Former police chief says wiping out executive or hiring externally won't solve services' problems

Former police chief says wiping out executive or hiring externally won't solve services' problems

Retired Calgary police chief Roger Chaffin said the biggest challenge facing the next chief won't be the opioid crisis, or other crime and social disorder within the city, but rather ensuring the organization as a whole functions properly, including getting everyone on board with the HR reforms Chaffin began to chip away at during his leadership run.

Especially, he said, knowing there's a core group of senior managers either resistant to change — or at the very least, unenthusiastic about it — and would rather turn back the clocks.

"Some people would like to pull you back to the way things used to be. 'Can we just go backwards in time?' and you have to be able to keep pushing through that and fighting through that."

But whether that next leader is hired internally or externally, he said, shouldn't matter.

"A new person from the outside, I understand they asked for it, but in and of itself it's not necessarily enough," said Chaffin.

"What are the issues? And what are they capable of doing? And can they bring enough people along with them?"

Chaffin agreed to meet for this interview at the Black Diamond Hotel bar and restaurant south of Calgary, far from the busy streets he spent more than 30 years trying to keep safe as a member of the Calgary Police Service before stepping down last October.

He said one of the reasons he left early, three years into his five-year contract, was because of the growing animosity between himself and the head of the union, which he felt was becoming too much of a distraction from the job he was hired to do.

Chaffin said he's spent these past few months decompressing and more recently, networking, to determine his next steps.

But he said he's kept away from current search for the next police chief, trusting the commission will do its job. 

Nepotism/cronyism

Chaffin still thinks about how he could have more effectively addressed officers' concerns, including the promotion process, that contributed to  low morale.

"One of the big issues people talk about is nepotism and cronyism that we only advance here in this organization if you know somebody. So if I know that deputy chief or if I know that superintendent, that's the only way I can move forward."

That perception, Chaffin said, is based on the fact there are a lot of strong friendships and alliances that develop over the years, especially among peers who climb the ladder together.

But, he said that's the nature of the service's organizational structure.

"Almost every employee starts at the beginning of their career as a generalist and hired to work in the community at the frontline.

"But, it's also an expectation one of those people will be the chief one day, or be a deputy, will be a superintendent, an inspector, and our promotion process[es] are built that way. Everybody ladders up through the organization so you're with us for decades. "

The former chief said it's a highly competitive process with built-in steps to ensure it's one's qualifications and not allegiances that move them up the corporate structure.

Still, some officers have told CBC News they believe the executive officers are too focused on protecting their own little empires — silos, they're called — and the officers attached to them, and they want the entire executive, all the way up to the deputy chief level, wiped out.

But Chaffin doesn't believe that's necessary, nor would it really work.

"How many people could you change to actually make people believe that that's gone?"

Plus, he asks, who would you replace them with?

If you hire civilian leaders, then you take away a member's ability to climb the ranks.

And if you just bring up members from the lower ranks, he said the same perception problem would persist.

Tough decisions

Chaffin said he's had to make some tough and unpopular decisions and even admits he doesn't get invited to as many parties as he used to, but he said he's OK with that because it was all in an effort to make the service more accountable and transparent.

He implemented service-wide performance evaluations, including the executive.

He reintroduced the tenure policy, which forced senior constables out of their specialty units and back onto the frontlines to increase seniority on the streets.

He helped shed a light on some disturbing HR issues, including sexual harassment and bullying.

And he opted to name officers charged with an offence despite pushback by the police association.

"You're breaking through some past behaviours that create friction. So we've done a lot of that. We've exposed a lot of that. We've done it very publicly.

"Now's a chance for the next person to say 'OK, now that's out there we don't have to redo that now, let's go out there and say, what can we build from, where can we grow from?'"

Do-overs

Chaffin said when the commission hired him, he told them he was not going to be like some of his predecessors who were more comfortable having "treadmill meetings" with officers or greeting them with slaps on the backs or arm punches. He said that's just not his personality.

"Maybe the next person should be more political. Maybe that person should be more of a schmoozer and be, maybe that works."

Chaffin said if he could do it again he would deploy his resources differently by putting more officers on the frontline, include more civilian expertise at the table when making decisions, and do a better job of getting his message out to staff.

"I had many times where I had to go back and apologize to people for something I said that I didn't mean, but it came out poorly."

Chaffin said the test coming up will be whether the next chief will be able to continue down the path of reforms and help defeat the idea that this is not a temporary shift in culture.

And that commitment, he said, will help convince more people, especially the more senor officers, to embrace these changes.

"Within CPS there always exists a belief that if you don't like a change, initiative or some new direction being undertaken, that you can just wait it out," Chaffin said.

​The commission said the search committee is short-listing candidates and will be conducting interviews in February.

An announcement is expected sometime in March.