It was a monumental task. The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) needed to conduct security assessments of all the courthouses in the province it polices—approximately 100 locations—with only three people to carry out the work.
In an unprecedented move, Security Assessment Unit Sergeant Laura Meyers, PSP, proposed bringing in outside help from the private sector. Senior executives approved of the idea, and Meyers reached out to the ASIS Toronto Chapter to bring on Michael Thompson, CPP, PCI, PSP, and Gregory Taylor, CPP, PSP.
Both had public sector experience—Taylor was former military and Thompson a former Toronto police officer. Meyers thought those qualifications, along with their extensive security backgrounds, would not only help them conduct the assessments OPP needed, but also gain the respect of OPP officers they would be working with in the field.
Her predictions were correct. Taylor and Thompson were well received, and the project was completed on time without exhausting OPP's resources—funding or personnel—to complete. It also marked a new era with OPP in bringing security professionals in-house to assist law enforcement in addressing security threats.
In 2007, the province of Ontario issued the Ontario Public Service Physical Operating Policy, which required all public service facilities within the province to complete a physical security threat risk assessment.
The OPP, which polices more than 1 million square kilometers of land and waterways in Ontario, was subject to this mandate. It's one of North America's largest deployed services with more than 5,800 uniformed officers, 2,400 civilian employees, and 830 auxiliary officers.
To comply with the mandate, the OPP's four-member Security Assessment Unit was assigned to carry out threat assessments of more than 200 facilities across the province. The four members went to each region and trained OPP staff at the facilities on crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) strategy and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's (RCMP) Harmonized Threat Assessment Methodologies.
"It was like a mass attack for the four-person unit to do that within a couple of years," Meyers says. "By 2011, all [facilities] were visited and threat assessments completed."
During that time frame, Staff Sergeant Rob Fournier was placed in charge of the newly created OPP Justice Officials Protection and Investigations Section (JOPIS). The section was created in 2009 to ensure the safety and protection of justice officials and to address threats, harassment, and intimidation directed at justice officials.
The Security Assessment Unit and JOPIS regularly began working together to address threats, and in 2015, JOPIS was instructed to complete physical security threat risk assessments on all justice facilities in the province.
Meyers and Fournier both knew it would be a major task to carry out the assessments, especially if they had to train additional OPP staff to conduct them.
"In the police world, when you're building your team you're looking for an individual with a ton of experience," Fournier says. "In the security aspect, we have to use that same premise. Why would you want to be retraining someone in security work, when you can get someone who's been involved for years?"
Meyers and Fournier were both active in the ASIS Toronto Chapter, so they pitched the idea of contracting out the justice facility assessments to a few security professionals they knew through the chapter.
The idea was approved, and Meyers and Fournier recruited two security professionals with certifications and backgrounds in the public sector—Thompson and Taylor.
Justice Site Visits
After Thompson and Taylor were brought on board, they traveled to 92 different sites across the province—ranging from remote areas to urban settings, with everything from historic courthouses to courtrooms in mini plazas.
Their job was to review each site, evaluate the training protocols, and identify any gaps that might pose vulnerabilities, Fournier says.
Thompson's and Taylor's recommendations were critical at one site in particular following a series of events over a six-month period that impacted the security of the facility in eastern Ontario.
During that six-month period, a local individual murdered three former lovers. Law enforcement launched an extensive manhunt to locate the person. During that same time frame, an OPP officer was threatened and forced to temporarily relocate for personal safety. And there was another unrelated high-risk threat to an officer at the facility.
"There were obviously a bunch of people at that older facility, and it needed attention," Fournier says. Thompson and Taylor were able to take the previous threat assessment of the facility and suggest specific actions to take to address the new vulnerabilities due to the heightened threat environment.
The facility then improved its exterior parking lot lighting, and made other changes that Fournier could not disclose due to security concerns.
This process of going back to reassess facilities has helped the province distribute its funds to better address security concerns, Fournier says.
"It's helped paint the picture when we're earmarking where limited funds are going, to say, 'This might not be on your list but it's on ours,' and that helps get things done sooner," he adds.
OPP Sites Revisited
While Thompson and Taylor were wrapping up the justice site assessments, the OPP decided to update its original threat assessments that were completed in the wake of the 2007 mandate.
"Some of the recommendations from that set were dated, not the best security practices," Meyers says. "So, we came up with a criticality schedule—how often we should revisit them…looking at it as a continual working project."
To carry out this work, OPP once again reached out to the Toronto Chapter; this time to Chapter President Patrick Ogilvie, CPP, PSP. Meyers knew that Ogilvie was looking to both build his personal brand as a professional and give back to the community.
Ogilvie is currently conducting this second round of threat assessments, using the RCMP methodology that was established during the initial round. Having that first set of assessments has been a useful benchmark, Ogilvie says, to score threats and vulnerabilities and then make actionable recommendations for the facilities.
"Even before I step foot onto a facility, I communicate with commanders that I'm looking for documented evidence or stories of different threats and occurrences," he adds. "I get them thinking not as police officers, but essentially as security people who can identify different threats and vulnerabilities that they have experienced."
This is because sometimes a security threat hasn't been identified by law enforcement because it is not a deliberate act—such as vandalism—that is intended to harm the facility.
For instance, Ogilvie says he found that most facilities did not identify building structure or leaks as vulnerabilities.
"What I found in getting out and talking to [people] was that accidents were happening, natural hazards that could have an impact on our business, and our business is policing," he explains. But because these threats weren't identified, nothing was being done to address or mitigate them.
Ogilvie has made it a point to educate OPP personnel at the facilities that he's looking at all threats—deliberate acts, accidents, and natural hazards—that could harm the organization. For instance, a leak in the facility could cause structural decay and ultimately become a hazard for personnel inside.
Thus far, Ogilvie says the OPP officers he's interacted with have been receptive to his suggestions, and Meyers adds that the feedback she's received has been highly positive—including that security deficiencies have been pointed out in a respectful manner.
Due to the success of the program, Fournier says that several First Nation police services across the province have reached out to OPP for assistance on conducting similar threat assessments.
Many of these facilities, especially in the northern part of Ontario, are in remote locations and have deteriorated or don't adhere to the same standards as other facilities in Ontario. To address this, OPP is working with the police programs to conduct threat assessments of approximately 15 different sites.
The Security Assessment Unit has also been called on to provide assistance to Ontario government facilities—overviews, recommendations, and security advice—because they have proved themselves in the field.
It has also showcased how civilian personnel can be brought in to a law enforcement agency to help in addressing security concerns.
Ogilvie, Thompson, and Taylor are all under contract right now using existing funding that OPP secured. Down the road, Fournier says he hopes to change a few positions in the Security Assessment Unit to hybrid roles that either a police or civilian security professional could fill.
Laura Meyers, PSP, is a Sergeant in the Ontario Provincial Police.