(This column was published in the North Shore News on Jan. 27, 1999)

                                     

Police chief in the hot seat

By Leo Knight

THE heat is rising dramatically on Vancouver's beleaguered police chief, Bruce Chambers.  

 

His tumultuous year and a half in the "corner office" has been plagued with one controversy after another. Now it appears the police board is considering whether to exercise its option on the final year of Chambers' initial contract.  

 

To fight the image problems, Chambers hired a media flack, a spin doctor if you will, at a cost of almost $90,000 annually to the financially strapped department.  

 

No police cars to go to work with. Too bad! But hey, the chief's got a shiny new spin doctor to buff up his image.  

 

Now what kind of a message is this sending to the officers who police the streets of our city and the public who pay the freight for protection?  

 

Frankly, I don't get it. The police department of any city needs to foster good relations with the media. This is how the public who are represented by the police are able to monitor what the police do and how they do it.  

 

In Vancouver, the police have been ably represented by Const. Anne Drennan as the official spokesman.  

 

She is not there to spin a situation in a certain direction, but to inform and act as the public voice of the Chief Constable. She has always done a good job. Recently, however, she has been dragged into the spin being created to take the heat off the chief. This certainly doesn't do anything positive for the credibility she has earned over the years.  

 

The spin doctor Chambers hired is Ken Hardie, formerly of ICBC and the man who steered the NDP propaganda concerning the photo radar road taxation plan.  

 

He's already busy doctoring things in a police department spinning out of control.  

 

Hardie released the results of a so-called "morale" survey last week. The survey questions gave numerical options -- one being "strongly disagree" and five being "strongly agree." Yet in the graphs released, the charted response starts at zero, not one. The overall effect tends to show the bar graph as longer, ergo more positive, than in reality.  

 

Cute trick.  

 

In the "newsletter" given to members accompanying the survey's negative results, the spin given is "... the reorganization last June has not been without a few rough spots."  

 

A few rough spots? Such as an insufficient number of patrol cars such that cops have to wait sometimes as long as two or three hours before they can go out to do their jobs. Detectives trying to investigate have to hitch a ride with a patrol officer lucky enough to get a car. No new uniforms because the allocated money has been used up in the reorganization. Overtime costing at least a thousand dollars a day just to cover the holes created by the re-assignment of staff to fit in with the "vision."  

 

A few rough spots? Morale lower than python droppings. The union taking the extreme steps of meeting directly with the police board, cutting out the chief. Ghost squads -- positions filled on paper only. Long serving, respected senior officers forced into retirement. People getting transferred without any apparent good reason despite community support for them. A police department in disarray.  

 

A few rough spots indeed.  

 

Let me quote from an e-mail sent to Hardie from a senior member, a sergeant with 20 years on the job.  

 

"The chief is living in a plastic bubble or is deliberately trying to mislead the members."  

 

The memo goes on, "... we are unhappy about what it is doing to the department by way of chronic shortages in staff and the fact that some of the fine details were never worked out in advance of some of the major changes. It appears to me that he (Chambers) thinks he has all the answers and the rest of us are just plain stupid.  

 

"Unfortunately we are all looking foolish in the eyes of the community. However, nothing will improve until there is honesty in this organization and open-mindedness to truly listen to other people's opinions ..."  

 

Another long serving officer sent a two-pager to Hardie. In it he offers, "The chief's forums were initially a good idea, but it became apparent that member participation was not essential. Listening was."  

 

Great line; I wish I'd thought of it. But it's truth is very telling.  

 

When Chambers was brought to Vancouver from his previous position as the Chief of Thunder Bay Police, he was given a two-year contract with an option on the third year. This in itself was unusual given previous contracts for the position were in five-year increments.  

 

The police board has yet to declare publicly whether it will exercise the option on the third year. Sources within city hall say there is a move afoot to call it quits this summer when the two-year deal ends.  

 

Last week on CKNW, Mayor Philip Owen gave the chief a vote of confidence. Didn't Brian Burke do the same for Mike Keenan?  

 

* * *  

 

Kudos to North Van RCMP Drug Section for a successful end to an undercover project.  

 

They bagged up five bad guys, several guns and a whack of dope, including crack cocaine and 3,500 hits of rohypnol, the "date rape" pill.  

 

But not only that, the million bucks in cash from the small unassuming house on Whitchurch is certainly going to get the attention of whose money it really is.  

 

You see, a small street-level dope dealer is not going to have a million in readies. Not in this life or the next. That money belongs to elements in organized crime. Bet the mortgage on it. Whether it's the bikers or the mafia, who knows at this point. But it is organized crime and that's why the Proceeds of Crime section have been brought into the investigation.  

 

The Mounties did a great job for their part. Now let's see how the courts do with theirs. I'm going to bet they turn a silk purse into a sow's ear.

 

  -30-

 

 

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