Collective LeadershipPublic Order Hubs provide a collaborative response to multijurisdictional demonstrationsBy Commissioner Thomas Carrique, Ontario Provincial PoliceThe first few months of 2022 were historic – both for police and for society at large. Antimandate and anti-vaccine demonstrations that seized Ottawa in late January of that year quickly grew beyond the intended geographic footprint. Acts of civil disobedience spread across Canada, targeting provincial legislatures, border crossings and critical infrastructure. These complex and multi-jurisdictional demonstrations represented a stiff test for all police services, placing a heavy burden on our collective public order capacity.Civil disobedience has been increasingly employed to express dissatisfaction with governmental decisions or policies. As police, we are prepared to respond to these demonstrations, taking on the non-partisan role of ensuring that issue-based conflict is managed in a lawful, peaceful and safe manner. While we often have no direct role to play in the underlying issues or grievances at the heart of a demonstration, we are responsible for ensuring Ontario remains a safe place to live, work and travel, and therefore must provide a fitting policing response. One of the unique challenges of the anti-mandate demonstrations of 2022 was not in their technique, but rather in their dispersion across the province in strategic areas, testing highly trained yet finite police resources.As with any challenging situation, we owe it to ourselves and the public to critically reflect and push on our policies and practices in the interest of public safety. In the little more than a year since the anti-mandate demonstrations began across Ontario, police throughout the province have been assessing the ways in which we can continue to work together to ensure the safety of Ontario – in particular, how we can effectively utilize the Public Order Unit (POU) Hub model, in the event that we are once again faced with a plethora of multi-jurisdictional, issue-based conflicts across the province or country.POU Model The POU Hub model is one of several important pieces to consider when managing demonstrations within the integrated response. A national framework1was developed in 2019 by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police outlining best practices for police preparedness for demonstrations and assemblies. The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) works within a similar policy, the tenets of which are aligned with the established national approach and new POU Hub model.Before we can discuss the unique complexities of the demonstrations in 2022 and the POU Hub model developed to assist in managing them, it is important to provide a bird’s-eye view of the police response to events such as these. The effective management of any issue-based event involves three important elements: intelligence-led major incident command, police liaison and specialized operational units.The policing approach to crowd management in Canada has evolved significantly from that of previous decades. Today, police operations at demonstrations focus on providing dialogue and, where necessary, alternative options to demonstrators to ensure that events are lawful, peaceful and safe. Research suggests that these strategies provide improved public order outcomes. In particular, the goal is to avoid escalation and violence. This is achieved by educating members, informing communities, ensuring a single line of intelligence to incident command, publicly correcting misinformation, identifying leadership and testing resolve, and most importantly, focusing on community relationships to build legitimacy, trust and confidence in policing.At the OPP, all public order events are managed by Major Incident Command (MIC), which is responsible for specialized command services through a trained incident commander (IC). “Major incidents” are those that require the mobilization of OPP employees, equipment and other resources beyond those required for normal police service delivery. Major incidents are overseen by major critical incident commanders (MCIC) who hold expertise in managing and resolving occupations, demonstrations and high-risk incidents. Every MCIC is dually trained as a critical incident commander (CIC) and POU commander, and has demonstrated a deep understanding of the complexities associated with these incidents.The OPP’s approach to managing issue-based conflict, including multi-jurisdictional events, focuses on narrowing the divide between police and demonstrators. The goal is to create a mutual understanding of the need to work together to ensure demonstrations and assemblies are lawful, peaceful and safe. Everyone involved in a demonstration, particularly the leaders of community and organizing groups, has a responsibility for safety. While there may be differing opinions regarding what constitutes lawful or peaceful behaviour, it is the disregard for safety that poses the largest concern to police.The Role of Intelligence Successful resolution of major critical incidents relies on effective de-escalation. While a demonstration may seem like a single group galvanized by a cause, this is often not the case. Community members may participate for a variety of reasons, and therefore a single group may have varied interests, goals and tactics.It is essential to have intelligence units providing continual analysis of information, from a variety of sources, through an established intelligence cycle to ensure that all factors influencing the demonstration are understood. Intelligence can be gathered and provided to MCICs by using a variety of sources ranging from open-source intelligence to traditional police sources.Opening Lines of Communication Police liaison teams play an essential role in de-escalation. While these teams are relatively new in some police services, they are an integral element of the police response to crowd management, focusing on relationship building to assist in proactively resolving conflict. The role of police liaison teams is to establish and maintain effective lines of communication with all stakeholders, including those both directly and indirectly affected by an incident.The OPP’s Provincial Liaison Team (PLT) assists in deploying an incremental approach to issue management by building trust, confidence and legitimacy with community leadership and all stakeholders involved in a conflict. They also provide essential insight into community sentiment and interpersonal dynamics and are often responsible for delivering police messaging. These teams regularly carry out functions outside of traditional policing roles to support safe resolutions in emotionally charged and potentially stressful situations.While police liaison teams have been shown to be exceptionally useful, there are, at times, limits to their ability to resolve issue-based conflict. The ability of a police liaison team to effectively resolve a situation can be restricted when demonstrators differ greatly in their beliefs, goals or opinions, or when some members of the demonstration are involved in criminal activity. In situations such as these, operational tactics, including POUs, may be deployed. However, police liaison teams will continue to work alongside POUs and provide education prior to any enforcement action, such as information handouts explaining laws and rights. This offers choices for those who wish to leave prior to enforcement and can provide opportunities to safely work with those who choose to face enforcement action.TAKING MORALLY APPROPRIATE ACTION TO PUBLIC ORDER SITUATIONS IS EQUALLY AS IMPORTANT – IF NOT MORE SO – AS TAKING JUDICIALLY OR CIVILLY APPROPRIATE ACTIONS.Operational Tactics to Address Conflict While most demonstrators are peaceful and law abiding, some will naturally resist direction. When police liaison teams and other manners of resolution have not proven effective, POUs may be brought in to manage the conflict while restricting the fewest possible freedoms and using the lowest level of force. They accomplish this by addressing the most unsafe or harmful behaviours in the most judicially, civilly and morally acceptable manner, with communication through police liaison teams essential at every stage.Taking morally appropriate action to public order situations is equally as important – if not more so – as taking judicially or civilly appropriate actions. If the police response is deemed too harsh, the focus of the event can shift from the initial issue to scrutiny of police action. This can substantially damage public trust and confidence, causing individuals to unite to oppose police crowd control techniques. Police must communicate in a timely manner using varied mediums so that the public is aware of both police actions and intent. In addition, communication is vital to publicly correct misinformation. Ensuring individual members deployed to particular events are properly trained and equipped with event-specific information can also assist in successfully managing public order events.A Collaborative and Robust Response Managing issue-based demonstrations involves highly trained police personnel, including frontline response, incident commanders, critical incident commanders, major critical incident commanders, communicators, analysts, logistical supports, intelligence operators, police liaison teams and more. With a limited number of teams with the appropriate training, it is extremely important to manage resources effectively and efficiently when faced with simultaneous multi-jurisdictional events.During the anti-mandate and anti-vaccine demonstrations previously mentioned, members of the Ontario police services possessing POUs came together, along with a large number of Ontario police services, to discuss and strategize daily the deployment of POU resources. It was important to have POUs available to support all affected communities, including Ottawa, Toronto, Windsor and Niagara, as well as a variety of critical infrastructure such as highways, bridges and airports. Daily planning meetings allowed for a coordinated and intelligence-led approach to the deployment of fixed resources. Each service would discuss the needs in their community, and resources were deployed or moved from location to location as required.What emerged was a strengthening of the concept of POU Hubs – where a cluster of teams was deployable regionally, regardless of their specific service or jurisdiction. These teams were shared among communities in a region or Hub as required. The Hub model facilitated a near-constant exchange of information, allowing for a collaborative and robust operational response to dynamic situations.In order to support the deployment of POUs within each Hub, criteria for levels of public safety incidents were recognized on a scale of one to five. These criteria indicated the required level of POU support based on factors such as:• the degree to which demonstrators were observant of laws;• whether or not the demonstration was stationary or mobile;• the need for traffic control, crowd monitoring or protection of property;• the degree to which the demonstrators were confrontational;• whether or not active resistance or assault was taking place at the demonstration;• the degree to which demonstrators engaged in violent or criminal activity; and• the level of threat to the public or police.In addition, a tiered event classification was implemented, indicating on a scale of one to four the complexity of a public safety incident, factoring in whether the police response to the demonstrations was single- or multi-agency and the number of deployments required.Supporting Interoperability After the historic events in January and February 2022, life eventually shifted back to typical daily operations, providing opportunity to reflect on the police response. On April 6, 2022, members of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) Emergency Preparedness Committee (EPC) conducted a debrief of the anti-mandate demonstrations that occurred between January 27 and February 22, 2022. The intent of the debrief was to identify effective practices that could be applied to future events.Based on analyses of the events in early 2022, standards of practice for large-scale public order events were developed. The purpose of these standards is to provide effective collective leadership to police commanders during events that could potentially exceed the capacity of a single police organization. The recommendations were also created to establish an agile police response that could mobilize quickly as required. The recommendations included:• adopting the tiered scales developed to categorize public order events;• requiring all POU Commanders hold the rank of inspector or higher and have public order operational command experience;• the provincial (and national) adoption of the Hub model;• encouraging membership of police services in the EPC;• apermanent and standardized memorandum of understanding for use by any Ontario police service to support multi-jurisdictional public safety deployments; and• increasing the capacity of police services to expand their public order complements.On April 13, 2022, these recommendations were presented to, and accepted by, the Chiefs of Police present at the OACP CEO’s Day, supporting the concept of collective leadership – where police services band together to support the needs of all Ontarians, regardless of jurisdiction or shoulder flash.While the complex and multi-jurisdictional anti-mandate demonstrations posed a significant test to public order enforcement in Ontario, the result has further strengthened pre-established effective practices and the development of novel approaches and policy.Today, I am reminded of the words of Helen Keller: “Alone we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” As the commissioner of the OPP, it makes me exceptionally proud to work alongside dedicated officers and police leaders across the province. Collective leadership, like that employed in the POU Hub model, allows for a strong and unified police response in support of lawful, peaceful and safe demonstrations in Ontario.Thomas Carrique is commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police and a member of the OACP’s Board of Directors.1https://www.cacp.ca/policing-with-first-nations-metis-and-inuitpeoples-committee.html?asst_id=2098
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