Monday, July 17, 2006

Letter to Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners for May 11, 2006, meeting

April 28, 2006

Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners
City Hall
222 Third Avenue North
Saskatoon, SK S7K 0J5

Dear Commission Members:

“There are people out there that want to know the whole truth – nothing more, nothing less.”
–Councillor Don Atchison, The StarPhoenix, August 14, 2001
(Referring to the public wanting answers from the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioner’s regarding the dismissal of former police Chief Dave Scott.)

On March 2, 2006, Saskatoon police board chair Mayor Don Atchison announced that Police Chief Russell Sabo’s contract would not be renewed. The public has been asking for reasons why ever since but none have been provided. In the immortal words of former New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, “it’s déjà vu all over again.”

This matter appears to be the culmination of the controversy that followed the dismissal of former police Chief Dave Scott in June 2001 – which then councillor Don Atchison had a serious problem with.

At the July 16, 2001, city council meeting Atchison delivered a lengthy Notice of Motion requesting a vote of non-confidence in the board and the dismissal of its members – except the mayor whose position is provincially legislated. (It is interesting to note that the meeting’s agenda included four individuals opposed to the chief’s dismissal and who would later become directors of political lobby group LEAD Saskatoon Futures Inc. They were Russel Marcoux, Joe Bloski, Don Funk and Todd Peterson – who I believe is a former police board member. Other LEAD directors would include Coni Evans, Gary Emde, Don Ravis and David Criddle. The group’s purpose as described by StarPhoenix columnist Gerry Klein was “to unseat council members including (mayor Jim) Maddin” in the 2003 civic election.)

In his Notice of Motion Atchison called the chief’s termination an “abuse of power” and suggested that the board violated The Police Act by failing to give directives to Scott in writing. He accused the board of – among other things – not following due process because it did not evaluate Scott’s performance “according to an objective or known standard.”

Don Funk – the StarPhoenix reported on July 17, 2001 – told councillors they will be judged by how they vote on the motion. “Those who are responsible for this heinous act will be judged by the community. For the councillors who do support this action, I support you and applaud you along with citizens of this community. For those who don’t support it, you will be responsible to explain your actions at the next election,” he said.

The Executive Committee, at its July 18, 2001 meeting, passed the following resolution:

“that the City Solicitor provide a legal opinion on the Notice of Motion put forward by Councillor D. Atchison at the meeting of City Council on July 16, 2001 regarding the dismissal of former Police Chief Dave Scott, for public distribution in the agenda for the next meeting of City Council; with a copy to The Board of Police Commissioners as information.”

In her July 30, 2001 report city solicitor Theresa Dust wrote that Atchison’s Notice of Motion was “inaccurate in a number of statements” and that the board “had the legal right to do what it did.”

Aside from the opinion the solicitor’s report also provided a valuable understanding of the roles, responsibilities and the relationship between the police board and city council. Consider the following:

“In Saskatchewan, the Board of Police Commissioners, not City Council, has overall responsibility for the delivery of policing in the community. City Council’s role is limited by statute to essentially two things, namely: the annual appointment of the Board and the yearly approval of a gross estimate of expenditures. As we understand the statute, this limited role is intended to ensure that there is no ongoing interference by City Council in policing matters.”

“The Board is the body responsible for policing in the City of Saskatoon. They are the representatives of the community, not City Council. The Board provides general direction, policy and priorities for the Police Service and develops long-term plans. City Council has no such role.”

“The supervisor of the Board is the Saskatchewan Police Commission, and ultimately the Minister of Justice; not City Council. The Board does not report to City Council.”

“The purpose of an independent Board is to act as a buffer or insulator between the police and City Council.”

The police board is “an independent board which is not supervised by City Council.”

“City Council is not the employer of the police.”

City council defeated Atchison’s Notice of Motion at its August 13, 2001 meeting.

At the time of the civic election (October 22, 2003) Don Atchison had acquired a significant amount of experience as a councillor and obviously some knowledge about the police board. “I’ve been there nine years now. I know what’s going on,” he said in the October 14, 2003, StarPhoenix.

Examining some of his comments made prior to and following the 2003 election makes one wonder if the solicitor’s legal opinion – and what it meant – was lost on Atchison. It seems he had no time for an arm’s length independent police board. To him it was simply an extension of the mayor’s office. Political interference would be a given.

On October 14, 2003, The StarPhoenix reported that councillor Don Atchison sent a letter to the Saskatoon Police Services outlining his vision for the department. In his letter Atchison apparently wrote, “the membership resents working under a police commission whose chair is appointed and accountable to no one.”

In a response to a question on community safety from LEAD Saskatoon Atchison said, “We need a police commission with the Mayor as the Chair to make the commission accountable to Council directly.”

On October 21, 2003, The StarPhoenix published biographies as submitted by the various candidates. On the subject of policing Atchison said that the service needed “a police commission with the mayor as the chair, to be accountable to city council directly.”

‘The buck stops at the mayor’s desk’ was the catchy feel good campaign slogan of choice.

At the time of the civic election the chair of the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners was Leanne Bellegarde Daniels, a citizen. It did not take long for new mayor Don Atchison to challenge her position.

In the November 5, 2003, StarPhoenix, Atchison made it clear that “come Jan. 1, I certainly intend on being the chair.”

Atchison was confident that he would get the necessary votes from commissioners to assume the helm. “I ran on that and I think that carries a lot of weight,” he said. “The mayor is ultimately responsible for the actions that occur in the city. If that is the case, the mayor should be the chair.”

On November 6, 2003, Bellegarde Daniels resigned her position as chair of the police commission. Given Atchison’s bullying, intimidating attitude and “zero tolerance” policing philosophy who could blame her?

On November 20, 2003, the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners named Mayor Don Atchison as chair. Next up was the matter of citizen appointments to the board. Atchison had also campaigned on scaling those back.

On November 28, 2003, The StarPhoenix reported on a recommendation to city council by its executive committee that the number of citizen appointments to the police board be reduced from four to two.

“Elected officials will be accountable for decisions now. Before, when you had four non-elected appointees, they could control the board,” said Atchison.

City council adopted the recommendation on December 1, 2003. The mayor’s position on the board now had the power and control that Atchison seemed to desire. All that remained was waiting until the current chief’s contract was up for renewal.

It appears Atchison believed that not only was it his obligation as mayor to be chair of the police commission it was his right, which is something I find unsettling. I feel those things fundamental to having an independent board operating at arm’s length from city council, free from political interference, have been compromised.

This brings me to Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners current process of recruiting, selecting and hiring a new Chief of Police for our city.

I feel the Commission’s activities are premature given that the public has not been asked what type of Commission it would prefer or the kind of hiring process it would like to see used to find a new chief. The current Commission seems to have taken it upon itself to undertake this endeavour without having this vital information from the public beforehand.

I recently had the opportunity to read the “Saskatoon Police Service Community Satisfaction and Policing Priority Survey Report Summary, July 2005” by Fast Consulting – who was retained by the Saskatoon Police Service to conduct a survey of Saskatoon residents in order to measure community satisfaction with the Service. According to the report the primary objectives of the survey was “to gain a better understanding of peoples’ perceptions and satisfaction with the Saskatoon Police Service.”

In this regard I am deeply concerned that the Board of Police Commissioners – which I firmly believe is an important component of the overall Saskatoon Police Service – was largely overlooked in the survey. In fact, of the 27 key questions asked in the survey only 3 dealt with the Commission, and those questions were shallow at best:

1) Do you know that Saskatoon has a Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners? (78% of residents are aware.)

2) Do you know that the Board holds public meetings? (60% of residents are aware.)

3) Where do you find information about upcoming or past public meetings?

Considering the important and critical role the Commission plays I feel this is completely unacceptable. The issue of governance was – and continues to be – completely ignored.

Are residents satisfied with the job that the Commission is doing? Does the Commission have the trust of the public?

Does the public want a majority of Commission members to be civilians or does it prefer the current political makeup where the majority are city councillors?

Does the public want the mayor to be chair of the Commission or would it prefer a civilian?

Should the Commission have more members than the current level of five?

The Commission was not listed as an option for respondents to choose when considering what were the most important policing concerns or problems in the city. Why?

Perhaps it was not the Police Services’ place to ask in-depth questions about the board. If that’s the case then I feel it’s the Commission’s duty to start asking them.

At present the Commission appears unwilling to consider any options other than it’s own. The recent farce surrounding the two poorly planned and advertised public consultation meetings – where a total of 56 people attended – appears to confirm that the Board has no plan or idea of what it is doing. “We need to talk about more where we want to go,” Atchison said at the March 2 press conference. This on top of the controversy that followed the Commission’s decision not to renew Chief Sabo’s contract even though it said he was doing the job that he was hired to do and doing it well.

As a citizen and taxpayer I am not satisfied with nor do I support the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners in its present form.

Thank you very much for your time.


Joe Kuchta
Saskatoon, SK

1) July 16, 2001, Notice of Motion by Councillor D. Atchison
2) July 30, 2001, Legal Opinion on Notice of Motion by Theresa Dust, City Solicitor

Cc: Janice Mann, Secretary, Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners


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