By Rick Pusiak
The head of the province?s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) seemed to be putting on a brave face when he showed up in Sudbury Thursday to speak to a packed room of delegates at the 40th annual meeting of the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards (OAPSB).
Peter Tinsley introduced himself as the man in charge of the SIU and added ?I?m here to help you?.
That elicited a few stifled chuckles.
Tinsley responded the reaction of the Sudbury crowd was rather restrained compared to other groups he has spoken to.
The SIU hasn?t had the best rapport with police departments in Ontario since its creation in 1990.
It was formed as a civilian oversight agency following a 1988 Task Force on Race Relations and Policing. Its purpose is to investigate circumstances involving police which have resulted in serious injury, including sexual assault or death.
Unfortunately, some police officers being investigated by the SIU feel they have already been presumed guilty before the investigation has even begun.
Then the officer is left with a knot in his or her stomach waiting to hear whether charges will be laid.
Tinsley admitted it wasn?t smooth sailing for the SIU during its first nine years.
There had already been 10 directors before he assumed the position.
He quipped that his first job was to clean out all the half empty boxes of business cards from the desk he was assigned.
It was hoped things would improve after the Honourable George W. Adams was appointed by the province in the late 1990s to consult with community and policy organizations on ways to improve the relationship between the SIU and police.
Adams recommended increased resources for staffing, training and equipment.
The annual budget is being boosted from $2.2 million to $5.2 million .
Sixty-three people are now on staff but Tinsley said they are still about a dozen short.
The director explained that job openings at SIU are coveted positions. His office had 1,800 applications for five investigator jobs.
Resumes came in from all over North America and as far away as Europe.
Some 95 per cent of Tinsley?s staff is new since 1999 to perform jobs he described as ?very delicate work?.
Most of the SIU?s work is in Central Ontario. According to the 2000 ? 2001 report that area accounted for 49 per cent of the caseload. Northern Ontario accounted for 18 per cent of investigations.
While Tinsley was speaking glowingly about the SIU, delegates to the conference had questions they wanted answered.
Sudbury?s police chief, Alex McCauley zeroed in on the fact that in 97 per cent of all SIU cases, charges are not laid following investigations.
Chief McCauley asked Tinsley how many convictions there had been in the three per cent of cases where there charges were laid.
Tinsley tersely replied that he doesn?t keep those statistics.
McCauley later commented he can?t support the idea of non-professional people at SIU doing the job of professional investigators.
Tinsley defended the professionalism of his people and suggested thoughts to the contrary indicated he wasn?t being listened to.
Sudbury?s chief quickly responded ?I always listen to you.?
A member of the Sudbury Police Service Board, Dave Petryna, picked up on McCauley?s comments and stated officers are under great stress during an SIU investigation.
He also picked up on the fact charges are not laid in 97 per cent of SIU investigations.
?It?s almost like 60 Minutes knocking on your door and wanting to do an investigation.?
The mood was much more buoyant Friday morning when Gerry Lougheed Jr. entertained the 350 delegates with an hour-long motivational speech.
He said each police services board member can make a difference and went back in history to explain the importance of a single vote.
Lougheed said Oliver Cromwell took over England by one vote, King Charles I was ordered put to death by one vote and the 13 Colonies decided to adopt English as their main language over German by one vote.
He added Adolf Hitler gained control of the Nazi party by one vote in 1923.
?Who didn?t go to the meeting?? asked Lougheed.
He urged the delegates to greet life with a smile and even had the whole room singing Old MacDonald Had A Farm.
?Don?t you hate having to go to a meeting with people who live under a bridge with goats,? said Lougheed.
The well known Sudburian donated his $3,000 stipend for the speech to the local police museum.