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Invitation sparks power play between city, police

Written by on November 12, 2017

It’s an invitation, not an order.

But the power dynamics are in full play after politicians backed one councillor’s push to move police board meetings from police headquarters to city hall.

Coun. Mo Salih, appointed to the police services board at last week’s council meeting but not yet officially sworn in, tabled the idea at the committee meeting Tuesday, where his colleagues voted unanimously to support the invitation.

Police services board chair Jeannette Eberhard told The Free Press on Wednesday the location for meetings is a board matter.

“While we appreciate an overture from city council to offer us alternative meeting space, our board doesn’t take direction from city council in that regard. The decision of when and where the police board meets is ours to make,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean the board isn’t open to the suggestion.

“Ideas to improve the accessibility and transparency of our meetings, we’re always welcome to those discussions,” Eberhard said.

Salih’s goal is to increase transparency by live streaming meetings and offering residents who may feel intimidated by the police station a more welcoming atmosphere.

Larger meeting rooms, and those with broadcasting capabilities, are available at police headquarters, Eberhard noted.

Stacey Hannem, department chair of criminology at Wilfrid Laurier University, said moving police board meetings to city hall — and especially allowing Londoners to tune in from home — would be a “good first step” toward increased transparency.

“The No. 1 step to police transparency and accountability is active, engaged citizenry and we should be encouraging that by every means necessary,” she said.

Eberhard took issue with Salih’s methods.

“I’m a little bit disappointed that Coun. Salih would engage in this discussion at city council, instead of waiting to be sworn into our board where he soon will be, where he’d have the opportunity to raise issues and engage in this (full) discussion,” she said.

Politicians seemed eager to back the plan, with Coun. Phil Squire calling it “one of the best ideas” this term.

Coun. Harold Usher said he didn’t want to “force it on the board,” but agreed with the idea to issue an invitation to use city hall space.

“This is a civilian board, it’s an arm’s length board, it’s an oversight body. Having meetings separate from police headquarters, in more or less neutral territory, is a really good symbol to the public about the openness of these meetings,” Coun. Maureen Cassidy argued.

Hannem called Salih’s plan “fairly innocuous,” but said it speaks to a larger debate.

“I think it’s absolutely a power issue, and I think the No. 1 question should be ‘to whom are you accountable?’ To me the answer is that the police are accountable to the citizens,” she said.

From yasuh