As he takes the helm of the national capital’s police force, new Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly is pledging to spend his first three to six months on the job focusing “relentlessly” on “people and partnerships” both inside and outside the police service.
The emphasis on relationship-building is a tone Sloly appeared to want to strike right from the beginning. He was sworn in during a private early-morning ceremony at 6:45 a.m. with frontline officers and civilian members of the police service before they began their day shifts.
He wanted his “first official act as chief” to be alongside and to “pay tribute” to those officers, he told members of the Ottawa Police Services Board later on Monday.
On his way into the board’s meeting at Ottawa city hall, Sloly vowed to support and advocate for his officers, and the vulnerable and marginalized communities they serve, over his five-year term.
“There’s healing that’s needed in the city, but there’s also healing needed in the police service,” he told reporters.
“And so my intention is to be very present for my officers, to be very available to them, to promote health and safety as well as service and safety within the city and to be available to our vulnerable communities and people who feel victimized and marginalized to promote their sense of resilience and strength as well,” the new police chief told reporters.
The former Toronto police officer joins the Ottawa Police Service at a time when the force is dealing with a number of challenges, including budget and staffing pressures, as well as tensions both inside the force and in its relationships with some communities in the city.
Asked about the expectations and challenges he faces in the top job, Sloly said he felt both excited and a “little bit” overwhelmed. But as he shared how he felt and what he did on his first day, he tried to bring the focus back to Ottawa’s frontline officers.
Sloly told reporters he started his day at the Tim Hortons on St. Patrick Street in the ByWard Market area and shared a muffin with a teenage girl who appeared to have some “mental health and addiction issues” — but he quickly added that his officers “no doubt” had to deal with similar but “much more complex” situations in the same day.
“My day has been busy getting up to speed on a lot of things, but more importantly, my men and woman have been out in the streets and across the city and across our service trying to make this a safer and better place,” he said.
“So my challenges are much lesser than theirs.”
News that Sloly would replace former local police chief Charles Bordeleau was publicly announced on Aug. 26 following a months-long national search. That day, Sloly said he still needed to understand the dynamics of policing in Ottawa to a greater degree, but signalled that relationship-building was top of mind.
The 53-year-old served with the Toronto Police Service for 27 years and was viewed as a leading voice for change within the force. He had been shortlisted as a candidate to replace Toronto police chief Bill Blair but lost the bid to current chief Mark Saunders.
Sloly stepped down from the Toronto police in February 2016, weeks after criticizing the police service in a speech that sparked controversy, and joined the private sector months later.
Until Monday, he had never worked for the Ottawa Police Service.
In his first verbal report to the police services board, Sloly said his approach as chief will involve “supporting and empowering the folks who are doing the heavy lifting for the OPS” and “investing more in our partnership with the community.” He promised that neighbourhood policing will be the “cornerstone” of the police force’s “core policing strategy.”
Sloly described the police force as his “new work family” — one he wants to be “honest and respectful” as its members make “tough decisions” and go through “big changes.”
“Some decisions will not be popular with some people and there will be changes that will be difficult for all of us. But we will do it for the good of the family and for the city we live and work in,” he said.
Sloly also addressed internal divisions within the police service, arguing the residents of Ottawa want the force to “fix our own house before we come and try to fix theirs.”
“For outsiders like me, it is clear that we need some organizational healing and reconciling. We need to become more of a family than a loose collection of factions and fractious individuals,” he said.
“We need to be more willing to work out our differences than simply airing them publicly through leaks. This process of reconciliation and relationship-building needs to occur at every level of the organization, but first and foremost it must happen at the very top of the organization.
“It will start with me. It will include my executive team, on down and throughout the entire organization.”
Several board members — including Mayor Jim Watson, who now sits on the police services board — congratulated Sloly again on Monday and expressed their enthusiasm to begin working with him. A few, including member Andrea Blaustein, saluted him for including rank-and-file officers in his swearing-in ceremony.
“It is a new era and I’m looking forward to it,” board member and city councillor Carol-Anne Meehan said.
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Sloly told the board he’s already had meetings and “productive conservatives” with the presidents of the Ottawa Police Association and the Senior Officers Association, the two police unions.
“There is a true spirit of optimism amongst all parties that we can work together to build a stronger organization that better supports the OPS members and the community at large,” Sloly told the board.
The police’s draft budget for 2020 is set to be tabled next week, on Nov. 6. Sloly focused on general priorities rather than numbers on Monday, but suggested he wants the force to spend “a lot more time and investment” on what he called “active” crime prevention.
A public change of command ceremony with Sloly and Bordeleau has been scheduled for the afternoon of Nov. 26, 2019.