He won’t solve race relations. He won’t end gun violence. It’s hard to fathom he’ll win the respect of every member of the rank and file.
But in hiring Peter Sloly as Ottawa’s next chief — the first of colour — the police services board has hired change. And with that comes possibility and opportunity.
While he’s visited the capital every year since and says he looks forward to moving and raising his children here, Sloly is relatively unknown to the larger service and to the community.
The police board could have chosen an insider in Interim Chief Steve Bell, or they could have chosen an outsider with knowledge of the city. Former deputy chief Gilles Larochelle, who lost out on the chief job to Charles Bordeleau in 2012, was interviewed. As was RCMP Chief Supt. Rhonda Blackmore, the only female candidate to be shortlisted, who is well-liked in the service and previously worked a secondment with the force.
When he takes the reins, likely sometime in October, a few things will immediately differentiate him from his predecessor. He comes to Ottawa with a progressive policing philosophy different from Bordeleau’s and he arrives without the established personal connections, for better or worse, of someone who ascended the ranks locally.
“This is a very exciting day for everyone in our city,” board chair Coun. Diane Deans said Monday before officially announcing Sloly as the next chief.
The selection process started with the board’s asking the community who and what they wanted in a chief of police.
Sloly was once in contention for the role of Torontos police chief in 2015 before Chief Mark Saunders was selected for the position.
“What we heard loud and clear was that the city needed a chief that would be a trusted partner in our community, a chief that could deliver effective policing services for everyone in our city, a person that could serve, protect and respect all communities, including our most vulnerable and marginalized citizens,” Deans said.
He stated that the service needed an overhaul and suggested that it could reduce costs by cutting hundreds of officers positions.
And in this, the board hopes Sloly will also be different. During Bordeleau’s tenure, the service faced criticism, both internally and externally, for its handling of race-related incidents, from hiring practices to the death of Abdirahman Abdi.
Sloly, a black man originally from Jamaica, will not fix race-related issues simply because he’s black. But as a person of colour with a long career in policing, he’s positioned to approach these issues in a way his predecessors couldn’t. He has lived experience.
“We had a number of impressive candidates come forward, but I’m confident that we got this one right,” Deans said.
Deputy Police Chief Peter Sloly speaks at a news conference at Toronto Police headquarters Tuesday August 4, 2015.
Sloly left policing in 2016 when he retired from the Toronto Police Service after 27 years. He’s a former national soccer player and currently works as a security and justice consultant at Deloitte.
“I’ve travelled some interesting roads and had some interesting experiences along the way, in policing and outside,” he told a room packed with reporters, senior officers, the board and community members.
Congratualtions Peter Sloly on your appointment as Chief of the @OttawaPolice Services. I look forward to working with you and to your many contributions to our community. Welcome to Ottawa! @SlolyServes pic.twitter.com/dB4wZiKRQB
“I’ll bring the full package here for you folks. I’ll give you my full effort for the full time I’m here.”
Sloly has been criticized for being too forward-thinking, too radical in a time when policing decisions are heavily scrutinized.
In a statement, Sloly said "I am excited to get to know and work with the members of the OPS a tall ranks and in all roles, who have demonstrated such inspiring courage, innovation and compassion."
He publicly slammed Toronto’s police budget as being bloated and questioned the public’s trust in policing. But he also comes to Ottawa with the experience of helping to lead the largest force in the country.
He’s big on people and partnerships — looking after those in uniform and providing them with physical and mental safety.
He’s previously advocated for a less reactive policing model that is less about costly law enforcement and more focused on prevention by looking at the underlying social issues that lead to crime.
“There’s simply not enough resources to provide all the services and meet all the expectations of a city like this,” he said on Monday.
“I believe in keeping cities safe, communities safe, people safe. I believe in protecting the most marginalized and the most victimized, but I also believe in the health of a community, the resilience of a community and that means you have to work with everyone and everything in every community.
“You don’t get to pick or choose. Our people go into these communities every single day, not knowing what they’re going to face and in some cases, with a fear of not being able to come back at the end of the day.
“And in those communities, despite fear and in some cases despair, people welcome those officers.”
Sloly is a father of a five-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. He’s been married for 15 years. The fit had to be right for him to return to policing not just for himself, but his family.
“I needed to know I was coming to a city that would welcome my family. That would honour my traditions, that would respect my story and my diversity, that would be a safe place for my kids to play in the streets or the parks, that would have good schools, good post-secondary education, a good economy and good business for my wife and my daughter and son eventually. A lot of things had to come together. They came together right here.”
Sloly is a communicator. Bordeleau was, too. But this is a different league. Sloly is well-spoken, charismatic and earnestly passionate — or so it comes across.
But he’s not yet ready to make decisions or even long-term plans about what to do. He needs to be briefed, meet his people and understand the city.
Despite leaving the Toronto Police Service over three years ago, he said his “passion for policing has remained.” He described leaving the force and moving to the private sector as “one of the most difficult transitions of my life” and said he “never shut the door fully” on returning to police work.
Sloly himself knows he won’t be the saviour to address every issue facing the city and Ottawa police.
“If you’re looking to me for some straight answer that can give you all the consideration and comfort that you want, I’m simply not that person … But if you’re looking for someone to bring the best ideas and best people around the most vexing and complex issues and move the needle, I’m quite confident that you’ll be confident that the selection of the board is me.”
Sloly isn’t bilingual but he’s committed to learning French and will start classes once he takes on the role.
The announcement Monday was attended by very few rank-and-file officers. They remain cautious about what this means for the force — especially after years of tension with police leadership.
“You want the highest level of morale, the highest level of energy, the highest level of commitment from the largest number of your members. There’s room for improvement but I feel there’s a strong base there.”
Most important for him when he gets in the chief’s office is to be visible — meeting officers, civilians, sitting in on meetings, making himself available to officers on parade — but also hitting the streets meeting the community.
“But I also believe that the people I see in front of me – whether they be in uniform or from the community – have equally compelling experiences, equally deep insights, an equal commitment to healthy, safe communities. I’ll tap on those folks.”
He was headed to police headquarters later Monday morning and on his way back to Toronto by the afternoon.
Like Bordeleau before him, he knows the honeymoon will end. He’ll have to make tough decisions.
“As long as there’s friction between cop and community, as long as there’s morale issues internally, as long we still continue to see issues of workplace bullying and harassment, clearly more needs to be done. And I’m committed to making sure we do the best possible to provide a safe, healthy working environment for our officers so they can go out in the community and create a safe, healthy living environment for citizens.”
He won’t manage to fix everything that’s wrong, but he was hired because there are hopes he’ll try.
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