insist to anyone who will listen that the Province fund this successful initiative, and that it be expanded beyond its three current teams into a 24/7 service.
3. Recognize London Police Service as a community agency that wants to be a part of solutions and work together on finding those solutions. In my meeting with London Police Association, I learned that calls I've received from officers in the past from private numbers aren't because they don't want you to call them back, it's because they're actually using their own personal cell phones as a way to try to help expand available resources further. Every dollar counts when it comes to tax dollars. There are a lot of officers going above and beyond during and outside of work to be a part of positive parts of our community. Let's hold the not good ones accountable AND celebrate the good ones as a way to set and maintain a high standard.
Understanding the crises we find ourselves in, identifying and pursuing realistic paths forward towards better, assigning work to the person best suited to complete it, and coming together as one community that understands and respects differences in perspective and experience and asks more often "how can I/we help?" will make a better future for all of us.