Indigenous Policing in Ontario TodayIndigenous Police Leaders SpeakBy Jose Luis (Joe) CoutoChief Roland Morrison Nishnawbe Aski Police ServiceDeputy Chief Jeff Skye Treaty Three Police ServiceIn the Summer 2005 issue of H.Q. Magazine, the front cover featured the headline “First Nations Policing: Getting Beyond ‘The Program.’” In the lead article, Wes Luloff, then-Chief of Police of Nishnawbe Aski Police Service, identified challenges Indigenous police services faced with the daunting tasks of providing community safety and law enforcement services to Indigenous communities. These challenges included:• Conditions of the communities being served (inadequate housing and social services, poverty, etc.);• Poor working conditions for police officers;• Officer safety issues; and• Funding issues related to agreements with the federal and provincial government.Fast forward to 2022. What’s changed? According to two leading Indigenous police leaders in Ontario, while some progress has been made, many issues remain largely unaddressed.“Unfortunately, the system still hasn’t changed today,” says Deputy Chief Jeff Skye of Treaty Three Police Service and Director on the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police’s (OACP) Board. He believes that Indigenous communities are still not receiving adequate resources to police Indigenous communities at the same levels as other communities.“It should never be different. It should be the same type of policing when it comes to community safety and having the proper resources and equitable funding for it.”According to Chief Roland Morrison of Nishnawbe Aski Police Service and Past-President of the Indigenous Police Chiefs of Ontario (IPCO), these funding issues have largely yet to be resolved: “How do you address an issue that is a very real priority now when you have to wait four years to get funding to…meet the needs of what your communities are asking [for]? That inability to really negotiate your agreements or your funding arrangement places a hardship on police leaders, and in turn, the police leaders face criticism from communities, and there’s really not much you can do about it until you negotiate your funding agreement.”That’s a sentiment that Deputy Chief Skye agrees with, the Police boards and Police Chiefs for the most part negotiate stand alone agreements (Tri Partite) with Canada and the province. The First Nation Chiefs are the decision makers in the end who then sign the Tri Partite agreements on behalf of their communities. The Police Chief makes the day to day operational decision with Board oversight. Inadequate funding has always been an concern for First Nation Policing. However, that system is not working because the funders and governments don’t recognize that indigenous police services deserve better. I think it’s a culture within governments that are unwilling to change and give the adequate resources.Deputy Chief Skye believes that while police leaders can advocate for change, until governments change that culture, it’s going to be increasingly difficult to police Indigenous communities with police officers that are suffering from burnout or severe mental health issues.The Facts Indigenous policing issues are a top community safety issue not just for Indigenous police leaders and their communities, but for all police leaders, says Chief Nishan Duraiappah, Chair of the OACP Anti-Racism Working Group and OACP President for 2022-2023.“There is a discernible shift in policing when it comes to recognizing that, without really addressing the issues and needs of Indigenous police services, we cannot really tackle the issues holding us all back from real change when it comes to rooting out systemic racism,” says Chief Duraiappah. “If we really want to have more responsive and representative police organizations, supporting positive changes for Indigenous police services must be a priority for all police leaders.”Indigenous people and communities have unique policing needs. Canada’s colonial history includes the displacement and forced relocation of many Indigenous peoples from their traditional lands and a loss of culture. “Progress” in Canada has often meant that Indigenous peoples have become further marginalized. Relations between Indigenous peoples and police have often been characterized by mutual suspicion, hostility and discrimination (Parent and Parent, 2018). These are hard but important facts to acknowledge.Indigenous peoples in North America have traditionally been reluctant to pursue law enforcement careers due to negative past experiences. The roots of this reluctance are grounded in such issues as colonialism, disproportionate poverty for Indigenous peoples, poor health-care services, and discrimination in education, employment earnings, access to credit and criminal justice (where, for example, Indigenous people are overrepresented in incarceration institutions) (Bailey et al., 2017).“As Indigenous people that have a history and [knowledge of] the colonial impacts of a system that’s been forced upon them, and having to police a community with a system that provided the oppression, how do you make it attractive for a person that may be faced with intergenerational trauma because of that system?” asks Chief Morrison. This is a common challenge for all police services, including the nine standalone Indigenous police services in Ontario.Similar to other communities, Indigenous communities are experiencing a lack of trust and confidence in policing, including the sentiment that they are being increasingly policed by officers they call “curtain cops”; officers policing Indigenous communities are perceived as less engaged in community life, and once their shifts end, these officers return to their employer-supplied housing and draw the curtains, effectively isolating themselves from the people they police (Jones et al., 2019). In fact, a study of RCMP officers in Indigenous communities by Leuprecht (2017) concluded that, “in remote areas, most people figure they are just there to put in their time, save some money, but eventually apply for a promotion and leave” (p. 28).The Future While the challenges identified in 2005 largely remain to be solved, there is progress, according to Chief Morrison. “I think there’s been a lot of education that’s happening [in policing and governments], and that has to continue in terms of what Indigenous policing is about,” he says.Chief Morrison believes that issues around the crime severity and violent crime that happens in Indigenous communities as a result of colonialism and intergenerational trauma will continue to be major challenges for Indigenous communities. However, the “good movement” that’s been occurring in terms of legislation developments at the provincial and federal levels means that Indigenous police leaders have to be optimistic.“These are great steps, and these steps are being embraced by Indigenous leaders and Indigenous political bodies because it is a move in the right direction, because it allows services to access resources to develop programming and capacity to deliver on core functions,” says Chief Morrison.Deputy Chief Skye notes that Indigenous police services are now actively seeking equity when it comes to things like wages and pensions within Indigenous police services by using tools such as human rights complaints to address inequities.“Indigenous officers are only asking for equality, which is no different than any other police service – just to be equal. And it’s so difficult when I think our funders and our governments don’t understand that, but yet they have equitable treatment in their governments, their employment,” says Deputy Chief Skye.Recommendations for positive changes to policing Indigenous communities – regardless of what service delivers policing – are contained in countless reports from multiple inquiries, including Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, 2019), Perceptions of and Experiences with Police and the Justice System Among the Black and Indigenous Populations in Canada (Kotter, 2022) and Joining the Circle: Identifying Key Ingredients for Effective Police Collaboration within Indigenous Communities (Nilson & Mantello, 2019).Jose Luis (Joe) Couto is the Director of Government Relations and Communications for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. He can be reached at jcouto@oacp.ca.
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