Hamilton

Niagara's new police chief outlines priorities, responds to community concerns about systemic racism

Niagara’s new police chief Bill Fordy tells CBC Hamilton about his priorities as chief and responds to concerns over his response to systemic racism.

Bill Fordy became chief of the Niagara Regional Police Service late last month

A portrait of a person in a police uniform seated at a desk.
Bill Fordy, the former deputy chief of Niagara Regional Police Service, took over as chief in early 2024. (Justin Chandler/CBC)

Every interaction a police officer has with a member of the public is "an opportunity to build a relationship with the community," Niagara's new police chief Bill Fordy says. 

To further build trust in the region, Fordy added that police need to be "open and honest" about sharing information, and acknowledge "if and when we make a mistake."

According to a local anti-racism group, Fordy and the police service as a whole, have work to do if they want marginalized people to trust them  — particularly when it comes to tackling systemic racism.

Fordy called out for 2020 comments on systemic racism 

Fordy became NRPS's deputy chief in 2017 after working in British Columbia for about 30 years. He took over from outgoing chief Bryan MacCulloch late last month. 

Niagara police have over 1,000 people on staff, and a $190.5-million budget for 2024. 

After the police board announced Fordy's appointment, the Niagara Region Anti-Racism Association (NRARA) issued a media release denouncing it alongside Erica's Embrace Support Services, another anti-racism organization. They criticized Fordy for a 2020 radio interview in which he said there was no data to suggest systemic racism was present within the Niagara police. 

Advocates including Saleh Waziruddin, an NRARA executive committee member, have said that comment ignored the force's own data which shows police used force against Black people at a disproportionate rate. In 2022, the reporting showed about 23 per cent of use of force incidents were against people officers perceived to be Black. The report notes 2021 census data shows about three per cent of people in the region are Black.  

Bill Fordy on addressing racism in policing

2 months ago
Duration 0:25
Bill Fordy, Niagara Regional Police Service's new chief, says the service is becoming more diverse and working to address barriers.

Fordy told CBC Hamilton that since 2020, he's acknowledged "both inside and outside our police service, on numerous occasions, that within the institution of policing, inclusive of the Niagara Regional Police Service, there are systemic barriers that exist."

"There are systemic barriers that other people face that I haven't faced as a white male. So I openly acknowledge that that's a reality of today's world," he said. "Those discussions we had in 2020 certainly were a foundation for a great learning opportunity for me and as we look forward, I look to our organization to become more diverse and more reflective of the community we serve." 

Waziruddin said it sounds like Fordy has acknowledged barriers faced by police officers within the institution, "but I don't think that covers the racism of the police towards the rest of us."

"The magic words would be: 'There is systemic racism in the Niagara Regional Police Service.' That's the first step that Fordy can take," he said.

Advocates call for tangible police reforms 

As for how the police can address racism, Fordy said "all organizations need to continue to learn and need to continue to build bridges with equity-deserving groups."

He added that he thinks the NRPS is becoming more diverse. "We're looking inward to identify those barriers for equity deserving members, to try to eliminate those."

Niagara's police chief on building trust

2 months ago
Duration 0:36
Bill Fordy, Niagara Regional Police Service's new chief, says every interaction an officer has is an opportunity to build trust.

The NRARA has pointed to a number of recommendations they say police could implement to reduce racism including having officers wear body cameras, improving training and shifting some mental-health related calls to a civilian service. 

"Something's either anti-racism or it's public relations and the way you can tell the difference is if it's anti-racism, it actually has actions and resources and change," Waziruddin said. 

In an email, CBC Hamilton asked Fordy if the NRPS has implemented any of those recommendations, or plans to. 

Fordy said the service continues to have "fulsome conversations with members who represent all of Niagara along with continuous education on how to build upon and improve existing relationships."

Chief says police could more effectively work with social service providers 

Fordy said he thinks there's room to "more effectively" work with social service providers. He noted that often, police are the first to respond to calls when people are in distress. 

"As we look forward, my hope is that we'll be able to engage professionals so that people get the support they need and ultimately the police don't have to be a part of those interactions."

He said he would "love" for there to be an organization that could respond to calls for help that don't involve criminality and would work with governments and other agencies "to arrive there at some point."

Challenges ahead

As CBC Hamilton recently reported, experts say that because Niagara is on the Canada-United States border and accessible by various ports, it's a target for transnational crimes such as money laundering and human trafficking.

Fordy said policing international crime is a challenge that has required the NRPS to partner with provincial and federal agencies to share information and techniques. 

"We're looking to enhance our effectiveness in all those areas, whether it be human trafficking, car thefts, fraud, [which] we didn't investigate maybe in the same manner 15 or 20 years ago."

But Fordy says one of his first priorities as chief is close to home: the wellbeing of his own workers. He said the pandemic exhausted police officers and he wants to make sure they have access to tools supporting their wellbeing. 

"My number one priority is to make sure our people are good so that we can take care of the community and serve the community in a way that I would want my family or friends served."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Justin Chandler is a CBC News reporter in Hamilton. He covers all sorts of stories but has a special interest in how public policy affects people. Justin covered current affairs in Hamilton and Niagara for TVO, and has worked on a variety of CBC teams and programs, including As It Happens, Day 6 and CBC Music. He co-hosted Radio Free Krypton on Met Radio. You can email story ideas to justin.chandler(at)cbc(dot)ca.

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