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This didn’t happen overnight, but it is the sad reality we face, and it can’t be dismissed or wished away. The distrust has even spilled over into the school system, with a “no-cops-in-school” campaign to remove community police officers who work as resource officers in schools. The program, which began about 20 years ago to build bridges between the police and schools, has become a victim of the poisoned relationship. Police Chief Peter Sloly has had to step in to save the program, which remains on life-support.
Clearly things have to change, and this is the time to do it. The police service is an important and much-needed institution, but it has its failings. These must be acknowledged and fixed.
Coun. Diane Deans, chair of the police services board, acknowledges the problem and says the city is committed to finding solutions. “The Black, Indigenous and People of Colour community feel, and justifiably so, that they have not always been treated equally. We need to recognize there is institutional racism, and there is conscious and unconscious bias in our institutions, including the police service,” she said in an interview. “It’s unfortunate but it has been a long time coming that the trust and confidence in policing not just in our city but across North America, is broken. We have certainly recognized that.”
Deans accepts that not everybody in the community, or even the police, see the problem the same way. Institutions such as the police are often change-averse, and there may well be pushback from within the service. But the board is committed to working with everyone, including the police union, to find solutions. She says the vast majority of police officers work hard everyday and “put themselves in harm’s way to protect the community,” and we should appreciate their sacrifices. We do.
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Still, concern remains about a police service when some are happy to depict the chief as Hitler in a video for standing up to racism. Deans acknowledges that unfortunate incident but says many police officers she encounters understand the need for change and support it. “It will be a better place to work when the confidence and trust in the police is restored,” she says.
Beyond improving race relations, Deans says the board’s priorities include less use of force, de-escalation training, hiring more minorities and women, and a new approach to mental health calls.
“One of the goals the chief (Sloly) has is to change the face of policing in Ottawa. We hired an agent of change in the chief that we hired, and we did that purposefully because we wanted significant change,” Deans says.
The change the city needs and everyone wants won’t come easily, she says, but “there can be no doubt that this police board is intent on bringing that change. I, as chair of the board am very committed to getting us there. You’ll see a lot happening in 2021.”
Let’s hope so. We need to repair this fractured relationship.
Mohammed Adam is an Ottawa journalist and commentator.
This content was originally published here.