Countering Incivility, Harassment, and Discrimination in PolicingBy Laura Smith, Ontario Provincial Police, and Laura Flyer, Toronto Police ServiceCreating a workplace environment that is inclusive, respectful, and free from harassment and discrimination is an ongoing priority for Ontario police services. However, services face systemic challenges in their efforts to prevent these negative behaviours, effectively address them, and change their culture.Historically, harassment has gone largely unreported in police services due to fears of reprisal and marginalization of victims. Formal complaints are generally not responsive to underlying causes of harassment and discrimination and often revictimize those most impacted by this behaviour. The outcomes of investigations, which have generally focused on police discipline, have been punitive in nature with little regard for victims or restorative resolutions.Many factors are present in police workplace culture that have allowed harassment and discrimination to flourish, and traditional efforts for prevention have generally been ineffective. Given the common experiences of police services and the shared need to create and support police workplaces that are psychologically safe and healthy for members, efforts are underway to collaborate across the police sector to establish norms for positive workplace culture and best practices for eliminating and responding to harassment and discrimination.RESPECTFUL WORKPLACES The Working Group on Respectful Workplaces in Policing (WGRWP) was established in February 2022 to facilitate collaboration within the police sector in Ontario to support the elimination of all forms of harassment and discrimination, and to promote and support transformational culture change in police services to achieve psychologically safe, inclusive and respectful workplaces through prevention, education, leadership and accountability.The WGRWP began as a collaboration between the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and Toronto Police Service (TPS) in 2021, when both services were responding to external reports and reviews calling for more effective measures to address harassment and discrimination in the workplace. It is co-chaired by OPP and TPS and currently includes more than two dozen Ontario police services who have come together to develop and support the implementation of best practices to address negative workplace behaviours and factors, and to support transformational culture change. Members of the working group represent large, medium, and small police services and bring a range of perspectives and subject matter expertise.The group recognizes the importance of integrating conflict resolution, restorative approaches and other remedial measures at any stage following a complaint to support healthy workplace environments, reduce the negative impacts on members associated with formal complaint and investigation processes, and address inappropriate behaviour promptly and effectively. The goal is to create a workplace culture in policing where members feel safe, valued and respected, and have the confidence to speak up when impacted by negative workplace behaviours.DRIVERS FOR CHANGE For members to feel comfortable reporting incidents of workplace harassment and discrimination, they need to feel confident they will be supported, and that their concerns will be responded to appropriately. The traditional response has been to pursue the allegations under one piece of legislation – either the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA)/Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) or the Police Services Act (now Community Safety and Policing Act, CSPA) – while ignoring other applicable legislative requirements, putting services at risk. This either/ or, ad hoc approach has been largely determined at the management level, with members having little to no input on the direction of resolution or potentially being forced to engage in multiple processes on the same issue.This approach has also resulted in processes that examine individual incidents in isolation, rather than examining the totality of the situation being reported, which can often be complex or nuanced. The disproportionate reliance on investigations as the only option to address workplace harassment or discrimination results in processes that are not trauma-informed and that do not include recommendations for workplace restoration or other remedial measures upon case closure.While the WGRWP initially endeavoured to focus on establishing best practices for navigating competing legislative requirements for workplace investigations under OHSA , the Code, and the CSPA, this work quickly expanded to include a holistic approach to complaint, conflict resolution and culture change by examining three process-related themes – intake/triage, investigations, resolution and restoration – and two overarching themes: education and prevention, and accountability.The WGRWP has developed an intake and assessment form, with a coinciding instruction guide, that allows for a standardized and consistent method for receiving and assessing complaints and other concerns brought forward by members regarding workplace conflict, harassment, discrimination and other negative workplace behaviour. This tool encourages options for members so that they feel empowered to bring issues forward in ways other than formal complaints. Through direct member engagement, this process encourages a trauma-informed approach to responding to a variety of issues from interpersonal conflict to egregious workplace conduct. It can be adapted to different services, recognizing services have variable resources available. The tool includes prompting questions to guide the user through a member needs assessment, the collection of relevant information, important consultations to consider and a link to definitions of possible alternate resolutions to discuss with impacted members.FOR MEMBERS TO FEEL COMFORTABLE REPORTING INCIDENTS OF WORKPLACE HARASSMENT AND DISCRIMINATION, THEY NEED TO FEEL CONFIDENT THEY WILL BE SUPPORTED, AND THAT THEIR CONCERNS WILL BE RESPONDED TO APPROPRIATELY.The assessment considers the nature of the matter, the parties involved and their desired outcomes, and available options for resolution. It then determines, through detailed triage criteria (with both qualitative and quantitative options), the most appropriate response.The instruction guide also offers guidance on the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities for the individual(s) conducting the assessment.INVESTIGATIONS Formal investigations, while not appropriate in every circumstance, are an important aspect in addressing a complaint for matters that are more serious or systemic to comply with legal obligations as well as to ensure fairness, objectivity and accountability in the process. Where a workplace investigation is required, it must consider all legislative requirements (OHSA, the Code, the CSPA) and, where feasible, be conducted in the most expeditious manner that avoids re-victimization of witnesses or duplication of processes. OHSA , and by extension the Ministry of Labour’s Code of Practice to Address Workplace Investigations, requires employers ensure compliance in areas including conflicts of interest, confidentiality and the subject matter expertise required to conduct investigations.The WGRWP created a document that maps the Code of Practice to the systems and processes of police organizations to provide practical instructions for services, whether large or small, to implement. Key guidance includes ensuring that investigators possess the requisite knowledge, skills and experience to conduct workplace harassment and discrimination investigations, that proper notification is provided to the complainant on the outcome and corrective action taken following an investigation, and that resolutions and other interventions be incorporated into processes to provide meaningful remedial measures.Workplace investigations substantively differ from police investigations, and key aspects of the fact-finding process, including conducting thorough credibility assessments and making determinations based on a pattern of incidents rather than each incident in isolation, are some important differences that the working group highlighted as part of its best practices.RESOLUTION AND RESTORATION The working group has developed a suite of options to support appropriate resolution to matters raised, and to encourage and support workplace restoration. These tools offer definitions and outlines a variety of alternate responses to conflict situations, recognizing that not all issues require a formal complaint, nor an investigative response. Alternate responses outlined in the tool include, but are not limited to, facilitated conversations, motivational interviews and coaching. The tool encourages consideration of the unique needs of the workplace and can be used to develop a process that is best suited to the issues presented. Further, it identifies the roles and responsibilities of each key player in the process with an emphasis on driving positive cultural change and accountability moving forward.THE WORKING GROUP HAS DEVELOPED A SUITE OF OPTIONS TO SUPPORT APPROPRIATE RESOLUTION TO MATTERS RAISED, AND TO ENCOURAGE AND SUPPORT WORKPLACE RESTORATION.Services have recognized that workplace restoration is required in order to restore or improve workplace culture as a result of complaints or conflict. This tool offers guidance on the steps required to effect longterm change and restore a sense of harmony within the workplace.Importantly, this tool outlines that resolution and restoration may involve leveraging a combination of the initiatives included, making options flexible and adaptable to evolving conditions.ACCOUNTABILITY AND PREVENTION Accountability is crucial in addressing workplace harassment and discrimination within policing to foster a safe, respectful, inclusive and equitable work environment and to maintain public confidence in law enforcement. The WGRWP reviewed this overarching theme, focusing on bringing consistency when it comes to holding members accountable for incivility, harassment and discrimination. The tool outlines the key aspects of organizational accountability, and accountability of self, at each stage of conflict and complaint resolution.Appreciating that services not only need best practices to respond to issues, but also need to enhance efforts towards prevention of incivility, harassment and discrimination, the WGRWP also focused on developing a guide of synthesized education and prevention resources. The guide offers directions on how to implement a plan to promote psychologically safe, inclusive and respectful workplaces.NEXT STEPS Our group has been continuously engaging with its stakeholders and partners to refine the guidance and tools to ensure it is a comprehensive, practical document that police services will be in the best position to adopt. This includes regular engagement and ongoing refinement of the best practice documents with the Police Association of Ontario, the Toronto Police Association and the Ontario Provincial Police Association. Watch for future training opportunities to walk through the best practice tools and documents for police leaders and subject matter experts to implement in their own services.Laura Smith is the working group’s co-chair and manager of the Resolution & Restoration Unit with the Ontario Provincial Police. She can be reached at laura.smith@opp.ca.Laura Flyer is the working group’s co-chair and Acting Manager of the Equity, Inclusion & Human Rights Unit, with the Toronto Police Service. She can be reached at laura.flyer@torontopolice.on.ca.
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