column was published in the
June 30, 1999)
By Leo Knight
the glacial-like meanderings of the Vancouver Police Board, they
finally reached a decision on the status of erstwhile Chief
Constable Bruce Chambers. Not a moment too soon by any measuring
has been a lame-duck chief for much of the past year in reality.
That impotence was underlined by the police board last month
when they overruled Chambers in an internal staffing transfer of
a senior staff sergeant. From that point on, the writing was
clearly on the wall. What truly surprises is the length of time
it took for the board to announce the inevitable.
mayor and board chairman, Phillip Owen, soft pedalled the
reasons for the dismissal of Chambers in his press conference on
Friday. Despite prodding from the media, Owen refused to cite
the real reasons for the termination. He alluded to morale
issues as the motivator for the board while extolling the
virtues of what Chambers has done in his tenure here.
failure of Owen to effectively lay his cards on the table did
nothing to quell the controversy raging internally and publicly.
By trying to be publicly nice to Chambers, Owen left the door
open for Chambers to spin his version of events, which he did in
the Sunday Province. The result of that leaves many
people believing the police board acted improperly in not
renewing the contract.
jumped on this opening in their lead editorial on Monday
defending Chambers' record and suggesting he had the support of
elements of the community, citing the Chinese business community
and the gay population.
rhetoric aside, the reality of the Chambers era is one of
autocratic and inefficient management. Chambers messed up from
the get-go and did nothing in the subsequent period to correct
his failings and his only achievement was to alienate the vast
majority of the Vancouver Police Department.
management style, if indeed it can be called that, can be summed
up in a quote from a team training day early on in his tenure.
In explaining his "vision" to the officers at the
meeting, he left no room for consultation. "If you're not
on the bus, you'll get run over by it," said Chambers
according to several people present.
claimed in The Province interview that he was done in by
a small minority of the "old guard" who resented an
outsider being brought in as the boss. He said in reflection, he
"underestimated the resistance to an outsider." This
statement alone shows just how out of touch he was with the
situation within the department. The practical reality is that
the vast majority of police officers, including those of
commissioned officer rank who make up the senior management
structure, did not support Chambers. It could hardly be
described as a "small cadre" of officers.
Chambers arrived he had the opportunity to heal the scars caused
by the political machinations of those who were manoeuvering for
the corner office. The rift created within the department begged
for a leader who could rise above the furore and bring the
various factions together. This was the one thing he failed to
trying to gauge the department's feeling, the one thing that
came through was the overwhelming sense of relief from all I
spoke to. The official spokesperson for the Department,
Constable Anne Drennan said as much on Monday morning.
"There is an overall sense of relief that we are at the
point that a decision has been made. The public should have
complete confidence that the level of policing will not be
affected by what has been going on internally," said
comments were echoed by Director of Public Affairs Ken Hardie.
"The decision has been made and it's time to get on with
things. We're still open for business and the public can be
confident in the job we're doing," he said.
Owen, Hardie was at least reflective in what brought about
Chambers' demise. "If I can say there's one thing the chief
did not do, he did not validate what had gone on in the
past," a nice way of saying Chambers paid no attention to
those who had worked the streets of Vancouver for a long time
and knew what was really going on.
officer, a senior sergeant with 30 years service, summed up the
reaction in this way: "Everybody is relieved that this guy
is gone. There was too much tension. Nothing was getting
and the police board is spending approximately $200,000 to
replace Chambers. At the very least he owes the public more of
an explanation for the move than he has thus far provided. The
air needs to be cleared so there is no debate about whether the
board was right or wrong in its decision.
move by the police board was the correct one, albeit somewhat
belated. Chambers was clearly the wrong man for the job and the
board needs to state unequivocally why they did not renew his
contract and to assure the public they will get it right next
The public needs to have confidence in its police department and at this point nothing has been said to instill that trust. The opportunity is at hand to un-do much of the damage. So far in this melodrama, that opportunity has not been seized.