Police Accountability Stuck in Legal Limbo

Posted: January 29, 2013 by rachellelouden in Uncategorized

The Special Investigations Unit (SIT) of the Toronto Police serves the purpose of investigating serious incidents that occur between the police and the public. These interactions which are brought to the SIT’s attention are ones which involve death, serious injury, or sexual assault. Unlike the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) which receives complaints made by civilians, but has no power to discipline the officers who are found to have inappropriately acted, the SIT does have the authority to lay charges in serious allegations based on their investigations. This unit is a very effective method of enforcing measures of accountability for a police force as they serve as an agent to whom the police may be obliged to inform and justify their actions to, as well as, they have authority to impose consequences for inappropriate behaviour.

Although the SIT would seem as though it would be an adequate mean of creating accountability, based on an event that occurred which involved allegations of police brutality against a civilian, it may not create enough transparency of police actions.

The SIU was forced to close an investigation because of a lack of communication existing between the Toronto Police, OIPRD and the SIU. The investigation regarded Tyrone Phillips who alleged that he was brutally beaten during his arrest outside of a nightclub. He filed a complaint with the OIPRD, and an SIU investigation into the incident was opened (Gillis, 2013). What lead to the Investigation’s demise was that the police were withholding essential information regarding the incident, disallowing the complaint to be successfully investigated.

The Toronto Police state they do not have to the right to release information to the SIU; however, Peter Rosenthal, University of Toronto law professor, states that the Toronto police do have a statutory duty to provide their cooperation, and are required to disclose relevant information. This leaves the investigation stuck into a legal limbo between policies.

The question here is based around the uncertainty of whether the Toronto Police are obliged to inform. If they are and they are not disclosing the information, could it be a result of police culture? Perhaps the rule of silence (Punch, 2009) is prevalent within the force and there is a blue wall which is used to establish lack of transparency and conceal the incident from being investigated. That is not discredit the force by saying that there is definitely an established rule of silence, as it may be a result of actual confusion of policies amongst the three parties involved, it is merely a suggestion of what may have occurred that resulted in the SIU being unable to adequately investigate the complaint.


Punch, M. (2009). Police corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing. New York, NY: Routledge.

Wendy Gillis, (2013, January 2) Public spat between Toronto police, SIU after police brutality complaint Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1309667–public-spat-between-toronto-police-siu-after-police-brutality-complaint

  1. Mike Larsen says:

    This is a different sort of case study. What you have identified is not a stand-alone example of police corruption so much as an example of obstruction inhibiting accountability. It is an interesting case!

    I think that you are on the right track to consider the role of police culture in creating and sustaining an attitude of non-cooperation with external accountability bodies. Consider the remarks made by the judge presiding over this case, also involving the Toronto Police Service: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2011/06/28/cops_get_house_arrest_for_cabbagetown_beating.html .

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