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Chief Russell Sabo (2003)

Police discord must be fixed for city's good

Russell Sabo

It's time for decisive action to address protracted hostilities at the city's police service that are costing residents dearly and tarnishing Saskatoon's image across Canada.

The admission by Police Chief Russ Sabo that the action of two veteran officers who abandoned an aboriginal man on the outskirts of the city wasn't an isolated case, as the police service has steadfastly maintained, is the latest salvo fired in a battle for power in the dysfunctional department.

"We had indicated that, as I understand, that we didn't have any other incidents of this nature," Sabo told the CBC.

"It happened more than once and we fully admit that and, in fact, on behalf of the police department I want to apologize. It's quite conceivable there were other times."

Sabo's revelation undermines the credibility of senior officers including past chief Dave Scott and that of all cops who've insisted since constables Dan Hatchen and Ken Munson were charged and convicted that they have no knowledge of any "Starlight Tours" conducted by Saskatoon officers dishing out street justice.

From an RCMP probe into the mess that failed to investigate an eerily similar drop-off incident that veteran cop Brian Trainor had described in his "true life" Saskatoon Sun column to a coroner's inquest that didn't summon Trainor, superficial investigations have only fuelled public cynicism. Confirmation of police misconduct brings no comfort.

The chief's admission comes in the wake of a vote by 321 of 380 rank-and-file officers, 90 per cent of whom expressed no confidence in Sabo's leadership and 95 per cent of whom have no use for the civilian board of commissioners or its commitment to community policing.

Whether Sabo intended to undercut the union or not, his words hardly mark an auspicious start to healing rifts in the rancorous service, as he and the commission vowed to do when they met last week with union executives and agreed to bring in a consultant to teach them to get along.

Meanwhile, a police association whose chief executive has no trouble publicly questioning the chief's suitability to lead and denigrates community policing as "window dressing" suddenly is shy about explaining just what has his members so irate at the chief and board.

A frustrated Mayor Jim Maddin, elected on a ticket of community policing, accuses the association of being "bitchers and whiners and complainers." If the union wants to be involved in the management of the service, he says, "Step up to the plate and participate with a little less aggression and a little less confrontation."

This is all silly, of course.

Managing the police service and setting policy is the job of the chief and board, with the association responsible for acting in its members' interest through negotiating and enforcing contracts.

Rather than have the board abdicate its responsibility to deliver the kind of policing that citizens choose through their representatives, it's time for a thorough investigation of the service by an independent outsider such as a retired judge.

The animosity that has pervaded police ranks and the inept policing that has been the result over the years in this city need to be rooted out and fixed.

The concern at this stage, however, is that the culture and relationships within the service are so abysmal that it would be better to build the service from scratch rather than try to repair this mess.

After all, given the seeming dissatisfaction among the rank and file -- that some are trying to blame Sabo for their high cholesterol levels suggests that rationality pulled out of the station long ago -- would anything short of firing the entire board of commissioners and the chief, and letting the cops appoint their new minders suffice to bring harmony to the ranks?

There's another option -- however far-fetched it might seem at first glance -- if things boil down to letting the inmates in blue run the asylum: Turning over responsibility for the city's policing to the RCMP.

For instance, it provides contract policing services for B.C. communities such as Burnaby (2001 population 193,644) and Surrey (pop. 344,620) at a cost of $100 and $92 per capita respectively, compared to Saskatoon's 2001 cost of $167.

No one is suggesting that winding down the Saskatoon police force is the best solution at this stage, but the service can't be allowed to continue to garner national headlines over redneck antics and blown investigations, with cops too busy with internecine warfare to do much about crime rates that place this city near the top of the national charts.

Vote reveals lack of confidence in chief: police union

A city police union vote shows "a significant majority" of officers do not have confidence in the leadership of Chief Russell Sabo and the ability of the board of police commissioners to govern the service, Const. Stan Goertzen said in an interview Wednesday evening.

"This is not a small group of disgruntled people. This is not people who are whiny about minor things," said Goertzen, the union's president, after the votes were tallied.

Over the period of a week, members of the Saskatoon City Police Association -- which represents rank-and-file officers -- were able to make their opinions known during a secret ballot confidence vote. The vote ended Wednesday.

"The members overwhelmingly indicated that they do not have confidence," Goertzen said. "This is the largest voter turnout ever in my memory. That exceeds the numbers for the last two or three contracts."

He said more than 84 per cent of the membership -- or 321 officers -- cast ballots. However, he would not release the results of the vote.

"These numbers were always meant for, No. 1, the board and the chief, to show them that there is a problem here," Goertzen said.

Both Sabo and commission chair Leanne Bellegarde Daniels have been advised on the specific numbers of the vote of confidence, he said. The union wants to set up a meeting with both the chief and the police commission to discuss the outcome.

"One thing I really want to stress is that the concerns that have been voiced by our members are all broad-based in nature, and they far exceed the issues surrounding the dismissal of chief Dave Scott and the misconduct of Chief Russell Sabo," Goertzen said.

"It will be the broad-based issues that we'll be meeting with the board and with the chief to try and iron out."

Goertzen would not say what those broad-based issues are, but said that some of them go back to before Sabo became chief.

"I want to speak to the board and the chief, to give them a chance to address them first," he said. "A number of those issues, we have already spoken with them, and they haven't been addressed. And that's the reason for this vote."

While the results of the vote can be disregarded, that wouldn't make good sense, Goertzen added.

"We are major stakeholders in wanting to provide the best police service possible," he said.

Sabo was reinstated last month following a paid leave of absence due to a harassment investigation against him.

Five out of 42 complaints filed by his secretary were deemed to have merit by an independent investigator.

Coun. Patricia Roe, a member of the police commission, said she respects the officers' opinions, but said the vote "is not going to change anything.

'The best way in any organization that's going through a lot of change and so on, is to try and work to make it successful," she said, adding the commission will meet with the union.

"I trust these are good intelligent people, and I trust that they will work to make it successful, because that's what's going to benefit the citizens of Saskatoon.

Police union to vote on leadership confidence

REGINA - Saskatoon's police chief and commission are facing a non-confidence vote by rank and file cops. Members of the police association are expected to cast ballots over the next week after the leadership of both chief Russell Sabo and the police commission has been called into question.

Russell Sabo
Grim-faced, tight-lipped police officers filed into a meeting hall in downtown Saskatoon Wednesday night ready to grill their bosses, the police commission, and its handling of a harassment complaint against chief Sabo.

Chief Russell Sabo spent two months at home with pay during an investigation into that complaint. Now Sabo is back at work and the woman that filed the complaint is still on medical leave.

Saskatoon mayor Jim Maddin says that some police officers told him that Sabo should have been fired. Maddin thinks that some of the feeling is rootted in resentment for the firing of Sabo's predecessor Dave Scott.

Jim Maddin
"There's still some resentment that Dave Scott is no longer the chief of police," Maddin says.

Last night there were also questions about the shift to a new style of police work referred to as community policing. That debate is said to have played a part in Scott's firing and Sabo's hiring. Maddin has staked his political career on the community policing concept and he isn't likely to back down.

"Chief Sabo is in charge. He's in command. And he has the support of the board," the mayor says.

Police association president Stan Goertzen says his members aren't happy with the answers they are getting.