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Creating a Safe Police Workplace CultureBy Deputy Chief Jeff Hill, Halton Regional Police Service In 2021, I stood before the almost 150 female members of Halton Regional Police Service’s newly created Women’s Internal Support Network (WISN). It was the first day of their first-ever women’s symposium, a huge step towards positive change. I, along with the Chief and my fellow Deputy Chief, had been asked to attend and provide opening remarks. As part of my remarks, I brought with me one question that I had long struggled with: How do we create a workplace where members feel safe to report harassment/sexual harassment, and other members feel a responsibility to intervene or assist?I must confess that I feel uncomfortable writing this article and must make this point clear: although I am the author of this article, those truly leading the change are leaders such as Superintendent Sue Biggs, Inspector Anita Laframboise, Sara Luther (Forwardworking) and the incredible members of the WISN.The Halton Regional Police Service is a great organization with incredible people, and I feel privileged to be a member of it. With that said, we are not infallible, and it has never been lost on me that while our reported cases of harassment on an annual basis are relatively low, you would have to be naïve to believe that it isn’t a much bigger issue. Reinforcing this belief, I am honoured to have female leaders share with me the struggles they have endured in their policing careers. The expression that sticks most with me is “death by a thousand paper cuts,” referencing the small micro-aggressions and larger challenges faced in their career by virtue of their gender. We all have policies that are supposed to protect our employees. However, if we are honest, we can acknowledge that our policies are often created to comply with the varied pieces of legislation that govern our workplaces and are there to protect the organization, not our people. As a result, they fail to provide the guidance and confidence needed to those who are struggling in their workplaces.Barriers & Hurdles Simple questions such as “Whom can I trust?”, “Who can I call?”, “What will happen if I tell someone?” become barriers themselves. It is an intimidating hurdle, too daunting, for someone to report harassing behaviours. I asked the question I did at the symposium because I knew I wanted change, but how could we rewrite the policy about negative behaviours, feelings and vulnerabilities that can be applied to a myriad of situations, so that all members felt respected, valued and protected while also removing barriers to reporting?During the symposium, the answers to my questions were anonymously collected and provided to me a short time later. A systematic review of our harassment policy in its entirety was also completed with every member in attendance. This review was led by human rights lawyer Sara Luther, who had been contracted by the members of the WISN to help lead the symposium.Earlier, I had said I knew we did not have a good understanding of how prevalent harassment was in the organization. But the feedback I received was heart-wrenching. Our members were entirely honest in their feedback about the service and the policy. The reflections and suggestions were thoughtful, ranging from very positive to very negative. After the symposium, the WISN summarized the feedback of the 135 delegates and provided thoughtful recommendations about the “what next?”, which included a complete revisioning and reimagining of our approach to our policy.“ We don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems ” -James Clear Atomic HabitsBoard created by the members during Halton RPS workshops, which represent how people want to be treated.The mandate of the change was not simply to strengthen the policy, but most importantly to humanize the processes by identifying challenges to reporting and classifying inappropriate behaviours, as well as recognizing workplace paths and alternatives to address incivility and workplace harassment. In Sara’s words, we wanted to own the space above the illegal bar of harassment and discrimination and create a culture where people come forward fast.We knew as senior leaders that change was in motion and wholeheartedly supported the recommendations. An email was sent out to every member of the service, including the police association, inviting them to participate in this work. We did not want to leave anyone out. Building on responses, we created a focus group of 25 members with various experiences of the existing policy, representing the whole service. Each of our Internal Support Networks were involved, as well as others that had expressed their passion for the work. I wanted to be personally involved but had concerns that my presence would prevent others from speaking out.I am very aware that my rank has, at times, an uncanny ability to halt a conversation. It was identified to me that giving “permission” for others to improve the environment for us all was not good enough. As a Deputy Chief and part of the Senior Leadership Team, I needed to act, to stop being merely an ally and establish myself as an accomplice. I am lucky I have people around me that will be honest with me.Frank Conversations Sara Luther of Forwardworking led us through a series of four three-hour workshops, true case studies and frank conversations about workplace culture, the need to be intentional about what we are trying to create and the barriers that slow us down or stop us in our tracks. We talked about how we have all seen or been a part of incivility or, even worse, harassment, and how it affects how we feel about ourselves and our workplace. We resisted studying “best practices,” looking instead at our own service, examining the flaws that exist in our culture and practice. We recognized that in most cases, incivility should never make it to the level of an investigation, which seems to be the rising trend as they linger unresolved and escalate to allegations of harassment. In addition to being expensive and time-consuming, most often no one wins at the end of an investigation, substantiated or not, as the feelings that existed initially are still likely to exist.We reinforced simple concepts that you would think are common sense but seem to be forgotten. Everyone wants to be treated with respect – our core values of accountability and trust matter and must be applied to every rank. We spoke about human rights, uncivil behaviour and how to see it and lead through it. I have learned why it is essential that our policy is humane and respect-focused. Together, we put together a draft policy that is far clearer than before. It identifies and normalizes challenges and feelings of trepidation and has created a “respect loop” to help people understand the options they have. It addresses the barriers to reporting and guides us to deal with incivility before it becomes harassment, as well as harassment itself. It is written with the goal of empowering each individual to make decisions at their level and have an impact, and finally that every member at all levels is accountable for their performance and behaviour.I know this revised policy will not in itself change our culture. Yet, it is a meaningful start that has given us a new foundation to launch from and will be a positive and valuable piece of our vision as we move forward. The members of our WISN have presented their progress on this work to our Police Services Board, which has been extremely supportive all along the way. Both the board and the Chief are completely committed to a respect-based culture. As we move into the implementation and embedding phases of this work, we know this is where the hard work begins.Jeff Hill is Deputy Chief of the Halton Regional Police Service.