Op/Ed: Something is rotten in the City of Windsor...the Windsor Police Service

Feb 26, 2024

Op/Ed: Something is rotten in the City of Windsor...the Windsor Police Service

Windsor Police Service Patch.

I was born and raised in Windsor, Ontario, and still have connections there. So I keep an eye on goings on in the old hometown and still have great interest in what is happening. It was there that, as a blue-collar kid, I was first set upon, targeted, and harassed by cops, and that I started to figure out what policing was really all about.

When it comes to policing, some things never change. It would seem that there is still something rotten in the Windsor Police Service (even bearing in mind that policing itself is rotten). The extent and seriousness of the alleged abuses is staggering, even for someone familiar with the egregious realities of policing. It tells us that this is well beyond being a problem of a few “bad apples,” as police often like to put it. Something is deeply wrong with the whole orchard. The community needs to know how deep this rot goes—and how high up.


A Rotten Orchard

Recent reporting documents a litany of troubling abuses in a force that has also killed someone in each of the last two years. Tactical team leader Inspector Ed Armstrong was charged with multiple counts of discreditable conduct. An officer was accused of sexual assaults that allegedly occurred over the course of over a decade, from 2011 to 2023. There is a $4.5-million lawsuit against former Windsor police officer Peter Burke — a woman says Burke had a sexual relationship with her after meeting her in a domestic violence investigation, making this an instance of a cop allegedly preying upon a domestic violence victim. Constable Joshua Smith was arrested and charged with criminal harassment, indecent communications, and harassing communications. Sergeant Deler Bal was charged with two counts of assault and one count of assault causing bodily harm in connection with an off-duty incident in Ottawa.

These are all grievous matters. To have these occurring within a force the size of Windsor’s, and happening over lengthy time periods, must make us ask pressing questions about issues of governance within the force. Even when we recognize the absence of any real oversight to policing, we might well ask, “How was an officer allowed to commit alleged sexual assaults over a decade?”

As I have documented at length, policing is violence. And what some like to call “police culture” is rife with sexual violence, even within its own ranks. Policing has a deep seated sexual violence problem.

How can any resident of the city have any faith in a police force that has so much apparent abuse within its ranks? How can residents trust that the force is accountable when there is evidence that allegedly offending officers have been allowed to continue on the force over years? What are residents to make of cases where officers appear to have received preferential treatment, as in the driving case? The short answer is that they should have no trust for them at all.

This is especially so when we add that current Deputy Chief Jason Crowley was stopped when his personal vehicle was seen travelling 111 km/h on a 70 km/h roadway, making Crowley eligible for a stunt driving charge, yet no immediate action was taken regarding a charge or impounding his vehicle. Even more, Crowley was hired as permanent Deputy Chief, having the interim tag removed, after this incident.

All of this asks us to look deeply at police culture and at cultures of accountability. We need to understand not only why such acts occur repeatedly, but why discipline for offending officers is so out of step with what civilians would face.


Unaccountable Force

The community has a right to know what has been going on. Tough questions need to be put to leadership—and their answers scrutinized. Unfortunately, criminological research and history show us that communities are largely excluded from these accountability processes.

It is good that charges have come, finally, in some cases. The Special Investigation Unit (SIU) is investigating others, though even there we have reasons for pessimism. The SIU’s latest report cited 2021-2022 as the busiest in the history of the agency, with investigation files opened in 430 cases—a 10 percent increase from the previous year’s 390 cases. Yet criminal charges were laid by the SIU Director in only 14 cases, against a total of 14 officers. Of the recent Windsor cases, Inspector Ed Armstrong received only a one-year demotion after pleading guilty to discreditable conduct including unwanted comments, text messages, some of a sexual nature, and interactions with women who were co-workers.

The time has come for more transparent and accessible community oversight. One possibility is the creation of a civilian, non-police, oversight body. This should centre the involvement of people who are disproportionately impacted by police violence and misconduct—Indigenous and Black communities, unhoused people, drug users. And this should be seen only as a limited step as we move to fully defund, disarm, and dismantle police—abolition.

The mass protests that happened following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers in 2020 moved issues of police misconduct to the forefront of public debates. More than that, they fundamentally raised questions about the nature of policing and so-called police culture, and the gap between public perceptions of accountability and oversight and their often unsatisfactory reality.

Something is rotten in the Windsor Police Service. We need a close hard look at the whole orchard. We’ll find that what is rotten is policing itself.

Jeff Shantz is a long-time anti-authoritarian organizer, researcher, and writer who lives and works on Kwantlen, Katzie, and Semiahmoo territories (Surrey, British Columbia).