Kaminski heading police union while facing charges could erode public trust: criminologist
'People are losing faith in their own police force,' says MRU lecturer Ritesh Narayan
Newly minted Calgary Police Association President Les Kaminski will continue in his role while facing criminal charges of perjury and assault with a weapon — and that speaks to a larger problem within the organization, says a Mount Royal University criminologist.
Ritesh Narayan, a criminologist and lecturer in MRU's criminal justice program, told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday the move could erode public trust in the local police force.
The charges against Kaminski stem from a 2008 traffic stop in downtown Calgary that resulted in the arrest of Jason Arkinstall, who was charged with uttering threats against Const. Brant Derrick.
- Les Kaminski continues to lead Calgary police union while facing assault and perjury charges
- Calgary Police Association president Les Kaminski charged with perjury and assault
Derrick is also charged with assault causing bodily harm from the same incident. Arkinstall was acquitted in 2011.
Below is an abridged version of Narayan's conversation with Eyeopener guest host Jennifer Keene.
Q: What do you make of this latest story?
A: The year 2016 was a pretty rough one for the Calgary police and the events that took place over the past eight days have definitely shaken the integrity and hope for a more united Calgary police.
It has definitely had a larger impact on Calgarians because even they're observing and watching as these events unfold that, you know, where does this stop? It's been ongoing for a while now.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit more about the charges Mr. Kaminski is facing?
A: These charges arose from an incident in 2008 and he went and testified with respect to those charges [in 2011]. Initially, when the incident took place, there was a check done by the Calgary police to see if there was any police wrongdoing — and nothing was found. Now, this particular matter didn't make it into the hands of ASIRT [the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team] and the Crown prosecutor until just a few days ago, when a story was broken by the media. So there seems to be, in a sense, some discrepancy between what Calgary police deems as police misconduct and what ASIRT deems as police misconduct, at times.
Q: Kaminski hasn't stepped down from his position as president of the Calgary Police Association. Does that surprise you?
A: Somewhat. Of course, he is presumed innocent. We don't know at this point whether he was forthcoming about his part in the incident when he threw his name in the hat to become president. However, in terms of ethics and integrity, maybe he shouldn't have stepped down, but he should have at least stepped aside — at least I'm hoping he would — while he's being investigated for this. It's very important to note this is not just a Sgt. Kaminski or Const. [Brant] Derrick problem. I think this is more of an institutional problem — a Calgary police subculture problem.
Q: Can you talk a little bit more about that — what do you mean it's an institutional problem?
A: Because the incident had taken place in 2008 and it took so long for the Calgary police to send the matter to ASIRT, because it was initially said they didn't even feel there was any police wrongdoing. And all of a sudden, when the matter was made public by the media, that's when they thought, 'Well, maybe we should send the matter to ASIRT' and ASIRT found enough evidence to recommend charges. The problem here is with how Calgary police goes about investigating their own officers and how rigorous they are when it comes to that.
Q: This isn't the first case where an officer has been charged with wrongdoing. Over the past year, we've seen a few of these. What do you think all of this is doing to the public perception of the Calgary Police Service?
A: The approval rate for the Calgary police was remarkably high last year. However, what we have seen is that it is slowly declining, and with these incidents unfolding, and Calgary police being at the centre of some sort of controversy, especially with respect to integrity, I think it's only [tarnishing] the image and people are losing faith in their own police force. We've got amazing police officers working for the CPS — most of them are fantastic police officers that work with a lot of integrity. Unfortunately, it's just a handful of them and it's how the Calgary police deals with those officers is where the problem is.
Q: Kaminski was voted in by members of the association back in November. How do you think members are feeling now?
A: I'm pretty sure they are feeling pretty awkward. I'm not sure how forthcoming Mr. Kaminski was with the board about the charges he possibly faced. Maybe the board was aware of it, or maybe Mr. Kaminski felt there wasn't enough evidence and this was going nowhere and there was no need to disclose that information to the board. There's obviously some onus on the board that they ought to have known, and if they did, why did they still go ahead with their nomination — because Mr. Kaminski came in as president as someone with a new hope of integrity and transparency within the CPS, and it clearly isn't helping.
Q: What does the leadership of CPS needs to do now in order to regain public trust?
A: I think Chief [Roger] Chaffin has been working at it. He's definitely had his work cut out for him for the past two years. I'm not going to question the credibility or competency of the chief, however, I'm going to go back to the subculture and the difference in leadership. There was something [former chief Rick] Hanson was doing that was right, or maybe he just did an amazing job of handling these issues compared to Chief Chaffin. He's definitely a reputable and a great man, I just don't know if he is handling the situation as well as Mr. Hanson was.
With files from the Calgary Eyeopener