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This article was published 3/3/2017 (416 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — When Manitoba RCMP Const. Abram Letkeman was charged with manslaughter this week, he joined a growing rank of officers who have tarnished the reputation of Canada’s national police force in recent years.
Since 2012, at least 195 Mounties have been charged with a criminal offence in Canada, including at least four in Manitoba in the last two years alone.
The cases have ranged from stealing guns from an evidence locker to impaired driving while off-duty to a conviction for torturing and starving a child.
According to statistics provided by the RCMP on the request of the Winnipeg Free Press, an RCMP officer is charged with a crime on average about every nine days in this country. For the internationally recognized police force, which motto is "Maintiens Le Droit" or "Defend the Law," it’s a troubling trend.
"Almost 200 (charged) over a five-year period is an alarming number," said Robert Gordon, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University. "And what they are doing about it difficult to see."
The RCMP statistics indicate 188 officers were charged with a crime between Jan. 1, 2012 and Oct. 6, 2016. The RCMP has not provided an update, but the Free Press has tracked down at least seven cases since then.
Very few of the incidents involving an arrest of an RCMP officer make it into a public news release. The number of officers charged is kept in each division, but RCMP headquarters took four months to compile the national numbers going back five years. A spokesman said numbers prior to 2012 would be harder to compile because they are not kept electronically. It has been almost two months since the Free Press requested the data for the remainder of 2016 and while it was promised by the beginning of February, the number has not yet been provided.
Gordon said there doesn’t seem to be any eagerness by the RCMP to be transparent about how many of its officers are getting into trouble.
"If they’re not reporting it, nobody can ask questions about it," he said.
One third of the officers, 62, were on duty when they were charge of an alleged offence, and 37 of those were charged with assault.
The other two-thirds, 126 officers, were charged with offences off duty. The RCMP says the most common charge for off-duty officers is drunk driving although they provided no statistic to support that. The cases the Free Press could find include a number of impaired driving offences, but also weapons offences, theft, insurance fraud, child luring, drug trafficking, criminal harassment and sexual misconduct.
The officers involved run the gamut from rookies with just a few years on the force to veterans who have been on the job for more than 25 years.
The most high-profile case recently involved an Ottawa RCMP officer who was found guilty last fall in a horrific case that included torturing, starving and sexually assaulting his 11-year-old son.
There are at least five known cases in Manitoba since September 2014, including the case this week involving Const. Letkeman.
The others involve sexual exploitation of a nine-year-old, sexual assault of a 17-year-old, theft of guns from an RCMP evidence locker, and domestic assault.
The charges — these numbers show only the number charged not the number convicted — are yet another stain on the reputation of Canada’s storied national police force. The RCMP is still digging out from the scandal involving a culture of harassment towards its own female members. An internal RCMP investigation uncovered up to 20,000 female officers and civilians might have been the victim of sexual abuse, discrimination or harassment since 1974.
The RCMP did not provide a spokesperson to discuss the number of its officers who end up charged with a crime. In statements released with the data, the RCMP said "although the number of members criminally charged represents a very small percentage of all members, the RCMP takes criminal charges seriously and takes appropriate action."
The number of officers charged represents a small fraction of the total number of officers, only about one-fifth of one per cent each year. Over the last five years it represents about one per cent of the total number of RCMP officers in Canada.
In most cases when an officer is charged with a crime, they are suspended with pay pending the outcome of the criminal proceeding.
In some circumstances, the officer has already resigned by the time charges are laid. That happened last year when a six-year veteran Manitoba RCMP officer was charged with sexual exploitation involving a 17-year-old. The officer was charged in September but had resigned from the force the previous spring, while the investigation was underway.
Other times the officer resigns after charges are laid. In 2014, an RCMP officer in Arborg, Man., was charged with sexual assault and sexual interference of a nine-year-old child.
As of last fall those charges were still before the courts but the officer has resigned.
The RCMP does have a Code of Conduct, which was updated in 2014, and officers accused of breaking it can be hauled into a hearing. That includes those facing a criminal charge.
Cpl. Jason Prettie was charged in 2015 with theft under $5,000 for stealing two guns from the Minnedosa RCMP detachment in 2009. In January 2016, he pleaded guilty in exchange for a conditional discharge and unsupervised probation. Last month, he had a conduct hearing in Ottawa to determine his fate.
The remedial measures an officer can receive for breaking the code of conduct include dismissal from the force but can be less punitive. A finding of serious misconduct can result in a demotion for up to three years and forfeiture of more than 80 hours of pay. A corrective finding can result in deferral of a promotion, or forfeiting up to 80 hours of pay.
An officer convicted of a criminal offence is not automatically dismissed from the force.
Gordon says most police officers would be "repulsed by news their colleagues are stealing and involved in sexual assault."
Paul McKenna, a Dalhousie University professor and longtime police consultant as president of Public Safety Innovation Inc., said people should be concerned by the number even if it isn’t a large percentage of the total number of RCMP officers.
"This is a deeply troubling problem and it requires a great deal more public attention," said McKenna.
He said the fact the RCMP can’t easily put their hands on the number of officers charged suggests the RCMP itself isn’t properly tracking when its members get into trouble with the law.
"They should have that knowledge at the very tips of their fingers," he said. "It is the lynchpin for public trust in policing."
He pointed to a 2009 Supreme Court decision which now means every police service in Canada has to release information in its files about charges and convictions of its own officers that could be relevant to a case.
That trial involved a man charged and convicted of drug offences who found out after conviction, but before he was sentenced, that the officer who was the main witness against him was himself charged with drug offences.
Ultimately the man was acquitted. Both Gordon and McKenna said when officers get into trouble it can affect the outcome of cases they were investigating. McKenna said even if only one per cent of charges are tossed out because an officer involved in the investigation gets into trouble with the law, it would be too much.
"It’s important the public know when there are bad officers and police should be more than willing to talk about it," he said."
Both Gordon and McKenna said the RCMP should look at its recruitment, training and supervising processes to address the problem.
McKenna said there is an ongoing debate about whether officers should be required to have more education before entering the RCMP training program.
"Research has told us better educated officers tend to have fewer complaints against them," he said.
NDP Public Safety Critic Matthew Dubé said the statistics "are certainly cause for concern."
"It’s a recognition there perhaps is a need for a culture change to ensure the trust of the public," said Dube.
He said more civilian oversight and accountability are necessary.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office provided a statement to the Free Press responding to the statistics.
"Although the number of RCMP members criminally charged represents a very small percentage of all members, any criminal charge is a serious matter," the statement says. "Canadians rightly expect officers to meet high standards of professionalism. RCMP members are subject to the same laws as all Canadians and are also subject to the Code of Conduct of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police."
The statement says the new code of conduct means misconduct is addressed faster and more effectively, with the emphasis on remedial and corrective solutions rather than just punishment.
The government is developing a plan to address post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues which affect police officers.
The statement says Goodale has made very clear to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson that he expects "comprehensive, transparent investigations, serious disciplinary measures, support for victims and concrete action to end toxic workplace behaviour."