Ottawa police tactical officer suspended after fist fight
Staffing shortage within Ottawa police tactical unit delaying execution of warrants, sources say
A constable with the Ottawa police tactical unit has been suspended following a fight that broke out inside police headquarters on Elgin Street last Thursday, and sources within the force are blaming a staffing shortage for tension within the specialized team's ranks.
Two members of the force's SWAT team were bloodied in the punch-up on Oct. 13, which followed an argument over scheduling and overtime, police sources told CBC News.
There were no serious injuries, but Const. Wayne Hollet has been suspended with pay following an altercation with another tactical officer.
Ottawa police media relations staff would only confirm that an officer has been suspended. A general email notifying all officers of the suspension went out one day after the incident.
Both Hollet and the other officer have been on the tactical squad for more than five years and have more than a decade of policing experience.
Hollet's case is being investigated by the professional standards branch for misconduct under the Police Services Act.
The president of the Ottawa Police Association downplayed the incident.
"In any large organization you are going to see members, colleagues, co-workers have issues. This is nothing outside of that," said Matt Skof.
Tensions have boiled over before
But Skof said Chief Charles Bordeleau could have avoided triggering an investigation — and the suspension — by referring the issue to the police service's human resources department, which could result in a reprimand but not in charges under the Police Services Act.
Depending what the investigation uncovers, Hollet could be reprimanded, transferred or formally charged.
It's not the first time tensions have boiled over within the Ottawa police tactical unit.
In 2014, following an explosion during a training exercise which injured two officers and two paramedics, an anonymous letter to the province's Special Investigations Unit alleging senior officers were involved in covering up the incident was leaked to CBC News. After the letter was made public, the entire unit signed a separate letter refuting the claim.
Just last month, the Crown stayed charges of criminal negligence and breach of duty against three officers who were charged by the SIU in relation to the incident.
Staffing pressures blamed
Staffing pressures are being blamed for the latest flare-up.
Sources with knowledge of the incident said the two officers started arguing after Hollet was asked why he wasn't available to do overtime for a special operation last Thursday.
Although emergency operations, such as an active shooting, require mandatory participation by tactical members, planned operations do not.
CBC News has learned that in the days leading up to the fist fight, the tactical unit was unable to call up enough officers to carry out three separate search warrants for drugs and child pornography. The operations were postponed.
In executing high-risk warrants, the heavily armed SWAT team always enter a building before other officers because suspects inside could be armed and could pose a threat to themselves or others.
It's the tactical team's responsibility to arrest the suspect and secure the scene before turning it over to investigators. Each operation is different but their execution requires a minimum of seven tactical officers.
Some shifts understaffed
Sources tell CBC that recently some shifts have been staffed with half that number because of annual leave, training courses and injuries.
The tactical unit should have about 28 officers, including a staff sergeant. Currently there are two officers in the unit who have been assigned to other duties after suffering injuries on the job, as well as three vacancies that haven't been filled for months.
Skof said he's not aware of all the factors behind the latest incident, but isn't surprised that staffing is one underlying issue.
"Our organization as a whole is very stretched on resources ... It affects patrol, front line, all the way up to our investigative units," Skof said.