Police union president retires after eight years at helm
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The longtime head of the city’s police union is stepping down.
After eight years as Winnipeg Police Association president and 33 years with the Winnipeg Police Service, Maurice “Moe” Sabourin is retiring from the department Saturday.
The outspoken union leader has been involved in recent public clashes with Chief Danny Smyth over issues including staffing, morale and violent crime.
In March 2021, Sabourin wrote to the chief about the state of morale among cops, which he qualified as a growing crisis, particularly after then-recent deaths of two veteran officers.
At the time, he said morale among rank-and-file officers had sunk so low that it could never be mended by the chief. A survey of WPS officers taken last year revealed high levels of burnout, anxiety and overwork.
In July, following a series of shocking incidents at The Forks, Sabourin gave the chief a “failing grade” after Smyth insisted that although there has been an uptick in violent crime, Winnipeg is still a relatively safe city.
In his criticisms he stopped short of saying he wanted the chief out, but said union members had lost confidence in the city’s top cop.
Under Sabourin’s leadership in 2020, the union won an arbitration decision over police pensions.
In 2019, city council had moved unilaterally to make changes to the pension plan, including removing overtime as a pensionable benefit, altering provisions for early retirement and increasing contributions to the plan from union members.
The move, meant to bring it in line with other civic union plans, would have saved Winnipeg $12 million annually, the city said at the time.
This week, Sabourin ended his tenure as president by securing a parking deal for officers and support staff who work at the force’s downtown headquarters.
City council voted 13-3 in favour of devoting a floor of the Millennium Library parkade to WPS members. Council’s approval of the plan clears the way to provide 264 parking stalls at a monthly rental of $275 each. If the stalls aren’t filled, the parkade will stay as is.
The idea was meant to settle a long-standing grievance brought by the union.
The city expects to lose about $95,600 of revenue each year due to the change, while another $200,000 will be spent to modify the parkade.
In a statement announcing his retirement, the Sabourin highlighted collaboration with police management and city council.
“Serving as WPA President has been one of the greatest honours of my life,” he said in the statement.
“The WPA always strove to engage constructively with WPS management and the City of Winnipeg; the COVID-19 pandemic was a particular instance where the WPA worked closely with WPS management to navigate a wide array of issues. This collaborative spirit also extended to city council, wherever possible.”
Sabourin could not be reached for comment Friday.
Cory Wiles will take Sabourin’s place at the union, which represents more than 1,400 police officers and 450 support staff.
Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.