Last Halloween, just hours before darkness fell, reporters were summoned to a news conference at the Public Safety Building.

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This article was published 2/3/2012 (3290 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

Last Halloween, just hours before darkness fell, reporters were summoned to a news conference at the Public Safety Building.

Winnipeg's Chief of Police Keith McCaskill was about to unveil his strategic plan to deal with crime in a city whose downtown Air Canada had recently declared was too dangerous for their flight crews to overnight in. It had only taken McCaskill four years into his five-year term to produce in writing a plan that he should have walked through the door carrying in outline form his first day on the job.

What the delay suggested about McCaskill's management style should have been obvious to everyone by then.

Especially Mayor Sam Katz.

As the news conference ended I approached the always approachable McCaskill.

With a year left on his contract, I asked if he planned on renewing it.

McCaskill was noncommittal.

Then on Friday, just over four months later, that changed.

After a morning spent flipping pancakes at a Robert H. Smith School fundraiser for Winnipeg Harvest, McCaskill addressed reporters again to say he would be leaving at year's end.

What we're left to wonder now is what he will leave behind.

Someone who should know says it's all good.

Manitoba Police Commission member and University of Manitoba sociology professor Rick Linden gives McCaskill high marks for all the relationships he's built flipping pancakes and generally being present in the community.

"He was kind of brought in to mend and heal relations with parts of the community," Linden said.

Linden, who has worked beside McCaskill in the impressively successful Auto Theft Reduction Task Force, says his perception is morale in the service is good, too. Which is also what one constable recently told me.

But some retired senior officers, who are still tapped in to the inside, have a different perspective on that.

 

They see a police service being run by the rank and file, instead of the chief. Someone who wants to be liked by everyone.

And acts that way.

Particularly when it comes to managing overtime that, even the mayor -- while doing the required post-announcement eulogy -- suggested has become a problem that's out of control.

Little wonder they like their chief, given the ballooning membership of constables in the $100,000-plus club.

Whatever the view of McCaskill's critics, Linden remains a fan of the man with the trademark big hair and big smile.

"He has certainly moved the force ahead."

But has he really?

How about the little matter of succession? There is no obvious internal heir apparent, which can't please the politically powerful police union -- the Winnipeg Police Association. Back in 2007, the hiring of McCaskill -- which is said to have been influenced by the union -- went against a trend across Canada of hiring police chiefs with university and even post-graduate degrees.

Neither of which McCaskill has.

The hiring of a chief who graduated high school even went against an internal police policy that encouraged leadership advancement through university degrees. So perhaps it was no accident that when the man with the big hair arrived, the big brain drain began. The highly educated senior cops -- people with law degrees and masters in public administration or business -- weren't comfortable.

To put it gently, McCaskill hadn't embraced the police service's intelligentsia. In part that was because three of them were former chief Jack Ewatski loyalists, and competed against McCaskill for the job. But it was probably just as much about McCaskill also not feeling comfortable with the better-educated cops and their more analytical approaches to policing.

So in a policing era when hiring a chief with a post-graduate degree should be a given, what's largely left behind is an internal void at the top.

A big blue hole.

 

But there's something else McCaskill has left behind, according to one of those senior cops who left after he arrived. A budget mess and a sense of overtime entitlement that whoever succeeds McCaskill will have to work overtime to correct.

"He's done a lot of damage for the next guy," the former senior cop said of McCaskill. "It's too bad he's not a better manager, because the guy who inherits it is going to be seen as a bad guy."

Maybe that's what the police service needs though.

We've had the nice guy.

And, for better or worse, you can see how that's worked out.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca