Police Suspensions – Paid or not?

 

suspendedOntario’s Police Services Act is under review and Chiefs across the province would without hesitation like it to include language that permitted suspension without pay, under certain circumstances.

Currently over 50 sworn Police Officers in the Ontario are suspended on full pay, costing taxpayer’s in excess of $15,000 a day. Offences alleged range from storing pornography on police computers to manslaughter.

I was and will remain one of those officers for the foreseeable future, drawing a full pay check from the City of Hamilton. My comportment leading to my arrest was inappropriate to say the least and I’m the first to recognize the same. My actions were deemed ‘threaten death’ by Hamilton Police Service. Not so by the Provincial Crown, who found my deed to be ‘non-criminal’, therefore not ‘serious in nature’.

I’m not writing this piece to justify my deeds or attack the perceived wrongdoing of others, but to offer opinion on the issue of ‘police suspension’ from the perspective of someone who is suspended.

In March 2015 former Waterloo Police Officer Craig Markham sparked debate, which had been at the forefront of the minds of members of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. After three years suspended with pay Markham received a conditional discharge for ‘breach of trust’ and subsequently resigned. In his resignation letter he referred to his suspension as a “nice gift” adding he was able to “sit home, take courses, travel, and play lots of golf and get a first class pay check, receive full benefits and a full pension for the past three years”.

Waterloo Chief of Police Bryan Larkin took the unusual step of making the email public and I applaud him for the same, because not only does it shows the mindset of officers like Markham, it shows a faulty system in need of immediate repair.

In the case of former Hamilton Inspector David Doel his four year suspension netted him over $600,000, before he simply retired, negating all 13 Police Act charges he faced. Another Hamilton Police Sergeant’s Police Service Act charges were also dragged out for years, costing the taxpayer in excess of $400,000. He would build a waterfront property in the time he was suspended. His Police Service Act charges would not proceed due to an ‘administration error’, one subsequently believed to be intentional.

Under existing Ontario legislation, a suspended officer will continue to receive their salary and benefits whilst Police Act or criminal charges are processed. These procedures can take several years. Indeed, Durham Police Officer Glen Turpin was suspended for almost eight years before Durham Police Service terminated his contract.

This is a decision Turpin’s lawyers will appeal to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, an avenue still open to Turpin. In theory Turpin could be reinstated back to his ‘police suspension’, impeding any goodwill the Service had built back up with community members by dismissing him in the first place.

Former Hamilton Police Chief Glenn DeCaire made representations to the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police to resolve this shortcoming in the Police Service Act and even created a working group to address issues, wanting the ability to suspend officers without pay for ‘serious misconduct’. While my personal opinion of DeCaire will never waiver, I now find myself at a station I never thought possible, in that I have to concur with him.

In my opinion, if an officer’s conduct could lead to ‘contractual termination’, the Chief of Police should have the capability to suspend without pay, thus compelling a hearing process to be expedited. Nevertheless, there has to be protections in place to stop Police Senior Management Teams exploiting new legislation combined with a clear definition of what constitutes ‘serious misconduct’.

One of the perils that come with this authority can be highlighted from my own circumstances. Hamilton Police Association at my request spoke with Hamilton Police Professional Standards about the reason why I am currently suspended to be told directly it’s due to my ‘repeated contact with the media’. On September 6th, 2016 I requested written clarification of the same, knowing full well the Service wouldn’t have the courage to put pen to paper effectively saying ‘suspended for whistleblowing’.

Numerous times the Association requested a formal description on reason for suspension, and service litigator Marco Vinsentini stated the document was coming. After almost three months on November 25th, 2016, he responded simply saying that I am suspended because I am ‘suspected of misconduct’, completely avoiding committing to an allegation.

I would suggest a system that allows the controller to choose their own pace and dictate the rules as they progress is fraught with danger of misfeasance. I still at the time of writing do not know what I am suspended for or whether that alleged act is ‘serious’ in nature. If my indiscretion is ‘talking with the media’ and that is considered ‘serious’ then should the Hamilton Police Sergeant who is currently on ‘administration duties’ for sexual assaulting a female probationer at work not be ‘suspended’ also, while the SIU complete their investigation?

Regulators should be cognizant no legislation currently applies to protecting ‘police’ whistleblowers and the threat of being suspended without pay could cause some to be hesitant to report colleagues or departmental wrongdoing and falter when it comes to ‘doing the right thing’.

This disciplinary tool would be a powerful one, and unjustified application could put undue financial and welfare stresses on officers and their families. This could force some officers to plead guilty to Police Service Act charges, when they may well be innocent, only to facilitate the speedy resumption of their salary.

Therefore, strict governance would be needed to ensure members of Senior Management Teams aren’t using the same to further political or personal agendas. If you’re going to change legislation, do it right the first time.

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