In a quiet second-floor room at Toronto police headquarters, officers regularly come before a tribunal to answer for all kinds of misconduct: driving drunk, using excessive force, and poking around in confidential databases without permission.
But some cases of police misconduct don’t make it through these formal hearings while others never make it to the tribunal in the first place. Instead, they’re resolved internally and in private, and many details about cases are kept confidential.
Under Ontario’s Police Services Act, a chief can resolve a matter without a public hearing if they consider the case to be “not of a serious nature.”
CityNews used a freedom of information request to obtain several documents related to matters that came before the tribunal – which is open to the public – before being sent back to officers’ units for confidential resolution.
The initial allegations against the officers are described in the documents released to CityNews, but little is known about how the cases were resolved.
The Toronto Police Service handed out penalties in over 600 internal discipline cases between 2014 and May 3, 2017, according to tables compiled by the TPS and released to CityNews. The figures include incidents involving civilian employees, and cases sparked by complaints from inside and outside of the force. Members of the public who make complaints against officers can offer input on how a matter is resolved.
In one document, Toronto police accuse an off-duty officer of drinking, sleeping in her vehicle in a parking lot, getting into a car accident, and fleeing the scene. A document released to CityNews says the case was “adjudicated at the unit level,” but the officer’s penalty is private.
Police have said minor issues, like tardiness, are handled informally, but whether a matter is deemed serious or not involves several factors.
“An incident itself is not enough to determine whether the matter will be dealt with as ‘serious’ or ‘not serious’ or whether it is dealt with in the Tribunal or at the unit level,” spokesperson Meaghan Gray said in an email. “Consideration is given to the officer’s past behaviour, likelihood of conviction… and circumstances surrounding the incident.”
Other documents describe how two officers, working paid duties last year, allowed a prisoner to escape from a downtown hospital. The prisoner was arrested again about a week later, according to the documents. Again, whatever penalty the officers received is private.
“There are very serious penalties, counselling, loss of pay for sometimes 20 days. I would have a hard time losing pay for 20 days,” said councillor Shelley Carroll, who also sits on the Police Services Board. “But I think making it, at the very least, the result of the hearings, the consequence of the hearings, would give the public confidence. Right now, they can only take my word for it.”
The laws around police discipline are set to change, following the province’s announcement of legislation late last year that could empower external oversight groups.
“The new Police Services Act, if passed, seeks to remove the requirement for a Chief of Police to determine what constitutes ‘not serious in nature,'” a spokesperson said in an email.