Fear of crime is increasing while trust in police services globally is plummeting despite improved and productive partnerships between law enforcement organizations and communities, says Deputy Chief Peter Sloly.
Noting there is a chasm between what police are doing and their results and what the public thinks about law enforcement organizations and their outcomes, Sloly said closing the gap will go a long way in regaining the public’s trust and confidence.
“If we were in private business, we would be out of business,” he said in the keynote address at the 21st annual Association of Black Law Enforcers (ABLE) gala last Saturday night. “Despite our best efforts, we are not having the right outcomes for the people who we are supposed to be serving and protecting and for the communities that are supposed to be trusting and respecting us.
“So, there is something wrong in what we are doing. It’s not about working harder and it’s not about more cops. It’s about re-thinking our relationships with our communities, particularly our minority communities. Crime is starting to turn around in a way that’s very frightening for all us, so that gap is not going to shrink without something different happening.”
To effect change, Sloly suggested that Canadian police services consider partnering with organizations like ABLE.
“They can come in and sit down with you to look at not just your human rights issues, but your guns, gangs, drugs, intelligence gathering deployment and community policing strategies; the training of your officers and your recruiting, hiring and promotion systems,” said Sloly, a longstanding ABLE member. “They have helped the Toronto Police Service and they can help you to close that gap.”
The umbrella Black law enforcement organization was founded to, among other things, encourage racial harmony and cultural pride in the law enforcement community and the wider society, promote and protect the interests of Blacks and other racial minorities in the profession and work closely with law enforcement agencies to stimulate and facilitate employment equity programs.
The organization advocates against racial profiling and in the process has convinced police leaders that such negative issues are not resolved by abject denial, the commissioning of more studies to determine whether it exists or not or by ignoring valid recommendations to the studies that have already being undertaken.
In addition, ABLE has standing on the Ontario Association Chiefs of Police Diversity Committee, organizes the largest Black-focused career fair in Canada and has hosted the National Black Police Association’s annual conventions in 2000 and 2005. The organization also purchased a building under Roy Smiley’s presidency
Despite its successes in the last two decades, Sloly called on ABLE to raise its game to solidify its relevance and credibility.
“Are we able to help more young men and women join our ranks in policing, parole and probation to advance within the ranks to the highest levels of their organizations?” he asked. “Are we able to be on that speed dial of political offices, of civic and business leaders who are challenged with the issues of racism and bias in their own organizations? Are we able to stand alongside and in support of and sometimes in disagreement with some of the best and most progressive Chiefs anywhere in the world? Are we able to work with all the elements of the justice system, the government, the private sector and non-profits to create more comprehensive evidence-based, sustainable solutions for the types of crimes and social justice issues affecting our youth?
“I want to be able to say that the members of ABLE, including myself, are something more than able. We are capable of overcoming huge odds. Some might say we are more than capable; we are formidable. We have taken on some of the biggest challenges in policing such as racial profiling and bias within our police organizations and we have had some incredible results. In the long history of ABLE, we can mark along that path significant achievements within the criminal justice system and on behalf of the criminal justice system to the communities right across Canada and around the world.”
While promising that ABLE will continue to advocate on behalf of its members and help them advance in their education and careers, Sloly urged members – particularly the young ones – to stand up and be counted.
“You have got to step up to your Chiefs and show them you are good,” he said. “You also have to work hard and don’t get into trouble. We are here to help you, but if you cut your throat, disrespect your organization and bring shame to this uniform and the office that you hold, we are not going to be helping you. ABLE is not in the business of helping bad cops. We are in the business of helping good cops and organizations.”
In his powerful presentation delivered before several police chiefs, including Toronto’s Bill Blair, Jennifer Evans of Peel, Durham’s Eric Jolliffe and Ontario Provincial Police head Chris Lewis, Sloly remembered retired Staff Inspector, Karl Davis, who is in a nursing home with advanced dementia and activist, Dudley Laws, who passed away two years ago.
“Dudley was one of the most courageous and cantankerous activists in Canadian history,” said Sloly. “He was a guy that kept us all awake at night, but he kept us honest as well. Dudley criticized me and my organization, but when I became deputy chief, Dudley – in his sick state struggling with a disease that ultimately took his life – came to the Jamaican Canadian Association, stood up in front of a microphone and congratulated me on my promotion. He looked at me, congratulated me and looked at me again, saying ‘I am watching you.’”
In addition to its advocacy, ABLE presents scholarships annually to students aspiring to pursue law enforcement careers. This year’s winners were Aniisa Ali, Abdiasis Issa, Ellen Konadu, Hilry Neale Jr., Leanja Simmons and Roxanne Williams.
Ali, 18, is a John Polanyi Collegiate Institute Grade 12 student who aspires to be a lawyer, while Issa – who, with his family escaped Somalia at the height of the civil war – is the first in his family to pursue a university education. The Etobicoke Collegiate Institute student, who enters Wilfrid Laurier University in September, intends to become a civil rights attorney and an advocate for the voiceless.
“I look at this scholarship as opening doors for me to do important and critical work,” said Issa.
Konadu aspires to become a probation officer, Williams recently graduated from Sheridan College’s police foundations program and is pursuing criminal justice studies at the same college and Simmons is a Grade 12 student at George S. Henry Academy.
The third of nine children, Neale is a City of Mississauga by-law officer who aspires to be a cop.
There were 16 applicants for this year’s scholarships.
ABLE has awarded 117 scholarships worth nearly $152,000 since the program was launched 19 years ago. The scholarships are presented in the names of Rose Fortune and Peter Butler III, Canada’s first Black law enforcement officers. Fortune was a self-appointed policewoman in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, in the late 1700s, while Butler served for 23 years with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) before retiring in 1936.
Ministry of Correction Services & Community Safety regional director David Mitchell, retired deputy Minister Jay Hope, probation officer Tony Weekes, York Regional Police Inspector Chris Bullen, former Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer Lynell Nolan, retired Toronto policewoman Doreen Guy and D.J. Marks, who works with a law enforcement supply company in Western Canada, founded ABLE in 1992.
Nolan, who resides in Nevis and is vacationing in Canada, attended the event.
York Regional Police Inspector Keith Merith is the organization’s president.