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Conjecture is no way to judge our homicide unit

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Can the police service manage its employees within its own policies? That's the question a labour complaint hearing that has gone into overtime is trying to answer.

The complaint centres on Sgt. Jim Jewell and his contention he was treated unfairly this spring when he was laterally transferred from a supervisory position in the homicide unit to a uniform job in St. James.

Unfair, it is claimed, because he was transferred from a position of some notoriety to one of supposed monotony (where the lion's share of his rank works).

Unfair, it is claimed, because he was transferred to a position with little overtime from homicide where overtime almost doubled his base salary of $95,000, reaching historic highs that surpassed even the chief of police's salary and where, because of such overtime, his anticipated lifetime pension had been receiving significant, annual boosts.

Unfair, goes the charge, because, the transfer was allegedly punitive payback for Jewell "going over heads" and speaking against one of the police service's policies.

Some news consumers who follow the Free Press police blotter online have weighed in, saying their confidence is rocked as they worry that the quality of murder investigations has been seriously compromised by moving Jewell.

Some seem to believe that, without the experience Jewell brought to the table, the homicide squad is rudderless and flapping in the breeze.

Let's get a couple of things straight.

Most in-the-know people, myself included, have a tremendous respect for the abilities of James Jewell. He's earned that respect through his diligent and hard work over his many years of service.

But murders were being cleared successfully and properly before Jewell arrived on the homicide scene and they have continued to be solved in his absence.

As for any delusion that the homicide squad is rudderless, it's not. Right now it's headed by Sgt. Ross Read, an officer with a wealth of homicide experience and one who's managed detectives in Winnipeg's notorious North End. He's nobody's fool.

His supervisory partner, Sgt. Cheryl Larsen, is a newcomer to the rank but, prior to her homicide posting, she worked in child abuse and sex crimes. She was also a member of the professional standards unit where the former detective-sergeant spent time carrying out difficult investigations involving her fellow officers.

I know well the exemplary (and comparable) abilities of Jewell and Read, but less about Larsen. Our paths, however, have crossed on a few occasions, and I'm convinced she is all business, no nonsense and a quick study.

As the new heads of the homicide unit, Larsen and Read experienced a type of baptism by fire -- eight new homicides fell into their laps in an extraordinarily short period of time (possibly a record) this spring. Of those, seven, or 87 per cent, have been cleared and the eighth is being pursued.

The punitive issue is conjecture and surfaces because the final decision to transfer Jewell came within days of his "going over heads" and speaking to the police chief on a contentious policy issue that ironically was about transfers.

It's a convenient theory and easily swallowed -- unless you know the cast of characters.

I've known Jewell's homicide boss, Insp. Rick Guyader, for 35 years. He's new in that office and testified last week that the decision to transfer Jewell was "business." Transferring someone because he or she went over his head is simply not his style.

I've known Chief Keith McCaskill for years and am known to disagree with him from time to time. But taking punitive action for going over heads isn't his style, either.

A mutiny of homicide investigators would be understandable if that were the case. And while there were rumours of one, nothing materialized.

This turn of events is unfortunate. Winnipeg's police service is young and in need of proper and experienced guidance. Uniform ranks could benefit immensely from Jewell's vast knowledge.

Meanwhile, the hearing's arbitrator, Arnie Peltz, will ultimately have to decide whether the service was adhering to its policy when Jewell was transferred and, even if it was, whether the move was so egregious that it deserves some measure of compensation.

On the other hand, he also has to consider that Jewell is only two rungs from the bottom of the ladder and that as an employee, he is subject to policy, not a creator of it.

Peltz may rule the buck stops at management's door and Jewell's transfer to a lower-pressure, almost six-figure, position is just a tawdry reality of life, proof that you can't always get what you want.

The hearing is scheduled to continue July 18.


Robert Marshall is a retired

Winnipeg police detective.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 16, 2011 J6

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