Collective Leadership for Current Challenges and Changes in PolicingBy Chief Gary Conn, President, Ontario Association of Chiefs of PoliceThe landscape of policing continues to evolve at an unprecedented pace. Issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic (mandatory vaccination for police personnel, vaccine declaration statuses and vaccine compliance checks), the upcoming changes to the legislation that governs policing in Ontario and maintaining public trust are just some of the challenges facing Ontario’s policing leaders.The new legislation governing policing, the Comprehensive Ontario Police Services Act, attempts to mitigate complex social trends through the examination of alternative service delivery models and modified deployment tactics regarding useof-force, certainly with respect to those suffering with mental health issues. The legislation will present challenges for police leaders. It will place further strains on police leadership with police boards reviewing budgets, looking for things to cut and increasing the possibility of outsourcing services currently provided by law enforcement organizations to other agencies.As policing in Ontario continues to move forward as a profession, equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) needs to be embedded into all aspects organizations, including leadership, recruiting, training, language, symbols, aesthetics, policies, procedures, programs and organizational culture. Ensuring we place an “EDI lens” over all our internal and external processes and systems will help increase transparency, accountability, police legitimacy and public trust. At the same time, it will enable us to mitigate stereotypes and biases and help break down the stigma attached to police personnel suffering from operational stress injuries.Finally, but certainly not least, the negative portrayal of policing has further eroded public trust and police legitimacy. It has contributed to the reduced number of applicants considering our vocation as a profession. The heightened awareness of movements like those calling to defund policing and the acknowledgement by police leaders that systemic racism exists in our profession (although it is broader than just any one profession and exists at a societal level) have all contributed towards a recognition that reform and change are inevitable.Leadership ApproachesAs we work to address some of these challenges, a variety of leadership approaches will be necessary to develop and implement effective interventions. A blend of different leadership styles is helpful for any leader, as it provides options when working with a multitude of different people. This requires that we sincerely care for the people we work with. I have often said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”The complex problems we face do not have straightforward answers. These problems call for leadership, which we might define as using one’s ability to influence groups and systems to address complex needs. In this regard, I believe that a progressive, proactive, collective/distributed leadership approach might broaden the decision-making process, which may not otherwise be possible in the paramilitary organizational structure typical of a police force.In addition, collective/distributed leadership has been proposed to foster creativity and innovation in multi-generational workforces. Our profession consists of multi-generational cohorts, who will be instrumental in developing and fostering change in a deeply rooted policing culture.I appreciate that these are not easy topics to discuss, and even more challenging to address and resolve. However, we must choose courage over comfort (the status quo). As Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Success in not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”“A KEY FACET OF EFFECTIVE AND SUCCESSFUL LEADERSHIP INVOLVES THE ABILITY TO REMOVE OBSTACLES THAT INHIBIT PROGRESS.”-CHIEF BRYAN LARKINIn an article by my friend and colleague Chief Bryan Larkin (President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police) entitled “Breaking Down Barriers,” he notes that, “A key facet of effective and successful leadership involves the ability to remove obstacles that inhibit progress.” To this end, the value of a diverse, collective/distributed leadership approach empowers members to foster collaboration while incorporating a more multi-sectoral approach through facilitating relationships and attracting newer generational cohorts.These leadership tenets Chief Larkin and I describe provide a more macro-level approach. This approach is necessary to address current challenges and changes in policing and, when employed in tandem, complement many of our recently implemented community safety and well-being plans.Through leadership, engagement, diversity, professional relationships and advocacy, our OACP membership, staff and board of directors will continue to lead by example as we work to positively affect the current challenges and changes in policing.Chief Gary Conn is the Chief of Police for the Chatham-Kent Police Service and served as the OACP President in 2021–2022.
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