The Winnipeg Police Service will conduct a review of a videotaped incident in which an officer appears to switch a traffic warning to a ticket after being asked why he wasn’t wearing a face mask.
Chief Danny Smyth said the service’s professional standards unit and a division commander will review what happened, after videos of the incident circulated on social media this week.
"I think the officer lost his composure. I think his conduct was inappropriate for the circumstances. As a consequence of that, I have asked our professional standards unit and the division commander where that officer works to do a review of that process… So they will collect all of the circumstances and determine, through the lens of our regulatory system, whether sanctions are appropriate in this circumstance," Smyth told reporters Thursday.
The chief said the possible penalties could range from an admonishment to losing several days of pay.
The video indicates the officer had issued a warning to the male driver for allegedly failing to switch lanes while passing an emergency vehicle with its lights on. A female passenger questioned the officer about why he wasn’t wearing a mask. Following her questions, the officer notes the driver will get a ticket.
Smyth said he does expect officers to wear masks when conducting traffic stops, since they are advised to put on facial coverings whenever they are near members of the public, a precaution meant to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
"I think it would be appropriate for any traffic stop that the officers would be wearing their protective equipment because you can’t deal with a driver from six feet away," he said.
Smyth said he doesn’t expect to release the findings of that review to the public.
He said police don’t have the authority to decide if the ticket in question should be thrown out.
"We will flag it for the appropriate Crown attorney. So they will be able to make an appropriate decision on whether to proceed. In my own personal opinion, I doubt whether they’ll proceed, but that’s not my call," he said.
While Smyth labelled the officer’s conduct "inappropriate" and said he doesn’t excuse it, he also noted the officer was "startled by a vehicle that passed by very closely to him" just before the incident took place.
"The officer was clearly upset. He felt the vehicle had passed him by closely," the police chief said.
Coun. Markus Chambers, chairperson of the Winnipeg Police Board, said he believes the review is necessary.
"I was very disappointed to see that the public can’t ask questions of our police that impact on the public health orders without there being repercussions. I am happy to hear that the chief has indicated that this matter is being reviewed and there will be a consequence for those actions," said Chambers.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.