Saint John police chief surprises many with retirement announcement

1 / 2
Retired deputy chief named interim chief of Saint John Police Force

After just two years as the city's top cop, the chief of the Saint John Police Force has announced he will be retiring in the spring.

Chief John Bates sent out a directive late Friday to members of the police force announcing his retirement. Saint John Mayor Don Darling said Bates' last day on the job will likely be in April.

Bates was appointed to the position in August 2015 and took over the job in November of that year. A veteran police officer for over 30 years, he was the chief of the Stratford Police in Ontario before moving to Saint John.

Darling said the top priority of the Saint John Board of Police Commissioners is to find a new replacement. "We'll likely be meeting very shortly to find a successor" he said.

$1.25m budget cut

The timing of Bates' announcement comes as the police department prepares to deal with budget cuts for 2018.

The city cut the department's budget by $1.25 million, which union officials said could lead to the elimination of street crime, traffic and community response units.

It's not clear if the budget cut played any part in Bates' decision to retire.

Jennifer Carhart, chair of the Saint John Board of Police Commissioners, said Bates also sent its members a resignation letter late Friday afternoon.

She said the chief didn't indicate why he was choosing to leave.

"He reflected on his time served and that he's made a decision to retire at this time" she said, adding the board is grateful for his service.  

Union disappointed by decision

Duane Squires, head of the police union, says he isn't surprised about the police chief's announcement due to the challenging work environment at the department.

"He wasn't getting support from the police commission or council," he said.

He said he was disappointed Bates is leaving ahead before contract negotiations are wrapped up. The union has been without a contract since the end of 2015 and an arbitration date has been set for February.

"There are some questions about that," Squires said "Are things going to proceed, or who are we going to deal with?"

'Healthy' relationship with board

Carhart said the retirement won't impact arbitration and disputed any claim the board of police commissioners had a dysfunctional relationship with the chief.

"I don't think that there's friction at all," she said. "There's always healthy conversation and healthy dialogue back and forth because otherwise, you know, it wouldn't work effectively if everybody had the same opinion."

Councillor Gerry Lowe said he believes the 2018 budget cut likely played a part in the decision.

"It, no doubt, has something to do with it," Lowe said. "He was very conscious of what was going to take place."

A spokesperson with the Saint John Police said Bates was unavailable for comment.