Appointment of new Niagara Police Chief Bill Fordy draws support and some criticism
The Regional Municipality of Niagara Police Services Board has promoted from within, appointing Bill Fordy as the new Chief of Police for the Niagara Regional Police Service, the tenth Chief in the service’s 53 year history. Fordy, who replaces retiring Chief Bryan MacCulloch, has served with the NRPS as Deputy Chief of Police since September 2017.
Jen Lawson, Chair of the Niagara PSB announced the hiring Monday morning: “[C]hief-Designate Fordy has a wide breadth and depth of experience in his 35-year-long career with the NRPS and RCMP (he was in charge of the national force’s Surrey, B.C. department and was later promoted). He has held key leadership positions within both policing agencies and prior to joining the NRPS as Deputy Chief, was the RCMP Assistant Commissioner overseeing all operational and administrative matters of policing in the Lower Mainland District (LMD) of British Columbia. He has overseen complex policing matters and substantial budgets at municipal, provincial, and federal levels.”
Chief-Designate Fordy’s budget experience will be tested, if the process to establish the force’s financial plan for 2024 is any example.
This past October, Niagara’s PSB approved a 7.1 percent increase to the service’s 2024 budget, amounting to a net budget expenditure of approximately $190.5 million. Included in the proposed budget was the hiring of an additional 40 staff members, including 20 frontline officers.
The proposed increase, which would have had a 2.8 percent impact on the Region’s overall budget, was too rich for Regional Council when they met the following month. Regional Chair Jim Bradley questioned some of the proposed new positions characterizing them as “more nice to haves, than essentially needed”.
Police budgets across Ontario, and Canada, have received heightened scrutiny over the past few years after decades of being rubber stamped in most cases, by elected local officials who often accepted the numbers presented by senior police brass as gospel.
Concerns around funding of police and what communities have received in return, to protect them and keep residents safe, have mounted in recent years. Canadian research has shown little correlation between investing in frontline police staff and a decrease in crime.
Questions have also been raised about how funds could be better spent, rather than unsustainable increases that largely go to salaries, overtime and benefits or additional staff. Funding partnerships that allow mental health professionals to work with frontline police officers and investments to address areas of crime that are rapidly growing, such as internet child exploitation, have been called for by taxpayers who are increasingly involved in public safety issues, which are becoming more complex.
With its budget sent back, the retiring Niagara Chief proposed various mitigation measures that resulted in approximately $2 million in cuts to the proposed 2024 budget, trimming the budget increase from 7.1 percent to 6 percent, which was ultimately accepted by Regional Council.
Included in the cuts were six positions that would reduce the budget impact from anywhere between approximately $96,000 to $239,000, depending on the position. All of the proposed positions, an Inspector Investigative Support position, an IT Equipment Support Technician, a Visual Content Creator, a Digital Evidence Management System Clerk, an Enterprise Project Coordinator and a Crime Analysis Supervisor, are expected to be up for budget consideration in 2025.
Noted in the PSB announcement were Fordy’s accomplishments in the field of police interviewing techniques. He drew national attention for conducting an 11-hour interrogation after the arrest of Robert Pickton, the B.C. pig farmer, who would eventually be convicted of second-degree murder of six women and suspected of murdering others.
Since coming to Niagara, Fordy has facilitated the development of two Strategic Plans, a Mental Health Strategy and Diversity Plan for officers, championed the creation of the Corporate Strategy and Innovation office and enhanced relationships with the Niagara Region Police Association (NRPA), the labour organization representing uniform and civilian members of the service.
The new police chief will be responsible for a force tasked with combatting increasingly complex crime in Niagara Region including human trafficking, increasing gang activity and other forms of violent crime.
Patrick McGilly, President of of the Niagara Region Police Association (the force’s union), took to the social media platform X after the PSB announcement:
“[B]ill will be a great leader to continue the excellence and add a new legacy to the Service. We are looking forward to a continued relationship that fosters collaboration and respect.”
Not all of the reaction was positive, however, as the Niagara Region Anti-Racism Association (NRARA) issued a media release denouncing the appointment.
In 2020, Deputy Chief Fordy came under fire from the organization when he penned an open letter noting he had witnessed “disrespect to police officers across the country”, with many being stereotyped based on the actions of a few. Fordy, in a local radio interview, also suggested systematic racism in the NRPS was not an issue.
At the time, Erika Smith, an activist with NRARA, challenged Fordy’s comments:
“[Y]ou (Fordy) have expressed your dislike towards the disrespect of police officers across the country but not why the disrespect exists.”
The NRARA indicated Fordy and Smith did have a conversation, but the organization recently voiced its concern over the appointment.
Saleh Waziruddin, a member of the NRARA executive committee, said “[W]hen he was Deputy Chief Bill Fordy said ‘we have no data to suggest that’ there is systemic racism in the Niagara Police, but their own data showed that when they did racial profiling, now called Collection Of Identifying Information, in 2017, 13 percent of those stopped were Black (just 2 percent of the population then), and in 2018, one-third were Indigenous (just 4 percent of the population), yielding zero arrests (2018).”
Chief-Designate Fordy provided a response to The Pointer:
“Those comments were made in a snapshot of time, where I was defending the brave men and women who, on a daily basis, continued to try to serve and protect citizens across our country, during an emotional time of unrest following the horrific murder of George Floyd in the United States.
At the time, I said that there was no evidence to suggest the existence of systemic racism within the Niagara Regional Police Service.
In fairness, that specific quote was taken out of context when considering the broader discussion that occurred during the interview. In the same interview, I did acknowledge that systemic racism existed broadly within our society and our institutions.
During my journey of self-reflection, I have since acknowledged both inside and outside our police service, on numerous occasions, that within the institution of policing, there are systemic barriers that exist, and that I have had privileges that others have not, simply by being a White male.
We are all on a continuous journey of personal reflection and growth, and as a Service, we are committed to serving and protecting all members of our community and enhancing relationships.”
An analysis of recent policing data might show what has contributed to the over-representation of some visible minority and Indigenous groups in the Niagara force’s statistics.
Fordy was in charge of policing for the RCMP in Surrey, B.C., one of the country’s most diverse municipalities, and received widespread support from groups who applauded his work in a range of communities, which led to being put in charge of the province’s entire lower mainland, one of Canada’s largest and most diverse policing jurisdictions.
Chief Bryan MacCullough announced his retirement this past July. He began his career with the NRPS in 1984 and had been Chief since September 2017. Fordy takes over on February 1, MacCullough’s retirement date, though the swearing in for the Chief-Designate will take place at a date and time still to be announced.
Monday’s news release indicated the Police Board had “actively engaged in succession planning to ensure the highest quality of the Executive Command.” Executive search firm Odgers Berndtson was engaged to conduct an internal search “for the ideal candidate”.
With the Chief of Police vacancy now filled, the PSB and Odgers Berndtson will have to begin the selection process to fill two Deputy Chief positions. In addition to the vacancy left by Fordy’s promotion, Deputy Chief Brett Flynn is also retiring on February 1 after serving with the NRPS since 1990. The PSB hopes to have the deputy positions filled by March.
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