For the third of the Community Race Relations Committee (CRRC)’s Instagram live event series, “Tough Conversations with Peterborough Police,” CRRC Executive Director Angela Connors spoke with Sergeant Ted Branch of the Peterborough Police Service (PPS). Sergeant Branch was unable to speak with Connors during last week’s event due to scheduling conflicts.
Unlike the previous weeks’ conversations, Connors and Sergeant Branch are familiar with each other, but had not had an at-length conversation until Monday.
Sergeant Branch, badge number 246, was an officer in Ottawa for 15 years before moving to Peterborough. He works in the Operations division doing training, community services, and canine work.
“You’re basically addressing the needs of the community and the service hand in hand,” he said of his position and responsibility for training the PPS.
Priorities for police training are partially determined by the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General. Some of the training is mandatory, like training related to firearms and defensive tactics. However, some training is determined by community feedback.
“The things that we really want to focus on are the things that maybe we’re not doing, or the things that the community doesn’t think that we’re doing, as well,” Sergeant Branch said, though he noted that the limited number of hours allocated for training will “push priorities.”
According to the PPS 2019 Annual Report, the PPS has 140 uniformed, sworn members of the Service and 58 civilian staff. From the same report, members of the Service received 16,018 hours of training or 115 hours of training per sworn member.
“Half of the training time that we have dedicated is mandatory either scenario-based training, or re-qualification,” Sergeant Branch said.
The PPS does some online training through the Canadian Police Knowledge Network, which has been especially helpful during the current pandemic, but creating environments for experiential learning is important for training, he explained.
“The more time we can spend training our officers to deal with real-life situations – real stressful situations; and we identify them as low-frequency, high-intensity actions; ones that affect your adrenaline, affect your ability to really take in information – we want to get them involved in as many of those situations as we can, so when it happens in the real world, they’ve already been through it.”
Connors asked, “If somebody is interested in becoming a police officer, what are some of the things they need to do, as far as education goes, to work their way up through that path?”
“The requirements say you will have a high school education, but the expectation is well beyond that. The expectation is post-secondary [education], as well as some life experience,” he said.
While he is not on the PPS Hiring Committee, Sergeant Branch did note that Peterborough is a desirable place to work, which means that candidates applying to the PPS must go above and beyond the job posting.
He was not sure of precise ages, but imagined that the newest PPS cohort of four soon-to-be-members currently at the Ontario Police College as “probably in their late twenties.”
Sergeant Branch could not speak much to the recruitment process, to what extent anti-racism, anti-oppression (ARAO) competencies are assessed prior to hiring, or examples of questions that may be used in determining those competencies during the interview process, but talked about his own interview with the PPS from about five years ago.
“They spent a bulk of the time in that interview talking about my commitment to the community, so it wasn’t a one-off question where I could make up an answer and move on,” he recalled. “It was a conversation about what am I going to do today, tomorrow, and a year from now, in the community to become a part of Peterborough. So their commitment was obvious.”
When asked if there were any questions about ARAO or diversity during his interview, Sergeant Branch said there were “not specifically.”
“In their defense, I had been an officer [already] for 15 years, so their ability to check my performance, to talk to 30 people who I had had interactions with, was actually quite easy. So if they were going to find some sort of a theme with the way that I worked that was an issue for them, it would have been obvious to them,” he explained, but agreed that ARAO questions should be asked if the PPS “trying to provide or create a culture” of anti-oppression.
When asked how PPS members would be demonstrating ARAO and diversity competencies in routine assessment scenarios, like an annual evaluation, he did not know off-hand but said he would look into getting that information to the CRRC.
“Especially now with this heightened awareness, I think that it’s important that if we do have things that are in place already, maybe we need to look at those and review,” Connors said. “Is it actually accomplishing what we hoped it would accomplish?”
The conversation then briefly turned to police-Indigenous relationships. In Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) was created by Sir John A. Macdonald with the intention of expanding the Canadian west, and clearing what are now known as Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba of Indigenous peoples to create the Canadian Pacific (CP) railway. In more recent years, Canadian police more broadly have been implicated in the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which concluded with a final report last year.
According to the 2016 census, 68.1 percent of Ontario’s Indigenous population lives in urban areas. As previously reported, the PPS staff is 96 percent white, while the Peterborough population is 94 percent white.
“In Peterborough, we’re surrounded by Indigenous communities. Do you know if there are any Indigenous members on the police force in Peterborough?” Connors asked.
“Yes,” replied Sergeant Branch, though he said he only knows of one person with certainty.
The PPS does not service the surrounding Indigenous communities, such as Curve Lake First Nations and Alderville First Nations, directly. Curve Lake has its own detachment of the Anishinabek Police Service to service its community.
“We used to have a program in place where we would take an officer that was stationed in Curve Lake and bring them to Peterborough [for a period of time],” Sergeant Branch noted, but was uncertain if any PPS members had “exchanged places” with a Curve Lake officer, “because of the timing and the limited resources.” However, he said that the current PPS administration is looking at restarting this program.
Returning to the topic of PPS training, Connors was curious to know what percentage of the PPS budget goes towards training overall.
“To give you a percentage, I don’t know. I know I would like to have more money for training,” Sergeant Branch said with a laugh.
Last week’s guest from the PPS, Peter Williams (@peterwilms_ptbo), noted in the Instagram livestream chat function: “we often have to go after special grants for training like we did for the trauma informed training a couple years ago”.
Bringing in experts to do training or sending officers away for training can be difficult to schedule, Sergeant Branch explained.
“We don’t have an overwhelming amount of officers to police our community. We don’t have anybody extra; it takes some planning.”
He and Connors are familiar with each other through a Trent-Fleming research group that struck an “inclusiveness education for Peterborough Police” committee. The research includes a data collection project that sets up focus groups for members of the PPS to evaluate the beliefs and attitudes they hold about “some topics that are not maybe that popular” to assess the police service’s internal culture and provide suggestions for changes in training, Sergeant Branch said.
Connors described having conversations with Inspector John Lyons about ARAO training with the PPS, about which he expressed enthusiasm, but did not seem to be shared when she reached out to follow through.
“I had reached out to you a couple of times, and there wasn’t a whole lot of uptake until this project came about, and then CRRC was invited to the table,” she said. “I knew that you were new to the role, so trying to keep that in mind, but for me and as an organization, that was kind of concerning to us.”
Sergeant Branch acknowledged that would seem concerning and explained that “there were probably a number of people at that time vying for” the PPS’ training time. It was easier for the PPS to “buy into” the project because the PPS would be investing time and resources into a project about itself, Sergeant Branch said.
“I can say, ‘This is the data from the Peterborough Police.’ This is not data that we’ve gotten from Canada [broadly], or that we’ve gotten from the United States in 2019; this is Peterborough Police data,” he said of the project.
“It’s a matter of time: when I can get you time to come in and be in front of the people for an extended period of time,” he continued, “because [the CRRC’s] message isn’t one I can bring in on a platoon, where you come in and talk for 20 minutes to every platoon.”
Sergeant Branch was clear to say that once the PPS can find a half-day or full-day where ARAO training can happen, they will do it with the CRRC. Connors and Sergeant Branch agreed that ARAO training should also be ongoing and include all personnel from top down.
Moving along to the topic of defunding the police, Connors noted recent conversations at Peterborough City Council.
“There was a surplus [in the PPS actual spending for the 2019 fiscal year], and there was this whole discussion about what happens with the surplus,” she explained. “From the perspective of a non-profit organization, whenever we get funding, if there’s a surplus, funders expect us to give it back.”
Sergeant Branch responded by noting that policing in Canada is different than policing in the U.S., primarily around the language and focus on “community policing” in Canada compared to the U.S.’s interest in enforcement.
“If we lose the community piece [of policing in Canada by defunding], I don’t like where that would take us,” he said. “I think that it’s important that we maintain that community involvement. I think that it’s important that we stay in schools, really, if I want to be clear about it.”
From the livestream chat, other PPS staff chimed in: “Our role in schools is collaborative support, not enforcement – this can look different in different jurisdictions/police services,” said Williams; “Positive Relationships with police in schools can also foster trust for victims to come forward when something happens,” said Instagram user @ptbopolicek9pixie.
“But isn’t [enforcement] how it plays out anyway? Even if that’s not the intent, just from what we’ve seen, and again with Canadian forces, isn’t that the way it plays out?” asked Connors. “The theory of community policing is great and wonderful and sounds like it should definitely work on the ground, but when you get on the ground, we’ve seen how it doesn’t quite work that way. That enforcement piece takes over anyway.”
“Our role is enforcement. That’s why we’re hired and why we’re paid, but there’s a bunch of different ways that we can do that,” Sergeant Branch replied, echoing similar comments to Williams regarding wellness checks and Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams as an example. “Until things change in the legislation, you’re not going to be able to avoid police being involved.”
Anticipated for next week’s conversation is PPS Victim Services Coordinator Alice Czitrom, on Monday July 20 at 12 p.m. EST on the CRRC Instagram page @racerelationsptbo.