injusticebusters logo

inJusticebusters applaud Mayor Maddin's pledge to press forward for a community-based police service and the forthrightness with which he has been fielding the cheap shots taken at him. Whatever the cost, we will have to pay sooner or later. The truth is always the least costly path.

Give new police chief clear mandate

Saskatoon Police crest

Before they hire a permanent police chief for Saskatoon, the city's police commissioners will have to get a lot clearer about their vision of a "community policing" model than what they've offered so far.

It's not good enough for commissioners to utter platitudes about the ideal or hint at what they didn't like about the policing approach of Dave Scott, the chief they fired presumably for failing to meet their expectations.

Scott may have given the police commissioners plenty of ammunition to be upset at his administration of the police service, but he can't be faulted for failing to deliver on a community policing concept that's so amorphous that even its advocates apparently have trouble explaining the model.

"I neither received written nor did I receive verbal direction as to their philosophy of community policing or their general direction of policing," the former chief suggests.

Scott's tenure was marked by regular confrontations with his civic masters over the police service's budget allocation. Too often his tactic was to present a budget far in excess of council guidelines and then threaten to gut popular programs if the money didn't flow.

His most controversial move by far was to close the department's high-profile store-front operation in Riversdale when council refused in 1997 to add $691,000 to his budget.

This year was no different. Scott drew up a budget that topped guidelines by $300,000 and then went on vacation, leaving his senior staff to warn the police commission of the dire consequences if it didn't ante up. Among items endangered were plans to reopen a core-area substation and bolster beat patrols of business districts. There were also threats to scrap bike patrols and to remove cops from Crime Stoppers and school liaison programs.

A frustrated commissioner Pat Roe suggested that the police department seems to view community programs as "add-ons" that are the first deemed expendable if money is tight. Fellow board member Dan Ish cuttingly observed that cuts to the department's senior management and administration weren't among options presented.

Obviously, such considerations were among the factors on the minds of commissioners in making the costly move to fire Scott, with Roe suggesting that, to "move forward in the community," the commissioners obviously need someone "who is in synch with us."

The trouble is that, to find someone in synch, the commission itself needs to know what it wants.

The experience of Jim Mathews, the new police chief retained by the board for the short-term, and consultant Christine Silverberg, former chief of the Calgary force, are an invaluable resource at the commission's disposal to help change the policing culture in Saskatoon to one that puts community needs first, not treat them as an expendable afterthought.

However, the commission needs to go into the process with the clear realization that Saskatoon needs a unique policing model that takes into account the challenges posed by its large and mostly young Native population, not something imported from another city. The board must be clear that community policing is no panacea for the kind of social problems that manifest themselves in the plethora of recent tragic events for which unfair blame was placed on Scott's shoulders.

The board is on the right track in seeking changes to the provincial Police Act to allow council to determine the structure of the local police commission. Instead of limiting it to two councillors, the mayor and two citizens-at-large, the plan is to get more public members serving on the commission.

However, instead of appointed citizen members, it's better to have them chosen in civic elections. Along with the mayor and city councillors, positions can be designated for representatives of the aboriginal community.

Such changes, along with a clear plan for policing in Saskatoon, are what needs to greet the person who'll be chosen this fall as the regular police chief. Otherwise, another ugly, expensive and utterly demoralizing Scott-like firing seems inevitable.


Don't cut corners: police union

The union representing police officers is frightened cops will lose their jobs and important programs will be cut to cover the estimated $400,000 in costs associated with the dismissal of former chief Dave Scott.

The cost of the firing - more than the actual fact it happened - is the top concern for officers, said Sgt. Al Stickney, president of the Saskatoon City Police Association.

At a news conference Monday, Stickney said members of the force have already been told to start looking at their budgets to save money. He said programs have been pared back after the Saskatoon board of police commissioners in the spring refused the chief's request to boost the $32.4-million budget by $300,000.

"We are seeing the police service being run on a pretty bare bones budget as it is right now," he said.

"We don't want the quality of life to diminish for our members. We don't want the service that we provide to the citizens of Saskatoon to be diminished by the loss of money to the police."

On Thursday, the union met to discuss the situation and adopted a resolution expressing concern that costs of the termination will harm staffing levels, equipment, training and community programs.

"We have serious concerns about layoffs. Layoffs did happen before in the 1990s and we certainly wish that situation will not happen again. I have had no assurances that it is not going to happen," explained Stickney.

The resolution also wished Scott well and offered him a final salute.

More than two weeks ago, the police commission terminated Scott's three-year contract after only six months.

By doing so, the board must pay Scott $150,000. Costs are expected to balloon to $300,000 or $400,000 to cover other expenses including $50,000 to hire consultant Christine Silverberg to find a new chief plus about $40,000 to retain Chief Jim Mathews on an interim basis.

Commission chair Mayor Jim Maddin hopes most of the costs will be covered by the existing police budget. Should the service end the year with a deficit, city council could be left to deal with the costs.

He said it's up to Mathews and the yet-to-be-hired permanent chief to decide where to squeeze the budget.

He said the $400,000 estimate being tossed about may be a little high, but final figures are still being worked out.

Maddin also emphasized that the board doesn't want to see staff levels or community programs cut.

"The board is certainly not interested in any reductions in staffing. The board is well aware that all of the resources we have of police are precious," he said.

"The new chief in consultation with his administration may be able to identify areas now that perhaps were off limits before."

Commissioners said Scott had to go because his vision for community policing clashed with their own. Scott countered that he was never told of the board's vision, and accused the board of plotting his dismissal soon after his contract was renewed.

On Monday, Maddin denied the accusation.

He said he met Silverberg in January only to discuss how the city could go about a public consultation process.

"That is absolutely, totally false," said Maddin of Scott's claim. "There was no mention of Dave Scott's termination or contract or anything."

Stickney said the union has no position on the fact Scott was fired.

"It's in no way our business to interfere how they (commissioners) deal with one of their employees," he said. "We are prepared to work with any future administration . . . just as long as they provide the money for us to do the policing."


Calgary cop brought in

Move temporary until new police chief found sometime in fall

A former Calgary deputy police chief known for his strong community connections will take the helm of Saskatoon's department until a permanent chief signs on in the fall. Jim Mathews, who retired in 1998 after 31 years of service in the Alberta city, will be sworn in as interim chief at noon today by the Saskatoon board of police commissioners.

He will take over from Dan Wiks, Saskatoon's deputy chief who has been acting as full chief since the dismissal of Dave Scott from the top post two weeks ago.

"We interviewed him (Mathews) here last week. I was really impressed. He exuded common sense, decency, trust and knowledge," said Dan Ish, a commission member.

According to the contract, Mathews will be paid $10,000 monthly plus $700 per month in lieu of benefits. His contract also includes payment for living expenses up to $2,200 monthly.

He signed on for three months with an option of a one-month extension.

"We hope to have a permanent police chief by the end of September," said Ish, noting Mathews indicated he has no interest in the permanent job.

Mathews's name came up after a search by Christine Silverberg, the consultant hired by the police commission to look for candidates for both interim and permanent chiefs. Silverberg and Mathews have a professional history together - she was Calgary's police chief while Mathews was the deputy.

Ish said Mathews won out over two other candidates (all from outside the city) because of his administrative skills and his personal experience in a police force which went through significant change of its own to become more community based.

"He's somebody who we think has experience in the direction we ultimately want to move, so it helps in the transition period to a new chief," said Ish on Thursday.

"We thought he was somebody who could relate very well to the rank and file police men and women, as well as someone who can do some issue spotting for us in terms of where we want to go in the future."

Mathews joined the Calgary Police Service in 1967 as a patrol constable.

He worked his way through various areas of the force, including criminal investigations, criminal intelligence, special crimes, audit, crime analysis and ultimately became deputy chief in the community policing services bureau. There he was responsible for all the actions of officers in the field.

In his career, he also helped spearhead Alberta's concerted effort against organized crime.

A former colleague who worked both under Mathews's command and on an equal footing described him as approachable and straightforward.

Peter Copple, who retired from the Calgary police in April, said Mathews also had substantial support from Calgary's diverse cultural community, including First Nations citizens.


Fired top cop takes a few shots at his detractors

'Like a bombshell'

Nearly two weeks after being turfed as Saskatoon's police chief, Dave Scott fired back at police commissioners Wednesday, accusing them of keeping him in the dark on their new vision for policing and plotting his demise mere weeks after he signed a new contract.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the firing, the former chief said he still doesn't know why he lost his job.

"It was like a bombshell," Scott told reporters gathered around the lawn furniture in the backyard of his Lawson Heights home.

"Put yourself in my position. What you would feel like if you had the rug pulled out from underneath you?"

Dressed in casual summer wear instead of the familiar police uniform, Scott said he was saddened and hurt after the commission called him into a closed-door meeting June 21 and said his contract was being terminated.

He said he was given 21 hours to decide if he would leave immediately or stay until August, when Saskatoon hosts a national conference for police chiefs. He opted to leave at once.

To this day, he said, he doesn't understand the explanation that his vision for community policing clashed with the one desired by the five-member commission chaired by Mayor Jim Maddin.

"I neither received written nor did I receive verbal direction as to their philosophy of community policing or their general direction of policing," said Scott.

Last December, Scott signed a three-year contract with the police commission. At the start of 2001, a fresh commission came in with Maddin the only holdover.

Scott suspects the new commission had no intention of honouring the contract. He cites a visit in the early weeks of the new year by Christine Silverberg, the former police chief for Calgary.

"It now seems evident to me that the purpose of this meeting may have been to plan my own termination. Christine Silverberg has now been hired by the commission to seek my replacement," he said.

Maddin was not available for comment Wednesday.

Patricia Roe, a city councillor and member of the commission, said Silverberg was consulted early in the year about the best way to go about a public consultation process, not about replacing Scott.

"What's the process for change? How does this come about? What is the process with the community? As far as I know that's what those discussions were about," she said.

As for relaying the commission's vision for policing, Roe acknowledged Scott never received anything in writing.

However, she said on many occasions community policing issues were discussed with him, including at budget time.

"We spent a lot of time discussing these issues over the past few months," said Roe.

"Certainly, he has implemented some good programs. But what we expected to happen, and I don't think what we saw any progress on, was the complete cultural change that is required to make major change in how an organization operates and does their business. I guess that is where we got stalled."

On Wednesday, Scott described his vision of community policing as one involving the city as a whole in the decision-making, and having officers build alliances with residents and community groups. He listed several community-based initiatives including the team working with families to stabilize children's lives and get them back into school.

He defends his actions to cut some community programs in past years - including this spring - when the commission refused to endorse his budget increase requests. In the case of the 1997 closure of the Riversdale police station, he said, the budget was so slim that officers were laid off, too.

He expressed concern over what the impact on the police budget will be of the cost of his $150,000 dismissal fee plus other expenses associated with hiring a new chief.

Scott led the police service at one of the most controversial times in its history. In the winter of 2000, after an aboriginal man complained of being abandoned outside the city by two officers, a flood of similar complaints surfaced and the RCMP launched the largest task force investigation in provincial history.

The former chief said he doesn't believe the events led to his dismissal and defended his achievements in creating partnerships with the local aboriginal community including the Saskatoon Tribal Council.

On speculation that a tense relationship between himself and the mayor, a former officer, contributed to his dismissal, Scott said he always treated Maddin with respect.

Scott plans to stay in Saskatoon and take the next year off to relax.

"I have no bitterness. I have no anger. I am serious about that. I haven't felt that one moment since this has happened," he said.

When asked if he would consider running for public office, Scott said it was the last thing on his mind.

"Forget about Dave Scott. The focus is no longer me. After today, I'm going into another life - a private life. The focus needs to be on our community of Saskatoon."


Tight-lipped acting chief begging for scrutiny

Two subjects today, what's good and what's not so good about Saskatoon police.

First, what's good:

In a column last week on the departure of Chief Dave Scott, I lamented the disconnect between Saskatoon police and the community they serve.

To illustrate, I mentioned that I know people who provide almost every kind of service to our community, except a cop.

Well I know one now. That would be Const. Joceline Schriemer, who responded, on her own time, by seeking me out to introduce herself. What ensued was the verbal equivalent of a police takedown. I can't say I didn't deserve it.

Schriemer was mightily annoyed with me for implying that she and her fellow officers aren't doing their jobs.

She then proceeded to tell me in lurid detail what she's been doing at work lately. I'd characterize it as fighting a tide of human misery that would otherwise consume us all.

Schriemer was also miffed by my claim that police are disconnected from the community. Police live here too, she reminded me. Their connections to the community are both numerous and inextricable.

They raise their own children here. They go to weddings and soccer games and backyard barbecues, at least to the degree that their shift work allows. Finally, she's annoyed because the press overlooks most of the good that police do while missing no opportunity to take a run at them.

Which is more or less true, but the same could be said of police themselves. The traffic cop who pulls you over for speeding, for example, doesn't want to hear about your extensive volunteer work or your otherwise commendable driving record. It's not relevant to the issue at hand.

As to the rest of Schriemer's charges, I plead mostly guilty. Not entirely guilty, because it was never my intent to condemn the whole force, but mostly guilty, because that's how it came off. Sorry.

That said, all the good that they do should not exempt police from criticism. We give them an enormous amount of power. We give them an enormous budget. We civilians have a duty to complain when they don't serve us as we think they should. Which brings me to what's not so good about policing in Saskatoon.

It was illustrated again as recently as Friday afternoon, right around the time I met Constable Schriemer.

That was when acting Chief Dan Wiks issued a news release announcing that Saskatoon police have been cleared in the suspicious death of Rodney Naistus. Naistus, 25, was one of three men found frozen to death last winter on the city's outskirts. After a fruitless, 15-month investigation by an RCMP task force, a coroner's inquest has been called to determine how he came to his death.

How Naistus didn't come to his death was the subject of Wiks' news release. In it, the acting chief said that the task force had found "absolutely no indication or evidence" of involvement by Saskatoon police.

That the RCMP refuses to confirm any such thing is not exactly grounds for confidence in the acting chief's claim.

Neither is the acting chief's refusal to say anything further on the subject. How does he know what the task force learned? Does he have alternative theory? Are we to believe that Naistus wandered out of town on his own on a freezing cold January night? What about the others?

Wiks won't say. After issuing the news release, he disappeared for the long weekend. He has since refused comment. We can only imagine why.

For the acting chief to make an unsupported pronouncement on a controversial matter of vital public importance and then refuse all questions is not reassuring.

Quite the contrary. It only undermines police credibility. It's exactly the kind of thing that draws attention away from all the good that they do. For this, I'm sorry too, but it's not my fault.