Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Time off, without taking time off
Some cops allegedly party on taxpayers' tab
The call from the cop came out of the blue.
On Mother's Day.
"Sorry for bothering you," he said. "But I thought it would be an appropriate day to call."
He said Mother's Day made him think of the Taman children. "And how they spend the day."
At that point, I didn't know why an anonymous Winnipeg police officer would be phoning me, of all news media people, or why the cop I would later come to call Deep Blue would be referencing orphaned children.
But I took a guess.
Either personal, or by association.
After all, it was another cop who, on the early morning of Feb. 25, 2005 -- following an all-night shift party -- drove his Dodge Dakota pickup truck into the back of 40-year-old dental hygienist Crystal Taman's Chevy Sprint convertible. Leaving Tara, Kristin and Jordan Taman without their mother on any day, anymore.
But having dropped the Taman name, Deep Blue came to his point.
"We have a problem within the service," he said. "It's a systemic problem. Have you ever heard of safety slips?"
I had no idea what he was talking about, or where the segue was.
"A safety slip," he said, "is something that is put through on certain days when people want to disappear," he said.
That happened, most commonly, he said, on the last day of an evening general patrol's 28-day work cycle, when cops tend to gather for beer and wings at a local lounge.
What happens, Deep Blue explained, is their supervisor sergeant will collect the slips they've signed to take banked time.
If everyone gets home safe from the party, and the "safety slips" aren't needed, the sergeant rips them up.
It's as if they worked their full shift, even though they left early. The result: They keep their banked time.
"It usually happens on an evening shift," he added.
I was starting to see the segue.
It was general patrol officers from the North End division who gathered at a restaurant lounge on Leila Avenue for a shift party late on the night before Crystal Taman died. One of them was the patrolman driving the pickup truck that hit her. The way I remembered the story, he and some of his police pals drank until the bar closed at 2:30 a.m., and then moved to a fellow officer's home in East St. Paul, where they continued to party.
Obviously, not everyone got home safe that night.
"It would be interesting to see if they were working evenings," Deep Blue said.
And, I thought to myself, whether they used overtime.
Later, I checked the transcripts from the 2008 Taman inquiry.
It was an evening shift, minus perhaps one officer, that had showed up at the lounge. And, according to their testimony, they had used banked overtime.
They had to, because they all left work up to 31/2 hours before their shift was supposed to end at 2:30 a.m. Which is the same time they closed the bar that morning.
Apparently, the evening shift had been permitted to leave early because there were overlapping shifts that night. Still, a police shift taking off early to go drinking sends a bad message to the organization, the city, and in that case, the residents of the North End in particular. Never mind whether any, or all of them, intended to use "safety slips."
Deep Blue said he assumes they did, but he doesn't know for sure. None of us ever will, now.
What we do know is Crystal Taman was killed by one of them. And seven years later, out of the blue, a cop called me on Mother's Day.
A cop I spoke with, off and on, for the next three months before I met Deep Blue, saw his badge, learned his real name, and that, in the past, he had taken part in the safety-slip scheme.
"I'm not perfect. I'm not an angel. I'm not saying I never played the game. I'm just sick and tired of them."
I learned more than that in the course of our conversations.
Deep Blue would tell me time theft goes deeper than safety slips, or even general patrol.
He alleged that in some districts, evening sergeant supervisors -- such as the ones he says rip up the safety slips -- routinely leave work hours early.
Evening-shift sergeant supervisors can do that, he explained, under the cover of night supervisors arriving for overlapping evening/night shifts that are designed to double the presence of police during the five busiest hours before the bars close.
"These are your leaders," Deep Blue said, his voice intoning concern for the message it sends to younger officers. Deep Blue isn't alone in his concern.
Several former senior officers I contacted confirmed the time-theft schemes Deep Blue blew the whistle on go back decades.
"You're on to the big dirty secret," one told me. "This is something senior management has been struggling with for years."
But when I advised Winnipeg police Chief Keith McCaskill of Deep Blue's allegations, he spoke of only hearing rumours and isolated cases several years ago of officers leaving work early, that were dealt with internally.
But nothing widespread.
McCaskill said he wanted the unidentified officer who made the allegations to meet with him confidentially to provide details, pledging he wouldn't be disciplined. As long as he was telling the truth.
Coincidentally, last week, the same day the Free Press informed McCaskill the officer declined the offer because he didn't trust the police service leadership to act on his allegations, the police chief sent an internal email to senior officers "reinforcing the service's expectations in relation to the proper accounting of time off."
McCaskill also said the allegations are being taken seriously and being looked into internally. But there is a sense among other cops who care about the issue the Winnipeg Police Service professional standards unit is more concerned with finding Deep Blue than searching for any time-cheating cops.
So why did Deep Blue risk his future with the force? I didn't ask him that, but the answer seems obvious. Because he cares about the future of the force.
"Nothing will change," he said, "unless I do something to change it."
There are no bullet-proof police vests for that kind of courage.
No safety slips, either.
Standing behind the men and women in blue
IN defence of patrol cops:
"The hardest-working members of the WPS are the men and women constables, in uniform, in general patrol duties. They work days, evenings, nights, weekends and holidays. They go out on patrol every day to keep you and I safe and they do a great job.
"The sad part is that they are often being let down by their shift supervisors or street supervisors, who, for purely selfish reasons, think it is OK to leave work after working six hours and yet accept a paycheque for 10 hours.
"It is those constables, that are always there for the citizens, that also have to answer for the questionable deeds of less honourable members. They have to answer for them in coffee shops, on calls and on traffic stops, as they are the officers that most citizens will see and deal with.
That's the saddest part about this whole scenario. Some supervisors are violating the trust we all have in them and are letting down the people they are supposed to be leading and supporting."
-- a former senior Winnipeg police officer
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2012 B1
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