Advancing "WE" in Policing
By Joe L. Couto
One of the key objectives I set for my pedagogy (my method and practice of teaching my students) is developing an appreciation for peoples’ “lived experiences”. We often hear this phrase during these days of difficult conversations about systemic racism, on-going and entrenched sexism, and particularly when we talk about promoting greater understanding of peoples’ cultures, beliefs, experiences with oppression, etc.
Happily, these conversations are becoming the norm not just when we talk about diversity issues, but even in the world of commerce. I particularly like the definition from Michael Sony (2019) from Namibia University of Science and Technology found in his chapter in Green Supply Chain Management Practices and Digital Technology: A Qualitative Study: “(Lived experiences) refers to a depiction of the experiences and choices of a given participant and the knowledge that they gain from these experiences and choices” (p. 254). As noted by Patton (2002), lived experience, “…is not second-hand. It is experienced in how an individual perceives, describes, feels, judges, remembers, makes sense of, and talks about the experience” (p. 439).
Understanding another person’s lived experiences is not as simple as it sounds. In academic terms, I have spent almost a decade exploring police culture and the lived reality of police officers (especially 2SLGBTQIA+ cops) from the outside. As a civilian working in and observing policing environments for 17 years, I have garnered in-depth knowledge and observations with enough distance from the subject that I can critically question taken-for-granted assumptions in law enforcement such as the police solidarity that so often protects officers who engage in unethical behaviour.
When it comes to lived experiences, I’ve come to agree with German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s concept of everyday phenomena (a fact or situation that we perceive to exist) as mostly hidden. Heidegger – intellectually brilliant but shamefully not immune to the attractions of Nazism during his lifetime – argued that our perceived reality is covered in multiple layers of forgetfulness or Vergenssenheit. In other words, what we perceive may not be “real”. This “concealment” presents us with the possibility of recollection or “disclosedness” through being Dasein, a phenomenological concept denoting an interpreting entity such as a human being. For Heidegger, the goal was to pull our essence or existentialia as human beings out of forgetfulness (Heidegger, 1927).
This is something I kept in mind when I recently had the privilege of getting to know retired RCMP Inspector Baltej Dhillon, who 30 years ago courageously broke down barriers for police officers who wished to express their identities as members of the Sikh community by wearing a turban as part of their uniform.
In my research on police culture, the uniform is consistently identified as an important, traditional artefact in constructing an officer’s identity. In my studies, many police officers have and continue to express how powerful and important the “putting on of the uniform” is to their identity. It is a source of pride in their profession, their extraordinary authority, and their connection to those who have served before them.
For Dhillon, his “lived experience” was both deeply personally and professionally important, as he articulated in this article: “What does a Canadian look like?”: The first Mountie to wear a turban reflects on racism and inclusivity.
In conversation with him, I asked Mr. Dhillon how he feels as he observes the public discussion about racism (particularly involving policing) taking place today based on his own experiences in law enforcement. Here is what he said:
“It’s my view that the conversations that are starting to form need to be heard by police leaders and then put into action. Too often, we have simply carried on after ‘talking’ and not followed up with any concrete action items. The notion of diversity and inclusion is not a side conversation or a committee that is formed to merely offer platitudes, but rather requires the intention of having it infused within all aspects of operations in law enforcement. If not, we will merely continue to offer knee jerk solutions and responses which in the long run do more harm than good, and further deteriorates the effort towards a representative and equitable work force.”
I then asked about his “lived experiences” when discussing issues of discrimination, racism, etc. In policing, we rely on the lived experience of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) members to educate all police members on challenges such as systemic racism. I asked him what message, in looking back on his career and experiences, he would give to young police professionals who want to truly understand these issues:
The idea of developing a deeper understanding of social justice issues is no longer a nice to have, but a must have. Before we expect our young police professionals to understand the issues, its incumbent upon every senior police leader to set an example by increasing their understanding, using their privilege and power to create space for these conversations, be a champion of diversity and inclusion, not just encourage but practice in their own lives personal and professional social justice values.
When needed, their voices must be loud and clear and their actions swift when condemning and responding to discrimination or racism. They must also themselves encourage the sharing of the lived experiences – create a safe space, allow for criticism, and invite debate on what is lacking. Then and only then can we expect a change in culture and a desire to truly understand the issues.”
What I took from this great Canadian is that now is the time for important conversations that leaders at every rank need to put into action as we listen to and understand the lived experiences of people like Baltej Dhillon in opening our hearts and minds to real change. Every person in the justice sector must champion this change in everything we do and condemn anything that undermines our authentic embrace of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
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
To learn more from Baltej Dhillon, click here to register:
Join Joe as he engages in a virtual conversation with Baltej Dhillon on June 30 from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm as part of the Advancing WE in Policing’s The “Stronger Together” Conversation Series with extraordinary individuals making a difference in advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion in Canada.
Heidegger, M. (1927). Being and time (J. Macquarrie & E. Robinson, Trans.) Blackwell
Neustaeter, B. (May 14, 2021). 'What does a Canadian look like?': The first Mountie to wear a turban reflects on racism and inclusivity. CTVNews. https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/what-does-a-canadian-look-like-the-first-mountie-to-wear-a-turban-reflects-on-racism-and-inclusivity-1.5427883
Patton, M.Q. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation. Sage Publication
Sony, M. (2019). Green supply chain management practices and digital technology: a qualitative study. In E. H. Sabri (Ed.), Technology optimization and change management for successful digital supply chains. (Ser. Advances in logistics, operations, and management science [aloms] book series, p. 254). Business Science Reference, an imprint of IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-5225-7700-3
By Karen Noakes
There should be no hesitation amongst police leaders in acknowledging that there is urgent work to be done with respect to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in every police organization.
Leadership is vital to cultivating an inclusive workplace. With leadership comes great responsibility, and now more than ever, we need leaders that are not only bold, courageous, and visionary – we need leaders that recognize they must “own it”!
Brené Brown is a research professor, author and inspirational leader. I was first introduced to her work when I watched her Netflix documentary - The Call to Courage. It was a game changer for me. She has an immense ability to connect with an audience with grace and humility and she is able to articulate what some of us have struggled to express when it comes to the lack of EDI in our organizations. Her teachings bring exceptional credibility and they are rooted in decades of research.
In her Netflix documentary she tells us that when it comes to inclusivity and equity- the people who are affected – those targeted by racism, homophobia, heterosexism and gender bias - are not responsible for initiating the conversations and building the tables where the conversations need to be happening. Leaders must not wait for others to take on the responsibility of teaching them, they must take learning into their own hands. This is so important as it is contrary to what some senior leaders currently believe.
Brené believes that the future of leadership belongs to the brave, and that there are currently many barriers preventing bravery at work. These barriers include a fear of tough conversations, ignoring fears and feelings, getting stuck in setbacks, seeking to solve problems through immediate action without taking the time to understand the issues, a culture of shame or blame and not working towards inclusivity, diversity and equity.
This blog touches on some of the work of Brené Brown; in addition to common themes that I have come across during my own research and my involvement with law enforcement agencies.
First important step: Before you change it – you must understand it
Leaders need to find out how their current organizational culture is serving their members.
Leaders need to stop ignoring, defending, denying, resisting and appeasing. They must be committed to seeking out and understanding the lived experiences of their members, especially those that have not been able to experience a healthy workplace where members are respected, connected, their input and work are valued, and they can bring their authentic selves to their organization and their community.
Leaders must recognize that these unhealthy experiences are going to continue to repeat themselves as long as their organizations maintain the current processes, systems and culture that are not designed for differences.
Until leaders are willing and brave enough to pursue, to actively listen and to truly understand the details of the unhealthy practices, experiences and aspects within their workplace culture, they will never be in a position to envision transformational change that reflects an intentionally authentic and inclusive organization.
Determine your vision and how the culture must change
Cultural change is behavioural change that starts within the executive and senior levels. Executive and senior leaders are responsible for monitoring and strengthening organizational culture. They set the tone by directing and guiding the organization and setting the standards throughout the workplace, whether it be through the procedures and policies they implement, or role modelling and their own behaviours.
Of course, there are expectations of all members at all levels in an organization - formal and informal leaders and sworn and civilian members. That being said, executive and senior leaders need to recognize the impact of their roles throughout the entire organization and the community, as opposed to those leaders who may only have influence within their sphere.
People must decide to change their behaviour
The commitment to cultural change is complex and challenging - and it is really hard work! It requires people to be courageous and willing to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, to gather strength to lean in and to be vulnerable versus shielding or retreating.
There is a human element, especially when dealing with EDI, that will never be addressed simply through transactional (operational) processes. Transformation is an essential requirement to true culture change. It is a long-term commitment that will challenge the mindset and behaviours of every member.
It is imperative that leaders begin sowing the seeds that will nurture their organization’s long-term transformational vision - as realistic time frames for transformative culture change will extend beyond the careers of many of our current brave and courageous leaders.
The standard you walk by is the standard you accept
Cultural change requires the commitment of the executive and senior leadership teams. Their responsibilities cannot be abdicated, delegated or executed mechanically through statement, policies or mandated training. Most importantly they cannot stand by when the vision, values and expectations of the organization are being compromised.
Leaders must own it!
Leaders must clearly define the terms of equity, diversity and inclusion within their organizations-there must be no ambiguity.
Leaders must recognize the importance of communicating the reasons for change and why it is essential to focus on prioritizing a healthy workplace that reflects authentic inclusion that is intentional.
Leaders need to be engaged and aware of the aspects of their organizational culture that are valued, and provide a strong ethical foundation, so they can be retained.
Leaders must be courageous and acknowledge that they are aware of and understand the lived experiences of members and make it clear that the actions that precipitated those experiences are unacceptable and not in keeping with the values and vision of the organization.
Leaders need to be acutely aware of their vision - who in the organization will be served; and is it intentional and authentically inclusive.
Leaders must be visible and ensure members in the organization are engaged and understand why there is a need for change, what the vision of that change looks like, what their role in the change is and how the organization will begin the transformational journey.
Leaders need to instill confidence within the organization that, not only will there be accountability for those who engage in unacceptable behaviour, but that there will be a strong commitment to developing people-focused leaders throughout the organization in a purposeful effort to eliminate such unacceptable behaviour and embrace an intentional and authentically inclusive workplace.
In cultivating an inclusive workplace there are many resources. See “Courageous Leadership” by Jane Counsel and Brene Brown (2019) from Executive Central. Other amazing resources that are both inspiring and informative include:
Additional resources highly recommended to me that I'm currently working through include:
There is urgent work to be done with respect to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in every police organization and the time is now to encourage and support police leadership to step up, be inclusive and "own it" .
by Sergeant Tammy Morden
I was recently awarded the inaugural CACP/Axon Equity, Diversity & Inclusion award (individual) for 2020. Admittedly, I had to ask, "why me???" since I know so many other individuals working in the area of inclusion that I admire and look up to. I was asked to be one of the speakers for a webinar for this award, and what follows is a version of what I said. I wanted to share it, not because I think what I have done is so amazing, but because it really isn't – it is something that any organization can do if they want to, and put the right resources into (note I didn't say it takes a lot, just the right resources).
Ernest Hemingway said that it's all about the journey. Well, he actually said, "It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end". That, I believe is especially true in the work of diversity, equity & inclusion – what I will refer to as "inclusion work". As a result, there is not, nor should there be, an end to inclusion work. It is part of the beauty of it, but also the most frustrating part, because there is not going to be a point where we can say "awesome, that task is done". It needs to be a passionate part of what we do.
My passion for this work comes from both inside and outside policing. One of my favorite books to read to my kids when they were younger was "Oh, the places you'll go" by Dr. Seuss. It always reminded me that as we journey through life, we will go to some great places and some not so great places, but every one of those places will offer us something we can learn. I love to travel – especially the "1 star", hostel, backpacking type of travel that took me into places where I could experience the local culture and life (not that I have anything against the occasional 5 star luxury, but I find there is less to learn there). Learning to say please and thank you in a variety of host languages has taught me the value of not expecting people to adapt to me and my way of thinking and communicating when I am in their home. I have been an avid volunteer, both locally and internationally. I enjoy taking risks, which led to scuba with sharks and skydiving. But first and foremost, I have my family and my work. I got into policing, like so many of us did, to stand up to the bullies of the world – to make life better for those who are unable to stand for themselves in that moment; to hold the perpetrators responsible; and yes, perhaps for the adrenaline that comes with that.
I have been engaged – on the side of my desk, in my cruiser, or even at my kitchen counter – in inclusion work for the Niagara Regional Police Service for over a decade. I have been fortunate enough to make friends in this line of work from around the province – especially through the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police working group on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion – who have in turn inspired and motivated me. Some were sworn, some civilian; but all had a passion for this work.
With their blessings, I took thoughts and ideas from them (stole them, really), put a "Niagara" spin on them, and brought them here – I want to be clear here: much of what "I" accomplished has been the direct result of the shared ideas and concepts of others who started down the Inclusion road long before I did. It started sporadically – sometimes with "one-off" and annual
events – like arranging for a group of LGBTQ+ members (and allies) to attend Pride Parades in Toronto. One of the things I did fairly early on was arrange for a road trip to take recruits to see a series of faith sites (a mosque, a synagogue, a Buddhist temple, a Hindu Samaj) and to see one of our Native Centres. It has been colloquially been named the "Diversity Tour". The point
was to highlight that there was, in fact, diversity right here in Niagara, and to allow open dialogue between community members and our Service members. The goal was to normalize conversations and interactions between individuals of often disparate backgrounds. It has grown to stronger connections. A few examples:
Over the years, I developed professional relationships with our community partners that in many cases became strong personal friendships. Like helium balloons, I pulled on those lines of friendship and brought them together. In 2018, I found myself working in Headquarters whereI was afforded more "official" time on the side of my desk to pursue Inclusion work. I also began to plan for my retirement in 2021. And I realized that I was, in many cases, the pivot point for the connections between the Service and our diverse communities. I had taken a lot of joy in forming those connections – after all, I now have an incredible array of friends who are like a microcosm of the world – and I do love to travel! But I hadn't been able to actively create opportunities for those ties to formally extend to other parts of the Service – I needed to create a web of connections so that when I stepped away, the relationships would remain. I didn't want them to fly away and be lost. I brainstormed with a number of those community partners, and I sought out others, and created the Chief of Police – Community Inclusion Council. I have been fortunate to have the absolute support of Chief MacCulloch to do this.
What we ended up with was about 20 community members – most of whom are either the leaders of their respective organizations or communities, or who are the "game changers" in them – who come to the table wanting to work together. What started as an effort to bring ties to the Service, has evolved over the past year or so to be a table that has opened dialogue and understanding between the community and the Service, and maybe equally importantly, across the table with each other. We have speakers from different parts of the Service come in to explain how we work, and answer questions, come up with new ideas – like Recruiting or the School Resource program. We alternate now with presentations from community members who outline what they do in their community – like the Niagara Regional Native Centre, recently. It is not a one way street.
The relationships that we formed in this Council over the last 2-3 years have been instrumental in helping us move forward in the social and political environment that we found ourselves in following the murder of George Floyd and the resulting wave of anti-racism movement that has brought into focus the pain of not only the Black community, but also the Indigenous and 2SLGBTQ+ communities. It is not that we are immune to what has challenged so many police agencies across the globe, and we recognize that we, too, have a lot of work to do. We do, however, already have significant positive relationships in the communities that are allowing us to have constructive conversations that are less adversarial than they might otherwise have been. I have heard it said that it is much easier to form a relationship in a time of peace than in a time of crisis, and this has been particularly true during this time.
Most recently, I helped form an "Internal Inclusion Committee" made up of members from around the Service who want to help champion inclusion. And we have now connected the two groups to provide greater opportunities for internal / external work. In the end, it is my hope that the connections that I have helped make will continue to hold, grow and expand after I retire. The CACP Global Studies program on Diversity spoke of moving from structural inclusion to authentic inclusion. Joe Couto spoke of being intentional. I will add to the conversation by using a term that I often hear in the indigenous community. As you engage in inclusion, it is more important to do it coming from a good place than it is to do it "right".
My final comment is a reflection of something the Dalai Lama said: "Once a year, go someplace you've never been before". Step outside your comfort zone. If you can travel, check out the local culture. Or go to your local Pride events – whether you are 2SLGBTQ+ or not! Not in uniform, but just to see, and more importantly, to listen. Visit the Sikh temple and ask to watch the worship service – and appreciate the food in the spirit that it is given. The world is an amazing place full of amazing people - Appreciate it.
Sergeant Tammy Morden of the Niagara Regional Police Service is this years recipient of the CACP/AXON Equity Diversity and Inclusion Awards and an active member of WEpolice.ca
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
Welcome to our new “WE” Blog - for everything diversity, equity and inclusion related within Ontario Policing. Our goal is to stop talking about yesterday and start moving forward TOGETHER wiser for the experience. We deliberately choose to value all experiences equally, both positive & negative as well as public and private. We acknowledge there is no singular voice that can capture and represent the lived experiences of many. The intent of our blog is to promote a specific forward-moving framework. "WE" promote the sharing of thought, opinions and ideas that are of a positive construction to make its content engaging and barrier free to everyone, (...and yes we do mean everyone). In the wise words of one of the greatest intellectual leaders in our lifetime: “Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you” - Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Again – “WE” welcome you to our collective voice on Equity and Inclusion within Ontario Policing.