Ottawa police chief needs to ban wristbands on job, says former deputy chief

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Community and Police Action Committee faces barrage of criticism over wristbands

A former Ottawa deputy police chief is urging the force's current leader to take a stronger stand against a wristband campaign among officers in solidarity with a police constable charged with manslaughter in the 2016 death of Abdirahman Abdi.

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau needs to order, and not just send out a memo, that the wristbands should not be worn on duty, said Larry Hill, who served as deputy chief from 2000 to 2008.

Hill said Bordeleau also needs to make it clear officers will face discipline if they go against the order.

Ottawa Police Service members and their supporters have purchased about 1,200 wristbands showing solidarity with Const. Daniel Montsion, after Ontario's police watchdog charged Montsion with manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in the death of 37-year-old Abdirahman Abdi.

The black and blue silicone wristbands bear the words "United We Stand" on the outside and "Divided We Fall" on the inside, along with Montsion's badge number — 1998.

Individual officers initiated the show of solidarity in what Ottawa Police Association president Matt Skof characterized is as an "internal initiative for expressing support for a fellow colleague."

'Nightmare scenario'

Earlier this week Bordeleau sent a letter to members reminding them that the bands are not to be worn while in uniform. But despite that, several officers who CBC spoke with stated their intention to wear the bracelets on duty in defiance of the chief's wishes.

Sources also tell CBC that at least one officer was seen continuing to sell the bands in the workplace one day after the chief sent out the email.

"What will the chief do if they continue to do that?" asked Hill, who thinks an order is the only way to avert an even bigger public relations crisis.

"There are freelancers out there just waiting to snap a photograph of an officer. The nightmare scenario is that the officer is in a grappling session trying to arrest a member of the black community and the wristband is clearly visible," said Hill.

Hill says Bordeleau should ban all wristbands and other adornments like buttons and ribbons with any type of political messaging, allowing for some exceptions through executive approval.

Bracelet campaigns common in the past

In the past officers have sported a variety of bracelets linked to causes such as rainbow bands supporting gay pride and camouflage bands supporting the armed forces.

In response to a storm of public outrage over the Montsion solidarity bracelets, Chief Charles Bordeleau told staff "we must take into account the community perceptions of actions like these wristbands.

"There has already been a great deal of negative commentary and we should all be concerned about the long-term impact on public trust this could create. I am also concerned about how it may impact members during the course of their duties. I want to remind you that they are not part of the Ottawa Police Service uniform and should not be worn during working hours."

Sources tell CBC that shortly after the chief's email, about a dozen officers from various units ranging from patrol to tactical to investigators hit reply-all and voiced their disagreement.

One internal email reply came from Sgt. Anthony Constantini. He has been with Ottawa police for nearly three decades and currently works in general investigations.

'Dan Montsion is part of our family'

The email obtained by CBC and verified by Sgt. Constantini states:

"With all due respect to the office of the Chief, I believe the members of the Ottawa police are buying and wearing their wristbands out of respect for Dan and this show of solidarity is being done not to undermine the investigation or the eventual outcome.

"It is not being done to snub our nose at the community, as we face it everyday with professionalism and pride.

"In the past and still to this day members of our own police service have worn bracelets, ribbons, buttons and even red high heels to support a cause or an individual and all are not part of our regular duty uniform.

"I had been brought up to take care of your own family members first, and the rest of the people in the neighbourhood second. Dan Montsion is part of our family."

Wristbands will impact job, Hill says

Hill said that kind of thinking is problematic. The retired deputy chief served more than three decades with Ottawa police and understands the desire among officers to support one of their own but Hill said maintaining public trust has to take priority.

Wearing the Montsion solidarity bracelet will make the job of a police officer more difficult, he said, particularly with the Somali community. Abdi was a Somali-Canadian.

"This is a one-sided perception by the police officer that this will not affect me. (The wristband) will affect the person you're dealing with and that will ultimately affect you," he said.

"Do you think a member of the Somali community with information will go up to that officer and give him valuable information? I don't think so."