Conspiracy email vs. frivolous investigation: decision on police budget probe pushed back
Tensions between the London Police Association and city council are reaching the boiling point after council postponed a vote on whether to have the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) probe the city’s handling of police budget negotiations.
The decision from council to postpone the vote came a day after the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee voted 6-5 to endorse an OCPC investigation
Executive director of Neighbourhood Legal Services, Jeff Schlemmer – who was also vice-chair of the London Police Services Board in the 1990s – was concerned councillors didn’t know what they’d be getting into with an OCPC investigation, so he sent an email (below) to councillors before the final vote was scheduled to take place.
“In talking with some of the councillors, I’m aware that they didn’t realize this would be an investigation of the mayor, for starters, and that the outcome of it would be that if he is investigated then he would be suspended from the police board during that investigation.”
However, London Police Association (LPA) president Rick Robson says the investigation that’s been called for is into the budget impasse and confusion surrounding why a proposed settlement never reached councillors.
“Let’s even give [Schlemmer] the benefit of the doubt and say there’s some merit to his theory, or conspiracy, whatever you want to call it. Even if there was a motivation, does that diminish the fact that potentially there was some action on part of somebody on the police services board that should be accounted for? The purpose of the motivations should be set aside. In any event, he’s wrong.”
Schlemmer says that under Section 25 of the Police Services Act, an investigation can only be undertaken by a municipal council or police services board against police officers or board members. He says the only situation where city council would ask for an investigation would be because they believe a police services board member was acting against the best interests of the community.
“There’s no suggestion in this case that council thinks that. So if they were to pursue it, it would be quite frivolous and the association knows that but it wouldn’t be the association’s complaint it would be council’s complaint. If it comes back as being frivolous – which it clearly is – it’s council who will wear it,” he added.
“There’s no stakes in it for them. If they get away with it, then they get rid of Mayor Brown for a year or so. If they don’t, then it’s council who are embarrassed.”
Adding to the contentious relationship between the city and police is the recent decision by council to pass a motion calling on police to ban the controversial practice of carding, which critics say disproportionately impacts visible minorities.
Schlemmer believes the opposing viewpoints on carding serves as another reason behind the push for an investigation – which would remove Mayor Brown from the board during the probe.
“So if he’s removed from the board then that issue essentially goes away and the police association gets the carding that they want.”
Robson, however, called the notion ridiculous.
“There’s nobody on council that supported our position on street checks and currently there’s nobody on the police services board that supports our position on street checks,” he argued.
“So even if that was our motive and even if we were successful and removed the mayor from the police services board, there’s nobody that’s going to fill his shoes that’s going to support our position on street checks. It’s just a completely ridiculous argument.”
Robson stresses that the entire point of going before the OCPC is to find out the truth of what happened during the budget impasse but Schlemmer believes it’s an inappropriate request given that when a budget was finally reached it was beneficial for the LPA.
“They got everything they wanted and their complaint seems to be they didn’t get it quite as fast as they wanted,” Schlemmer told AM980.
“I don’t think there is actually any genuine tension but this is, I believe, a ramping up of rhetoric to try and get more. And again, as long as they can keep getting more and more, why would they stop?”
As for Robson, he believes council is using Schlemmer’s email as an excuse.
“This council is demonstrating a will to do nothing. They are looking for an excuse to do nothing and they’ve been given it and they are following through.”
Robson says if council decides not to go forward with an OCPC investigation, the London Police Association will have to determine its next steps but he says it’s not out of the question for them to “go to the extent of forcing council’s hand.”