Advancing "WE" in Policing
by Joe Couto
Say, did you hear? Being inclusive is an “in” thing. So is being authentic. That practicing “authentic inclusion” counters despicable behaviours like racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or any other nasty “ism” you can think of, right?
The term “authentic inclusion” was coined in policing in a 2018 study by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP). This study, produced through the CACP’s Executive Global Studies Program, focused on “structural” inclusion within modern police services in Canada. It found that while police services claim to adhere to the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion in their policies, procedures, recruitment, and training practices, “authentic inclusion” (where tangible and systemic organizational and cultural changes take place) has not yet been achieved (Executive Global Studies Program, 2018, p. 8). In fact, the CACP identified four types of potential police workplace cultures, three of which may impede/undermine the cultivation of authentic inclusion (p. 9):
Does this mean that police in Canada are not striving to achieve inclusive workplaces, where diversity and equity are not only respected, but pillars of how police do things? Absolutely not. The CACP took the bold step to say that a gap exists between policies and procedures (structures!) that aim to achieve authentically inclusive organizations and results. It is a step away from the traditional policy culture and its insistence on norms and values that exclude people because of their gender, sexual orientation, and race/ethnicity.
So what’s the problem with wanting “authentic inclusion”? Nothing, except we can’t stop at “authentic”. You can be “authentic” and still be exclusionary. How? Because simply putting in place training, policies, procedures, disciplinary processes, and laws to promote inclusivity does not mean that you’re actually addressing the root causes of inequality. These things can’t fight against promoting who you know. They can’t prevent systemic barriers to hiring people that represent all of our communities. They can’t get us by disciplinary processes and legislation that hinder us in ridding policing of members who engage in unacceptable discriminatory actions.
Author Andrew Potter noted in his (2011) book The Authenticity Hoax that, “finding the authentic has become the foremost spiritual quest of our time.” Rather than just being “authentic” – a subjective concept open to personal and cultural interpretation – we need police who are intentional in their inclusion.
That means admitting that police culture can be toxic for people who don’t fall in line with the profession’s norms; admitting that there are systemic problems in the profession regarding racism (particularly anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in the Canadian context); admitting that we have to break down barriers in the recruitment process that contribute to keeping radicalized, female, LGBTQ2+, and other traditionally underrepresented groups out of policing; admitting that we need to be intentional in our mentoring, training, and promoting of police members from these groups. And the most challenging of all: we need to more easily get rid of police members who practice bias and harassment in the workplace and out in society.
Intentional inclusion is about breaking down systemic barriers so that everyone, at all levels of policing, see and feel fairness and support in their chosen profession. It also involves holding those who engage in exclusionary practices in such key areas as recruitment, training, and promotional processes accountable. Courage is needed to be an authentic and inclusive leader in the face of highly resistant and sometimes brutal police workplace cultures.
A priority must be to improve relationships between police and diverse communities, thereby increasing the likelihood of recruiting from those communities. To that end, adopting and auctioning the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Seven Principles for eliminating racial profiling in policing would help police organizations achieve this goal. These Principles are meant to assist police work with communities to get at the roots of racist practices and actions effectively and with purpose.
Ultimately, this is about understanding that authenticity is a well-intentioned matter of the head while being intentional is a matter of both the head and the heart. Words matter, but intentional actions matter more; they carry the vast potential to make real, fundamental changes that make policing better and deliver justice and equity for all our communities.
Joe Couto is Associate Faculty at Royal Roads University and also teaches at the University of Guelph Humber and Humber College. He serves as Director of Government Relations and Communications with the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police
Karen Noakes is a retired Superintendent from York Regional Police. Throughout her career, she worked to establish a culture of inclusion to build supports for underrepresented groups in policing leadership. Karen has continued the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion conversation in policing into her retirement in consultation and facilitation roles, championing people-focused leadership, ethics, professionalism and authentic inclusion.
WE Blog Coordinator: Natalie Hiltz