Top cop wants contract extended: union
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The Winnipeg police union has accused the chief of working behind the scenes to get his contract extended just as crime has soared and morale among the rank and file has hit rock bottom.
Moe Sabourin, president of the Winnipeg Police Association, said the union has it on good authority Danny Smyth is trying to get the Winnipeg Police Board to extend his contract without public scrutiny.
“In a city facing rising crime, and with an independent expert report outlining the very clear and serious concerns regarding the mental health and wellness of (police) members, the police board has a duty to act in a manner that puts the interests, safety and well-being of Winnipeggers first and foremost.
“It is my duty, as president of the (union), to express concerns on behalf of our members when it appears that another extension of Chief Smyth’s contract may happen, without any consultation, even as all of these serious problems persist.”
In March 2021, eight months before Smyth’s contract was set to expire, the police board renewed it for two years to Nov. 30, 2023. It was at the height of the pandemic. At the time, police board chairman Coun. Markus Chambers said the chief had done a great job engaging with community groups, including the Bear Clan and the Main Street Project.
On Tuesday, Chambers could not be reached for comment. A Winnipeg police spokesman said Smyth was unavailable for comment.
Sabourin, who stopped short of advising the board to dismiss Smyth or not renew his contract, said they continue to have concerns about his leadership and morale continues to be low under Smyth’s watch.
“The majority of our membership has lost confidence in the chief’s ability to lead,” he said.
Sabourin said morale hasn’t improved after being identified as a problem in a third-party review a year ago.
“If anything, the morale has gotten even worse,” he said.
“Even though a deputy chief has been tasked with making changes, a lot of the members feel this is just lip service and nothing will change.”
University of Winnipeg associate professor Kelly Gorkoff, chairwoman of the criminal justice department, said the union has its own problems and has not been accountable to the public.
“The police union really hasn’t answered the calls of (the) public around numerous concerns the public has raised about how policing works, violence etc., or really any accountability, which is very unfortunate. Whereas Danny has, although limited, supported changing policing in Winnipeg,” Gorkoff said.
“I know that Danny Smyth isn’t well liked by officers. I don’t know a lot of the details of why, but it appears to be beyond the more traditional conflicts between employer and employee.
“The union have always been very rigid in what they have asked for, almost defensive. They did win the pension issue with the city but even recently are fighting over this parkade issue. It’s insular because they aren’t fighting for public safety generally, but for themselves, which I suppose is what unions are supposed to do, but it somehow seems different.”
Gorkoff said it’s not uncommon for police chiefs to run into difficulty with rank and file.
“Perhaps they want a more traditional police chief, one that is 100 per cent pro-police,” she said.
Smyth was contrite in response to the third-party report last year: “There’s no other way to put it, it is a pretty humbling experience to read through that and to hear some of the commentary.
“I’m committed to work through this… I’m committed to listening to what our members have to say.”
In an email to police union members Monday, Sabourin said the chief “has done absolutely nothing to address these profoundly serious morale concerns over the past 12 months. In fact, based on conversations we’ve had with many of you, the situation has only gotten worse.”
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.