update on toronto police complaint

You may recall that I had a minor incident with a Toronto police officer in late September. Along with many other people, I was prevented from crossing the street by a photo shoot, and was in danger of missing my GO bus - which would mean an additional hour of commute in between my two 12-hour weekend shifts. While I was wrangling with the condescending production assistant, a police officer completely over-reacted, charging at me, grabbing my arms and shoving me against the barricade. I filed a complaint, and today was my interview about that complaint.

(As an aside, I'd like to note that I always intended to file the complaint. Hoping to stave off some anticipated cynicism, I noted that the complaint would probably do nothing - which perhaps gave an impression that I might not follow through. That was not in doubt.)

Going to the interview, I was quite nervous. I've been more nervous dealing with police as I get older, maybe because I've seen more of the reality of what can happen. The ongoing harassment at the US-Canada border isn't helping, either.

I'm pleased to report that the interview was completely painless. A female detective escorted me to her office and explained her role as an internal mediator between the public and police officers. In the middle of her spiel, we were joined by a male detective, who she introduced as her partner. I was decidedly less comfortable sitting in a room with two police officers, but I tried not to focus on it.

Female Detective asked me what I hoped to accomplish through my complaint. I said I felt the officer had reacted in an overly aggressive manner, and that it was my responsibility to report it. That was all.

Ms Detective explained there were three routes I could take. The first is called an "informal resolution," in which the officer and the complainant are brought together for a face-to-face meeting with the detective as mediator. Needless to say, very few people take this option!

Second, there is a poorly-named option called a "withdrawal," which Ms Detective assured me does not mean the complaint is withdrawn. It means the complaint and the officer's response goes into the officer's record for two years. That gives a two-year window to see if this was an isolated incident, or if similar incidents are piling up. It's an accountability mechanism.

The third option would be an investigation, in which there would be lengthy interviews and reports written up. She was clearly downplaying this route, but if I thought it was warranted, I would have done it anyway.

The middle option, a so-called "withdrawn" complaint placed in the police officer's file, was the right thing to do. I wrote a short statement of why I was choosing this option, which included my understanding that the complaint would be on record for two years.

Both detectives displayed a lot of empathy for the frustration of dealing with film shoots, having your activities hampered by their needs taking priorities over the public's, possibly missing one's GO train. Naturally they couldn't express empathy with the specifics of my complaint against the officer. The female detective simply read the officer's response: that she was "saving" me from a high-risk situation in which I maight have been hurt. But they were all kinds of sympathetic about my situation that night.

Whether this empathy was real or strategic, I can't say, and perhaps it doesn't matter, because it was an intelligent - and successful - approach. We've chatted about customer service on wmtc, such as in my problems with Heys Luggage (here, with follow-up here and here). This was definitely good customer service. And believe me, I'm aware that my privilege as a white, middle-aged woman was at play, and that fact that no protest or civil disobedience was involved.

I also learned that Toronto police who work on film shoots are paid by the production companies, not by the City of Toronto. Mr. Detective said that Rob Ford wants to stop that practice, and replace police on film shoots with private security guards - which would end public accountability altogether. Both detectives were opposed to this idea, but Mr. Detective said they shouldn't worry too much, because he can't make that change on his own, it's procedural and would need all kinds of approvals.

Mr. Detective also said he knew of a neighbourhood group that was so frustrated by the inconveniences of a lengthy film shoot in their community that they gathered armed with vuvuzelas! Every time the PAs called for quiet... guess what. The detective told the story with a touch of admiration in his voice.

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