In The Simpsons episode, “Homer the Vigilante”, Lisa asks Homer, “If you’re the police, who will police the police?” Homer replies, “I don’t know. Coast guard?” Police officer misconduct has received considerable media attention of late. Another instance of police misconduct was covered in an earlier post on this blog.
In September of this year, the Toronto Star published a four-part series covering an investigation it had conducted into officer misconduct in the Ontario Provincial Police and the police services in the Greater Toronto Area – Toronto, Peel, York, Halton and Durham. The investigation found that police officers have been using their positions and the powers that accompany them for personal gain. In the past 5 years, according to police files, almost 350 officers in the Greater Toronto Area have been disciplined for ‘serious’ misconduct. Over 60 officers from the OPP and from the GTA police forces have also been disciplined for drinking and driving since 2010. However, although OPP Commissioner, Vince Hawkes, told the Star that individuals caught for an impaired driving offence should no longer be police officers, the Star uncovered only one case in which an officer was made to resign. In addition, Toronto police handed out the most lenient penalties to officers caught drinking and driving, despite memos and bulletins from police chiefs strongly condemning the practice.
It is concerning that many of the officers disciplined with conduct referred to as “serious” by their own services are still working as cops. While having a previous criminal record almost guarantees that a person will never be hired as a police officer, the unfortunate reality is that once someone is an officer, it is difficult to get rid of them. Many officers who are convicted of criminal offences receive a slap on the wrist and are allowed to continue working. Prosecutors and even police chiefs feel that officers are often treated too lightly. In addition, police discipline cases rarely get reported in public. In numerous written decisions, the police officer presiding over the tribunal noted that media coverage of the officer’s misconduct would undermine public trust in the police and would cause significant damage to the reputation of the police force. But the revelation of the lenient penalties officers receive for their misconduct is troubling and equally serves to undermine public trust in the ability of the police tribunals to police their own.
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