Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

To Serve and Protect

"If an officer's misconduct is likely to lead to dismissal, the suspension should be without pay."
"The practice of continuing to pay an officer who has committed serious misconduct creates the appearance that the police [force] does not view the misconduct as seriously as it should, and this can lower the reputation of policing."
Peter Rosenthal, policing expert, professor, University of Toronto

"[...If] they're caught holding a smoking gun [unpaid suspensions should be an option."
"If it appears like a person is almost certain to be convicted, it doesn't make sense that they continue to draw a paycheque."
"I can't fathom why Ontario doesn't get on board with what other provinces are doing."
David MacAlister, criminology expert, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia
Video thumbnail for By the numbers: Ontario Police

Former Waterloo police officer Craig Markham publicly thanked Waterloo Police for the "nice gift" permitting him to "sit home, take courses, travel and play lots of golf", during a three-year suspension when he was paid his normal salary for that period, amounting to $350,000 -- for an unscheduled vacation, as he put it. He would have preferred to be working, even if, during the time  he was under suspicion before his case was heard, he would have been given menial tasks to perform.

Suspension, under suspicion of having behaved outside the law, even if suspended officers still receive their full pay, isn't popular with police officers, but it's the way things are done in Ontario. There are 53 police services in the province. An investigative journalist discovered that during a period of three weeks beginning in July and going into early August, the total number of officers suspended came to 80.

Most police services are not comfortable with detailing to enquirers, particularly journalists, information on such matters, and they withhold any personal information, such as naming the officers involved, the charges against them and the suspension length. Of the total, 18 police services affirmed they had officers on staff who were suspended with pay. The Ontario Provincial Police had 22 suspended officers, qualifying as the service with the most suspensions.

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A member of the Durham Regional Police, Constable Glen Turpin has been suspended since 2008 on charges of assault and threatening bodily harm, along with Police Services Act charges of excessive use of force. Although he has been twice convicted, he is still on the payroll totalling $600,000 up to the present, while awaiting a final verdict whether he can remain on the force.

The average salary for suspended officers was $101,288.45, amounting to a daily cost paid by Ontario taxpayers of $21,946.73, for suspended officers during that three-week period when 80 officers were under paid suspension. Since the matter has come to the public eye the Ontario minister of community safety and correctional services stated the province would give consideration to amending the Police Services Act.
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Dr. Rosenthal feels that paying officers who have been charged with serious criminal offences can result in a deliberate prolongation of the suspension process through verdicts being appealed. Back pay with interest should become routine, only if the suspended officers are found innocent of the charges brought against them. Dr. MacAlister feels that police officers, like any other citizens, should be considered innocent before proven guilty.

If "they're caught holding a smoking gun", it is at that time that unpaid suspensions should come on stream. The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police last year recommended the province amend the Police Services Act to permit chiefs of police suspension authority without pay for those charged with serious offences, and it is considered best for the force and the public to dismiss such officers.

The Niagara Police Services chief and OACP president Mark McGuire felt such an option would account for adequate responses in cases such as former Toronto police officer Richard Wills who murdered his mistress in 2002, but was convicted of first-degree murder only in 2007 so that while awaiting arrest and conviction he was receiving a full paycheque.

To place things into perspective, according to president of the Police Association of Ontario Bruce Chapman, there were 26,148 police officers working in Ontario in 2014. Of that number 80 officers were suspended. "I'm pleasantly surprised with the numbers and it shows the system isn't broken" he stated. "The vast majority of members will likely be back on the job", because most complaints are unsubstantiated. Unpaid suspensions would equate to considering them guilty before proven innocent.

According to the 2014-15 annual report of the province's Special Investigations Unit, five percent only of investigated cases led to charges laid against officers, leading to suspensions. The Office of the Independent Police Review Director which receives and manages complaints about Ontario police revealed in its 2013-14 report that of 2,697 allegations against police, 2,516 were unsubstantiated.

Those police officers, however, for whom charges are proven, are guilty of serious criminal conduct. Chatham-Kent Police Service Sergeant Robert Mugridge was suspended in 2014 on 47 counts of fraud over $5,000; his salary was roughly $99,000 annually.Toronto constables Sameer Kara, Leslie Nyznik and Joshua Cabero were charged with sexual and gang sexual assault in an off-duty incident. Timmins Police Service Staff Sergeant Dave Starcevic and York Regional Police Constable Young Min von Seefried also face sexual assault charges.

Peel Regional Police detective Craig Wattier was suspended with pay on charges of accessing and possessing child pornography, breach of trust and two counts of fraud over $5,000. Windsor police Constable David Bshouty chose to resign after suspension with pay on drug trafficking charges, but only following a year of paid suspension. And finally, Waterloo police Constable Deborah Bourne resigned in the wake of a dozen misconduct charges under the Police Services Act after collecting $261,000 in salary on her suspension in 2012.

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