Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Time to turf police turf war

Chief better get used to power of the board

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Police Chief Devon Clunis has to get used to dealing with the Winnipeg Police Board.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Police Chief Devon Clunis has to get used to dealing with the Winnipeg Police Board. Photo Store

We all understand that change is rarely easy for individuals.

But change that involves the loss of power and control at the top of police service, an organization with extraordinary power -- is even harder.

That appears to be what was on public display Tuesday at a special meeting of the Winnipeg Police Board, where the executive of the Winnipeg Police Service gave a blunt message to the people appointed by provincial legislation to oversee its overall direction: Mind your own business.

That's not what a board of directors -- which is essentially what the police board is -- expects to hear from the people at the top of an organization whose performance they're accountable for.

The concern that forced the issue was rather minor in the big budget police picture.

But the principle wasn't.

City council had approved two programs -- one involving police in schools, the other cadets on transit buses -- and Police Chief Devon Clunis was presenting them to the board for information only.

They had already been approved last week by city council's protection and community service committee and city council as a whole. They were "operational" items according to the police chief, and outside the board's control.

David Sanders, the citizen who forced the festering issue into the open at the meeting, saw the police process of going to council for approval instead of the police board differently.

He called it an "end run" and he said it to their faces. The lawyer, former provincial bureaucrat and constant irritant for city hall, had been waiting patiently for the police service, the city administration and the police board to get their roles in order since he began attending meetings and making presentations last September.

Finally, Tuesday he had seen and heard enough.

Sanders stood up to address the issue of who's the boss of the police service.

It had been an issue with him for some years, in fact, since he represented the Critical Mass bicycle riders during their run-in with police.

Back then, when he went looking for someone to talk to at city hall about who beyond the police chief was in charge of police behaviour on the street, he couldn't find anyone.

That's why Sanders has taken such an interest in the police board.

They're now the people in charge. Even though the board doesn't really have any direct role in disciplining anyone but the police chief himself, it is supposed in charge of Clunis and the organization.

To quote the Police Act: Their purpose is "civilian governance... administrative direction" and "supervision".

That's what police board executive director Don Norquay relied on when he disagreed with the police chief and argued the programs presented to city council for approval were policy matters, not operational issues and should have been approved by the board first.

Of course we shouldn't have to witness this kind of turf tug-of-war anytime, much less a year after the police board held its first meeting -- especially in public.

The board's leadership is as much to blame for that as the police executive.

But this is more than an unseemly public squabble about who's the boss.

Police have been without public and even real political oversight for far too many years.

Next month, the police chief and the police board will begin a series of public consultations on a new strategic plan. Ostensibly police and the board will be out listening and taking direction from us when they're having trouble listening and taking direction from each other.

At the very least, to borrow a movie line, what we've got here is a failure to communicate.

But I'm sure they'll all get together and work things out.

Meanwhile, here are some indisputable basic powers of the police board as given and demanded by the Police Act,

"The police board must:

(a) after consulting with the police chief, establish priorities and objectives for the police service;

(b) establish policies for the effective management of the police service;

(c) and direct the police chief and monitor his or her performance."

In other words, get used to it, chief.

There's a new sheriff in town.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 24, 2014 B1

History

Updated on Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 10:50 AM CDT: adds photo

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