injusticebusters logo

Stan Goertzen

Police contract talks get political
Goertzen attempts to debunk accusations association is inflexible

Stan Goertzen

The Saskatoon City Police Association has taken contract talks into the political arena in an attempt to debunk accusations that its inflexibility has caused the current impasse.

But Coun. Myles Heidt, a police commissioner, counters that the commission has been more willing to compromise than the association, having already dropped a contentious demand for a 10-hour shift.

In a letter delivered Thursday to city councillors and police commissioners, association president Const. Stan Goertzen writes that the city negotiating team and the association had the basis of a deal as early in talks as last summer -- before the city team withdrew it.

"We were 30 minutes from an agreement in principle," Goertzen said in an interview.

The city bargaining team, which includes senior police administration, originally proposed a 12-hour shift that would have put more officers on the streets overnight on weekends, meeting a key city council demand.

The association expressed interest, but the police service inexplicably withdrew it the same day, the letter says. "Throughout bargaining and more recently during the city budget process, false or misinformed comments about bargaining and the police association have been made by different city representatives," Goertzen writes.

"This is disappointing because it has had a negative effect on the way some of the current bargaining has been conducted. Some of the public comments have only served to entrench issues that should have been dealt with in bargaining. . . . The Saskatoon City Police Association has never rejected the idea of putting more officers on the street during busy times and we have been willing to discuss some viable changes to shifting to accomplish this."

Goertzen said criticism of the force has hit home.

"It's the front-line guys really getting hammered right now."

The association doesn't want to negotiate publicly but has grown tired of criticism based on false information, his letter says.

Chief Russell Sabo declined to talk about specifics of proposals in the letter, which also circulated through the police station Thursday.

But he confirmed the police service is not insisting on a 10-hour shift, a demand that replaced the 12-hour shift proposal that was withdrawn.

"At this point in time, I am focused on getting a flexible shift that will allow us to meet the needs of the service and effect policing in this community to obviously improve public safety," Sabo said. "I am not focused on 10-hour shifts, 12-hour shifts, eight-hour shifts. They all have merits. I want to make sure we can deploy officers where crime is the highest and meet the demand for calls."

Unions have the legal right to communicate with their employers, Sabo said, but added he's never seen a police association take action like this before.

Heidt says the fact the commission backed off its 10-hour shift demand months ago shows it's remained flexible.

"We've looked at all things. We've moved. We were locked in pretty good on the 10-hour shifting. Now we've even given that up."

In his letter, Goertzen writes that negotiations drifted away from their publicly stated goal.

"What the Saskatoon City Police Association has witnessed at the bargaining table has nothing to do with the city wanting more officers on the street. It is simply an attack on one of the few positive aspects of being a police officer in Saskatoon -- equal 12-hour shifting for front-line police officers," Goertzen writes.

Officers currently work four days, then have four days off working 12-hour shifts. This schedule saves the force in overtime and shift premium costs, the association maintains. It's also a benefit that officers consider essential to their well-being.

Goertzen adds the front-line officers working 12-hour shifts account for only half of the force. Most others already work 10-hour shifts, Goertzen said.

He downplayed the seriousness of the city negotiating team's latest proposal, since it would force some officers to log 72 hours some weeks.

"This is a 12-hour shift that no one would work," he said in an interview. "They've offered something they know is unpalatable."

Mayor Don Atchison, the police commission chair, said he'd be pleased to learn the association is not as rigid as believed. He read the letter Thursday afternoon.

"That would be music to my ears. We're going to have to talk to our negotiating team to follow up on these comments to verify them, correct or incorrect."

The bargaining impasse had overtones on city council's decision this month to reject the police budget, causing deep cuts to new staffing plans. Council had warned the police service a year earlier when it approved a large budget increase that it expected more weekend coverage.

TIMELINE OF PROPOSALS

A timeline of proposals between the Saskatoon City Police Association and the city's negotiating team:

March 31, 2004: The contract expires.

Summer 2004: The city negotiating team proposes hiring 16 new constables to form two new 12-hour shifts of eight officers each, according to the association. The result would have been more coverage Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights one week, then additional officers out Wednesday through Saturday nights the following week. The shift not on night duty in any given week would bolster daytime policing to cover officers who are off duty for illness, at training or court.

The police association was interested in this proposal, but after a break in talks, the city negotiating team withdrew it the same day.

The police service followed up this offer with later proposals reinstating the contentious 10-hour shift demand, according to the association.

December 2004: The city negotiating team makes a new offer again based on keeping the 12-hour shift. It works around a five-week rotation in which a percentage of front-line officers work 72 hours a week for two of those weeks -- which is unacceptable to the association.

The trade-off is more time off for the officers in one of the weeks.

The association says it submitted a counter-proposal the same day, based on the withdrawn city proposal from summer 2004 with minor changes.

Since conciliation subsequently failed in December, the two sides haven't met face to face.


Police bitterness hurts force: union

The firing of Saskatoon cops Larry Hartwig and Bradley Senger will help heal relations with the aboriginal community but the decision has spawned a bitterness that threatens the city police force internally, says the police union.

"The feeling in our building right now is not very good," Saskatoon City Police Association president Stan Goertzen said after a long pause when asked about the mood in the downtown headquarters.

"These guys (Hartwig and Senger) didn't do anything, they didn't have any contact with Neil Stonechild and the feeling inside is, 'Why would you (management) do something that we believe is morally wrong -- punish two innocent people so that it appeases some special interest group?'

"Our members don't believe you can do something morally wrong and make it politically right like the chief is trying to do."

Chief Russell Sabo announced the dismissal of the two constables on Friday, saying they "are each unsuitable for police service by reason of their conduct" in connection with the 1990 disappearance of the 17-year-old Stonechild, whose frozen body was found two days later in a field on the city's outskirts.

Sabo fired the officers for "failing to diligently and promptly report" information or evidence to officials about Stonechild being in their custody on Nov. 24, 1990, the frigid night the 17-year-old went missing. Both officers have denied any connection to the teen's death and are planning to request separate hearings into Sabo's decision.

As a result of the firings, many officers don't feel supported by their chief and are considering quitting the force, Goertzen said. In fact, two officers have already turned in resignation notices -- one of those has decided to retrain as a dentist instead.

Aside from leadership, officers' concerns include staffing levels, public safety issues in terms of equipment and deployment and better training, said Goertzen.

"Officer retention is going to be a problem. Even attracting officers is already a problem," he said, noting it's not going to change until there's somebody new at the top. "Somebody that we respect."

Another officer went on television recently with his identity shielded, to discuss the resentment with management.

"Kiss my ass, Russ," another officer, who wished to be unnamed, told The StarPhoenix.

Stan Goertzen

In 1990, the force said Stonechild had died after trying to walk to an adult jail to turn himself in for running away from a youth home. It was left at that until the death was reviewed by an RCMP task force, formed in 2000 to investigate the Saskatoon police force after the frozen bodies of two aboriginal men were found on the city's outskirts and a third man came forward to say that officers had dropped him off on Saskatoon's fringes as well.

Two police officers were found guilty of unlawfully confining that man, Darrell Night. They served time and were fired from the force.

On Oct. 26, a report from a public inquiry into Stonechild's death was released, rejecting the repeated claims that Hartwig and Senger had no dealings with Stonechild on the night he disappeared.

In his report, Justice David Wright wrote the case reminded him of the "chasm that separates aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in this city and province." The inquiry didn't assign blame for his death and Saskatchewan Justice Minister Frank Quennell has said there isn't enough evidence to lay charges against Hartwig and Senger.

But Sabo was convinced by Wright's findings and dismissed the officers for "failing to diligently and promptly report" information or evidence to officials about Stonechild being in their custody the night he went missing.

Colin Boyd, a U of S ethics professor, is concerned about officers speaking out anonymously, saying it may do more harm than good for the union trying to get its message across. Rather than officers in uniform stating their case, the spokespeople have been retired members or individuals with disguised voices and hidden identities.

"Seeing someone in silhouette on TV, speaking anonymously, reminds you far more of criminals than of police," he said. "It's not a good image to have."

Boyd believes Sabo's decision, however one feels about it, at least brought some resolution to the matter. "It was good to finally see, after 10 days (since the release of the Wright report), somebody finally take a leadership position, which is what a number of people were asking him to do," Boyd said.

"At least he has managed to get the ship back on course."

But there are still some rough waters ahead with the stirrings in "that internal culture" of the force, he added.

Lawrence Joseph, vice-chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, applauded Sabo's decision, calling it the start of a long-needed "rebuilding" process between aboriginals and the police force.

"For him to acknowledge the Wright report and apologize to the (Stonechild) family and take action with the officers, it's a big, huge step. We feel we have been validated," Joseph said Sunday. "Now healing can begin -- for Indian people and the police. I do feel for the police force because they are under public scrutiny and I think we need to look at programs so individual officers can get the help they need personally because they have issues too.

"They need to know the Indian people of Saskatchewan don't hate them and are not going to disrespect them because they wear that uniform."

Not everyone is so optimistic.

"People are still going to be leery of them (police). These guys got caught, that's all," said a woman at the Barry Hotel in Riversdale, a neighbourhood with a high aboriginal population.

"I'm hearing that there is still a lot of pain in the community and I don't know that most people are generally hopeful," said Helen Smith-McIntyre, chair of the community-based Advisory Committee on Diversity. "There has to be a lot of healing, a lot of listening and a lot of building bridges."

The committee offers three-day workshops for officers in which sensitivity issues are discussed as well as present policies and procedurees on the force.

"We work at building understanding and building empathy," said Smith-McIntyre, noting the next session begins today at Wanuskewin, the 6,000 year-old aboriginal heritage site north of the city.

But Sabo was convinced by Wright's findings and dismissed the officers for "failing to diligently and promptly report" information or evidence to officials about Stonechild being in their custody the night he went missing.

Colin Boyd, a U of S ethics professor, is concerned about officers speaking out anonymously, saying it may do more harm than good for the union trying to get its message across.

Rather than officers in uniform stating their case, the spokespeople have been retired members or individuals with disguised voices and hidden identities.

"Seeing someone in silhouette on TV, speaking anonymously, reminds you far more of criminals than of police," he said.

"It's not a good image to have."

Boyd believes Sabo's decision, however one feels about it, at least brought some resolution to the matter.

"It was good to finally see, after 10 days (since the release of the Wright report), somebody finally take a leadership position, which is what a number of people were asking him to do," Boyd said.

"At least he has managed to get the ship back on course."

But there are still some rough waters ahead with the stirrings in "that internal culture" of the force, he added.

Lawrence Joseph, vice-chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, applauded Sabo's decision, calling it the start of a long-needed "rebuilding" process between aboriginals and the police force.

"For him to acknowledge the Wright report and apologize to the (Stonechild) family and take action with the officers, it's a big, huge step.

"We feel we have been validated," Joseph said Sunday.

"Now healing can begin -- for Indian people and the police.

"I do feel for the police force because they are under public scrutiny and I think we need to look at programs so individual officers can get the help they need personally because they have issues too.

"They need to know the Indian people of Saskatchewan don't hate them and are not going to disrespect them because they wear that uniform."

Not everyone is so optimistic.

"People are still going to be leery of them (police).

"These guys got caught, that's all," said a woman at the Barry Hotel in Riversdale, a neighbourhood with a high aboriginal population.

"I'm hearing that there is still a lot of pain in the community and I don't know that most people are generally hopeful," said Helen Smith-McIntyre, chair of the community-based Advisory Committee on Diversity.

"There has to be a lot of healing, a lot of listening and a lot of building bridges."

The committee offers three-day workshops for officers in which sensitivity issues are discussed as well as present policies and procedurees on the force.

"We work at building understanding and building empathy," said Smith-McIntyre, noting the next session begins today at Wanuskewin, the 6,000 year-old aboriginal heritage site north of the city.