Case of suspended Kennebecasis officer cost taxpayers more than $1M

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The case of a Kennebecasis Regional Police Force officer who has been suspended with pay for more than four years, and now plans to retire before facing any possible disciplinary action, has cost local taxpayers more than $1 million, according to Quispamsis Mayor Gary Clark.

"Enough is enough," he said. "These types of [conduct complaint] cases have been dragging on far too long and it's costing the taxpayers way too much money."

Quispamsis and Rothesay councils have sent a joint letter to New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, calling for amendments to the provincial Police Act that would see allegations against officers dealt with more quickly.

For more than four years, the towns have faced ongoing costs related to "alleged serious violations" by a member of the force, the letter, dated Oct. 30, states.

"To date, the cost of this protracted matter exceeds $1 million, and though a resolution is pending, it seems unlikely any of the tax dollars expended will be recovered."

The letter, which was also sent to Public Safety Minister Ted Flemming, doesn't name the officer involved, but Clark confirmed it refers to Porter.

Porter, a 31-year veteran of the force, is accused of sexual harassment and other Police Act offences involving a female civilian employee he supervised.

He has been suspended with pay since June 2016. Various hearings before the New Brunswick Police Commission have been delayed over the years, including during a failed legal challenge by Porter in February.

Porter's annual salary is $115,524.50, according to Kennebecasis Regional Police Force Chief Wayne Gallant.

Municipal and regional forces in New Brunswick cannot suspend an officer without pay, unless the officer has been convicted of an offence under provincial or federal legislation.

We're pleading with the province to have a serious look at this so this doesn't happen again and that taxpayers around the province aren't faced with a bill like this. - Gary Clark, Quispamsis mayor

"While the Councils can appreciate the necessity to protect police officers from frivolous and vexatious accusations, the obligation to continue to provide wages and a full complement of benefits during a period of extended [inquiry] and negotiation seems, in our view, to be particularly offensive to the notion of 'taxpayer fairness,'" the letter states.

Clark said it's even more worrisome with the province cutting municipal equalization grants.

"We're pleading with the province to have a serious look at this so this doesn't happen again and that taxpayers around the province aren't faced with a bill like this," he said.

'Extraneous labour costs'

Kennebecasis Regional Joint Board of Police Commissioners budget documents offer a breakdown of the so-called "extraneous labour costs."

Legal fees in 2018 and 2019 totalled nearly $364,000, while salary and benefits accounted for another $277,000, according to the documents.

More than $246,000 is projected for 2020, and the police board had budgeted for an additional $213,750 in 2021.

Figures for 2016 and 2017 were not included.

The $1 million cost for the Porter case will be split roughly 60-40 between Quispamsis and Rothesay, respectively, based on a formula the municipalities have for shared services, which includes population.

Town of Quispamsis
Town of Quispamsis

"We're just asking for the province to streamline this and come up with a better process," Clark said.

The Department of Public Safety plans to review the Police Act "in the very near future," including disciplinary proceedings, a spokesperson has said.

Porter was scheduled to face an arbitration hearing before the New Brunswick Police Commission on Oct. 26, but it was adjourned until Dec. 31, the same day his retirement takes effect.

Once an officer retires or resigns, they are no longer considered a police officer and the provincial policing oversight body has no authority to discipline them.

But Jennifer Smith, the commission's executive director, contends the arbitrator now has jurisdiction over the complaint.

"It will be up to the arbitrator to determine whether that jurisdiction is lost if an officer retires," she has said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

Accused of 84 breaches of act

An independent investigator hired by the commission found Porter committed 81 breaches of various sections of the provincial Police Act, including sexual harassment, abuse of authority, corrupt practice and discreditable conduct.

Porter was subsequently accused of three more offences related to alleged retaliation against the original complainant.

An independent investigator hired by the commission found he violated three sections of the professional code of conduct, including abuse of authority by harassment/intimidation, discreditable conduct while off duty, and insubordination.

No allegations have been proven and Porter has maintained they are false.

Porter is at least the third officer in the greater Saint John region in recent years to retire before facing possible disciplinary action.