THUNDER BAY – Potential provincial changes to how complaints against police forces are probed has prompted the Thunder Bay Police Services Board to call for a local investigative presence.
The board at their monthly meeting on Tuesday morning passed a motion requesting a satellite office be opened in Thunder Bay to investigate complaints if the proposed changes to the Police Services Act announced earlier this fall are enacted.
That legislation, which is still in the hands of provincial politicians at Queen’s Park, would result in the Office of the Independent Police Review Director being rebranded as the Ontario Policing Complaints Agency and would investigate all complaints made against police forces.
“Currently, some come back to individual police services to investigate so in that case it would certainly mean the OIPRD would have quite a volume of cases to deal with,” board chair Jackie Dojack said.
“When an investigation is started, everybody would like to see the investigation completed as quickly as possible. With a huge increase in volume the OIPRD would have to deal with.”
In 2016, 40 complaints were filed against the Thunder Bay Police Service. Those included 13 complaints alleging discreditable conduct, five unlawful or unnecessary use of force, three of neglect of duty and two service complaints. The remaining 16 were screened out and deemed frivolous, made in bad faith or not in the public interest to examine.
Of the 27 complaints to be followed up, 13 were determined to be unsubstantiated while eight had pending investigations and three had been withdrawn. There are six pending investigations from 2016 that have been retained by the OIPRD.
Under the current framework, the OIPRD decides which complaints it investigates and which are dealt with by the police force. While the police force investigates the complaint, its findings are reviewed by the OIPRD.
“We think there would probably be efficiencies in having a local office so those investigators would live here and investigations could proceed in a more timely manner,” Dojack said. “They could also serve other police services in the north.”
There shouldn’t be any reason to expect the number of complaints against police to decrease as people have increased access to social media and other technology, she added.
“We have to think about not just Thunder Bay but the whole volume of complaints against police. People have the right to complain against the police. That’s a right they have and that’s an important right they have and those investigations be conducted,” Dojack said.