Winnipeg's police chief firmly denies top brass at the Winnipeg Police Service leaked details on potential future cuts in the service and rejects the deputy mayor's claims that senior police staff are unaccountable and resistant to change.
"I can say without a shadow of a doubt that information did not come from any member of our executive," police Chief Devon Clunis told reporters in a Thursday afternoon news conference called 25 minutes before it was set to start.
Clunis was responding to an exclusive Winnipeg Free Press report stating an operational review of the WPS by Matrix Consulting Groups Ltd. recommends some major cuts to the service, including disbanding the vice squad and the cold-case homicide unit.
A final draft of the report is expected to be presented to Mayor Sam Katz and his executive committee next month. The depth of the cuts deepened after Matrix's initial drafts got feedback from city councillors and senior administrators, a source told the newspaper.
The information's accuracy was confirmed to a reporter by city Coun. Russ Wyatt. It was Wyatt who identified senior police executives as the source of the information to the newspaper.
Wyatt said he believes there's a culture in parts of the WPS that resists change and the need to find ways to save money and boost efficiency.
'This particular news story, when I saw it, is actually attacking the credibility of the organization, the leadership'
He said details of the review only senior police brass would know were leaked to the newspaper and this proves his point, adding the leaks were motivated by self-interest.
Clunis unequivocally denied this. "What's reported there about myself, Deputy Chief (Art) Stannard, the leadership of the organization, is not true," he said.
"This specific operational review, I've said very consistently... I'm very supportive of," Clunis said.
He declined to answer questions relating to the Matrix review. He has seen the report, as he sits on the steering committee, he said.
The chief said he elected to comment in order to set the record straight with the public.
"This particular news story, when I saw it, is actually attacking the credibility of the organization, the leadership. For us not to step forward and say, 'this is what the truth is,' I think people form their own opinions, decisions, and in the absence of something from ourselves -- I know typically what human nature is," Clunis said.
" 'If they're saying nothing, it must be the truth.' Well, it's not the truth." Clunis said he still feels his relationship with Wyatt is "very good" and co-operative despite the Transcona councillor's views.
Even when "erroneous" statements are made, the WPS has the responsibility to move past them, Clunis said.
"We're public servants. We should forget, move forward very quickly and do our best to serve our citizens together."
Clunis's denials didn't prompt Wyatt to back away from his earlier statement.
"There is clearly a culture within parts of the WPS that resists change and the need to find efficiencies and savings. This cultural thinking may go all the way to the top and will do anything to protect the empire they have created," Wyatt said in a written statement.
He continued to maintain a culture of unaccountablity and resistance to change is "alive and well" within the police department.
The operational review has been a controversial subject within local police circles.
The president of the Winnipeg Police Association (WPA) said Thursday he finds recent developments around the Matrix review concerning.
"This is just turning into a complete mess," Mike Sutherland said. The WPA represents more than 1,400 city officers.
Rank-and-file police are being made "scapegoats" in a financial-management situation over which they have no control, Sutherland said.
The WPA said at the time the review began in January it had "little confidence" it would be an open and fair process.
Sutherland said work-related demands on police have only increased over the years, whether in their court-related duties or other activities. A major concern is cuts will be made without regard to public safety.
Sutherland questioned the sudden focus on the Matrix issue and wondered if it could be a political ploy to distract from other highly anticipated reviews expected soon, such as the review of the city's plans to construct fire-paramedic stations.
"I just worry that this is somehow trying to distract from that," Sutherland said. "How better than raising something the public has a great interest in?"
Coun. Scott Fielding has said any police cuts would have to be approved by the Winnipeg Police Board, which he heads.
He said this week he would not confirm cuts were added to the Matrix report after the steering committee saw the first draft.
-- with files from Aldo Santin