Peel Regional Police Services Chief Nishan Duraiappah wants to transform of his department away from its current culture of secrecy to a departmental culture that is more open, more transparent and less defensive than in the past.
The reason? He wants to rebuild credibility and trust in the department that the region’s citizens lost a long time ago.
High-profile cases of police corruption such as Peel police officers stealing evidence while executing a search warrant and maliciously targeting defense lawyer Leora Shemesh for making them look like fools in court are just two of the many cases of Peel Police’s internal rot we’ve learned of over the past decade.
Chief Nishan Duraiappah wants to change all of this, and is using technology, training and community partnerships in his attempt to modernize and reform his agency.
One part of his plan is to implement what I call ‘just in time policing’ – a strategy for ensuring the right people, tools and resources are where they are most needed.
Another is his desire to create new partnerships with the community to deliver a more inclusive and effective form of policing.
This sounds wonderful on the surface, but Chief Duraiappah’s biggest challenge is the existing culture of secrecy, defensiveness and semi-paranoid ‘us-vs-them’ mentality so prevalent in all police agencies.
Words Alone Cannot Change Police Culture
Commissioner after RCMP Commissioner have issued the same degree for decades.
We must become more open and less defensive, they all command, yet nothing changes because the internal culture refuses to change.
If edicts from on high could transform police culture the RCMP would be the most open and transparent police force in Canada. They most certainly are not. Paul Palango’s investigative reporting on the Nova Scotia mass murderer is uncovering the latest in a long line of RCMP coverups.
Trust is transactional. With every police-citizen interaction, that trust is either strengthened or broken. In the RCMP’s case, their insistence on covering for themselves at the expense of the citizens they supposedly serve continues to destroy trust wherever they go.
Pick an RCMP scandal, any scandal, and at the heart of that scandal is the RCMP’s culture of secrecy.
Can Chief Duraiappah succeed where every other police agency, including the RCMP, has failed?
He believes he can, by giving his members the tools, training and processes needed to effect the change he wants.
The heart of his plan depends upon encouraging, rewarding and celebrating Peel’s members when they act appropriately and forcing re-training upon those who refuse to get with the new program.
Mental Health Calls
Peel Regional Police Service (PRPS) deal with hundreds of mental health calls every year. To ensure the safety of both the individuals and police officers involved in these calls, Chief Duraiappah formed a partnership with the Dufferin branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Now, a Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team consisting of a Registered Nurse, a Registered Social Worker or Occupational Therapist teamed with a specially-trained police officer respond to these calls.
The results are promising.
Over 70% of mental health crisis 911 calls are now diverted to community-based services where they get the help they need. This relieves stress on area Emergency Departments and the criminal justice system. Peel’s police resources are used more effectively and nobody needlessly dies in that most hated of deaths, suicide by cop.
Intimate Partner Violence Calls
Chief Duraiappah worked with Safe Centre of Peel to form an Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) unit to help support survivors of this violence and reduce the overall level of domestic violence in their region.
A key component of this team’s makeup is specialized training in anti-racism, culturally appropriate and sensitive responses, domestic violence and sexual assault investigation, victim care and management. Members of this unit come from a variety of visible minorities and speak 14 different languages.
Ontario Human Rights Commission
The NRPS also works with the Ontario Human Rights Commission to combat ‘systemic racism’ and discrimination in policing with a specific aim of rebuilding trust with Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities of Peel Region.
While this sounds like a lot of buzzwords being bandied about, Chief Duraiappah believes the results are worth the effort.
“We are committed to engaging the right experts, in data analysis, psychology and policing, and equipping our officers with the right training and the right technology so they can do their jobs equitably and fairly,” said Chief Duraiappah.
His commitment to evidence-based decisions to improve the PRPS is laudable, to be sure, as is his commitment to providing the resources needed by his front-line constables so they can access correct data in real time.
“Service-wide and local decision-making is now made with emphasis on effort, impact and overall value to our organization,” said Rob Morrone, PRP Director of Strategic Initiative.
“This includes focusing on collaboration with external stakeholders to make smart, ethical use of the data we collect and that we will collect moving forward, such as race-based Data.”
Deputy Chief Anthony Odoardi initiated a PRP Digital Officer Transformation Program focused on enhancing its officers’ ability to increase and improve genuine, human interactions with members of the community they serve.
No police cultural reform can happen without the accountably of its members. To assist with accountability, Peel Regional Police purchased 1,200 Body-Worn Cameras from Axon Inc.
They’ve also adopted a Digital Evidence Management system which is integrated with all data collection points used by its officers.
“In order to move the dial on our Digital Officer Transformation Program, for both our members and the community, PRP needed to strategically prioritize and synch our focused activities with innovative technologies that support community safety and well-being,” said Deputy Chief of Innovation and Technology, Anthony Odoardi.
“High-tech should ideally equate to high-touch with our community. As we move away from a big, shiny and new technology implementation strategy, we look to purposeful and community-oriented technology to better equip our officers to respectfully serve our community.”
“Everything we do is to help us better serve our community in ways that respect the changing expectations people have of their police,” Peel Regional Police Service Chief Duraiappah said.
While we won’t know the results of his reforms for several years, it appears Chief Duraiappah is on the right path, driven by the right motivations.
It’s a long-overdue course correction for the Peel Regional Police Service. It’s also a course correction the RCMP can learn from and desperately needs.