Sure, the RNC is a hierarchical organization, and the last time the provincial government went outside the force to find a chief — Richard Deering, who served from 2000 to 2006 after 30 years in the Ontario Provincial Police — things ended badly.
And that’s putting it kindly.
In addition to lawsuits from staff, Deering’s force was hammered by the province’s auditor general, who found serious issues with wastage in human resources, skyrocketing overtime and sick leave costs and a serious lack of long and short-term strategic and operational planning, as well as issues with tendering, expenses, purchase orders, inventory control, and the police vehicle maintenance and replacement policy.
When Deering left, then-Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Association head Tim Buckle said, “It’s a time that is now behind us and we look forward to the future as opposed to dwelling in the past.”
There have been three chiefs since Deering — Joe Browne, Bob Johnston and current Chief Bill Janes — all promoted from inside the force. Fast-forward more than a decade, and we’re hearing some similar things. Like issues with poor morale and dissatisfaction, as reported in The Telegram this past week — problems large enough that even the province’s Justice minister, Andrew Parsons, is aware of them.
“What you’re describing is not a shock to me, given the fact that I have had the opportunity to speak to front-line officers,” Parsons told The Telegram last week. “You know, you hear things.”
A recent outside investigative report on the force’s decision to allow a suspect to continue with a spate of property crimes so that the department could keep the individual under surveillance highlighted problems with poor communication from senior managers, and other management issues.
There have been situations like the sexual assault charges against an on-duty constable (who was acquitted, the case now under appeal), and the dismissal of a set of high-profile criminal cases that have raised questions about police tactics. There’s the still-being-reviewed shooting of Don Dunphy by a solo officer investigating Dunphy’s tweets on Easter Sunday 2015. An embarrassing cash settlement for a lawsuit where a thief was shot at during a parking lot sting. And the list goes on.
This is not to say that the force has not improved — it has. In some aspects, it’s a better trained, more professional force than it was.
But clearly, critical issues remain, and they are festering.
The new chief will have to be different in a lot of ways: different in attitude, in methods and technique, and be willing to hold the position and seek long-term change for more than the average of four years put in by the last three chiefs.
It’s going to be a tough choice, but a crucially important one.