A contentious effort

Morley Lymburner
May 01, 2010
By Morley Lymburner
Dealing with a national readership of police and other law enforcement professionals comes with a lot of unique challenges. In many instances the people I deal with work in a regionally insular environment. Some of this cocooning is naturally self generated, while on occasion I see it as imposed from the top down.

Dealing with a national readership of police and other law enforcement professionals comes with a lot of unique challenges. In many instances the people I deal with work in a regionally insular environment. Some of this cocooning is naturally self generated, while on occasion I see it as imposed from the top down.

It’s much the same as the three blind men trying to identify the shape of an elephant by touch and each only “seeing” a little part. Many top managers are more comfortable with keeping individuals in the dark and not giving them the big picture. Of course this leads me to our national icon, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and in particular the people in charge of change.

The Brown Report was released on June 15, 2007. It was created by the Prime Minister to examine certain questions and make recommendations relating to how the RCMP handled reports of mismanagement or irregularities in the administration of its pension and insurance plans. Brown did, however, recognize that many of the problems with the pension plan abuse and investigation came from a much broader problem; a lack of trust and confidence in RCMP management.

Since we are nearing the third anniversary of the release, I attempted to find out what changes have occurred. Once again communication with Ottawa has been sketchy, with a few rays of hope in the form of people who say they will talk to me at a future date.

Pressed for some form of story before the anniversary, our western correspondent, Ann Harvey, began beating the bushes. I sat on her submission for two months while patiently awaiting other sources to come forth. None has so you can read her findings in a two part series commencing this month.

Troubled by this apparent lack of progress, I decided to pose the “change” question to our readership and received many frustrated responses. The bottom line appears to be that the only acceptable overtime in most provinces is the voluntary kind. Officers must finish their work before they leave or it’s assigned to the next shift to complete. This is an old form of particularly nasty peer pressure some negatively motivated supervisors invoke to keep underlings under control.

When pressed for positive news of changes, the only consistent response has been that they no longer have to wear ties. That ruling came down just after Brown’s report was released.

I attempted to communicate with the last known person I heard was in charge of the “Change Committee” and discovered he had been moved out over a year ago. As of this writing I still do not know who is in charge.

Last year I saw a training video about the RCMP academy and was struck by a drill sergeant’s comment. “We are not the police, we are the RCMP.” Once again I came face to face with the reality that RCMP traditions do not encourage a view of the broader field of police collegiality. They are not trained with other officers and, by subtle design, are encouraged to keep to themselves. They have an opportunity to look over the fence but jumping is frowned upon.

I have my own vision of where the RCMP should go and others have agreed with my assessment:

  • It must have an association to bargain working agreements and represent the membership. Every other Canadian police service has one and there is no reason it can not work for RCMP members. It is the one factor that would take away at least 90 per cent of the problems associated with change.
  • The RCMP must control its own budget. The elusive, unresponsive and unreachable treasury board has been the phantom scapegoat for a senior management too tight fisted to admit it likes shoe string budgets.
  • The RCMP must give up some of its omnificence. It can not be all things to all people and solve every problem. Move out of municipal and, where feasible, provincial policing.
  • Retain territorial policing functions.
  • Eliminate duplication. If a government agency has an enforcement and investigative branch, there is no need to duplicate that effort.
  • Adopt best practice training, internal police investigations, police service accreditation and take on cross border organized crime.
  • Retain police forensics where feasible and national computer databases.
  • Retain VIP and embassy protection services.
  • Instill a management attitude and culture which encourages the brightest and best in the ranks.

The problems facing RCMP management are challenging and it’s not easy to change old war horses. In the analogy of horse training, change will only occur after considerable pressure is applied to each and every desired manoeuvre. Long held beliefs, customs and tradition are deeply entrenched. It will take an entirely new generation of management people to blaze a new path – a path that every other police service has long established and embraced. A path that the RCMP could smooth over and expand upon greatly.

In an April 1 Ottawa Citizen article, RCMP Commissioner William Elliott was quoted as saying, “We are making a contentious effort to try and be more engaging and forthcoming with the media than we have been in the past.”

I dearly hope that the word “contentious” wasn’t a Freudian slip and eagerly await the better communication.

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