Internal complaints soar for Calgary police amid calls to change whistleblower system

By in
A Calgary Police Commission public meeting progresses in downtown Calgary, Alta., on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016. The Calgary Police Service is facing criticism following the release of an internal workplace review outlining sex assault, bullying and intimidation issues. Lyle Aspinall/Postmedia Network.
Bill Kaufmann

Internal complaints filed against Calgary police more than doubled in 2017 over the previous year, numbers the service is having difficulty handling under current legislation, says the civilian body overseeing officers.

While overall complaints against Calgary police fell last year compared with 2016, from 1,455 to 1,219, those made within the CPS ranks jumped from 33 to 69, according to data provided by the Calgary police commission.

The 2017 figure is more than triple the number of 21 recorded in 2013.

The increase comes in the wake of a report obtained by Postmedia in late 2016 citing concerns within the force of sexual assault, harassment and bullying in the workplace.

In a written response, the police commission’s Tyler Shandro doesn’t delve into the nature of the internal complaints but states the provincial legislation that dictates how the CPS investigates them needs to be overhauled.

“The current process is lengthy, costly and rigid . . . the commission has broader concerns about the effectiveness of the complaint process established by the Police Act,” states Shandro, chairman of the police commission’s complaints oversight committee.

“It may take years for a complaint file to conclude and the process leaves little room for immediate accountability or informal resolutions that could help strengthen the health of the workplace.”

Acting Supt. Steve Drennan wouldn’t disagree with that assessment, saying the force does the best it can within the Police Act framework it’s given.

He said the jump in the number of internal complaints suggests “we have more officers complaining against officers.”

Those complaints vary in nature and their numbers reflect a greater willingness to report, he said.

“It comes from a place of trust and confidence that these will be received and thoroughly investigated,” said Drennan.

He said 95 per cent of complaints against police aren’t substantiated, adding the overall numbers are small when weighed against the 450,000 police-public interactions each year.

Of the complaints, 33 are statutory, or possibly criminal in nature — down from 41 in 2016 but well above the 12 recorded in 2013.

A former constable who is among a group of 13 current and former officers who have made bullying and harassment complaints against the force agreed the increased numbers have a silver lining.

“They’ve increased because the service has finally implemented the proper mechanisms,” said Jen Magnus.

“People are more comfortable in coming forward . . . I’m looking at this like it’s a good thing.”

She said the group’s recommendation that the police service’s complaints section be physically located away from existing police facilities was adopted, easing fear among alleged victims they’re being watched.

But Magnus echoed the concerns of the police commission that the force lacks the ability to deal with complaints in a timely manner.

“Chief (Roger) Chaffin said they were going to deal with these problems, but they haven’t to date,” she said.

“Our complaint is kind of dead in the water . . . we continue to be frustrated.”

If there was a genuine will, Magnus said she’s convinced the force’s way of treating its members and how it deals with complaints could change much more quickly than it is.

Defence lawyer Tom Engel, who’s worked on numerous complaints against police, said the service is trying to change its culture of internal justice but isn’t there yet, adding it could resolve cases much more quickly.

“If a police officer is punched, that investigation is done very quickly; if a police officer punches me, that investigation could take years and there’s no excuse for that,” he said.

In a Law Enforcement Review Board public inquiry held last month into how the force handled the complaint of inaccurate court testimony given by two Calgary officers, witnesses, including former members of the force, said its own 35-strong professional standards section is overwhelmed with files.

“The biggest challenge is managing the volume of complaints with the resources they have,” Murray Stooke, a former deputy chief, told the inquiry.

“It was not really robustly staffed.”

Several witnesses who work in law enforcement recommended the process be taken from police forces and performed by an independent body created by the province to ensure public confidence.

Magnus agreed that role should be taken out of the hands of police.

“The chief ultimately makes decisions on investigations and you have to take that power from that individual,” she said.

“You can’t tell me you can be completely free from that bias.”

In his statement, Shandro called on the province to “overhaul the Police Act in a way that would increase the efficiency of the complaint system and better reflect modern human resource approaches to misconduct and conflict resolution.”

With a steep increase in complaints from 2015 to 2016, the police service last December said it was hiring lawyers to advise on complaints, providing guidance on workplace misconduct allegations.

on Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

(0 votes. Average 0 of 5)