Retiring Calgary police chief credited with boosting force's transparency despite short, 'rocky' tenure

Chief Roger Chaffin said he's stepping aside after three years on the job to allow for younger and more contemporary leadership to take over the Calgary Police Service.

Roger Chaffin said he's stepping aside to allow younger, more contemporary leadership to take over

Calgary police Chief Roger Chaffin announces his plan to retire in January 2019. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Calgary's police chief has announced that he plans to retire in 2019 after 32 years with the service, exiting a little more than halfway into his five-year contract. 

Roger Chaffin announced Tuesday that his last day will be Jan. 6, 2019. 

"When I accepted the position three years ago, it was with a goal to provide long-term resiliency through modernization and an evolved model of policing," said Chaffin in a release.

"In my remaining months, I will continue to lead the service comfortable in the knowledge that our path is one with opportunity, accountability and integrity for many years to come."

Chaffin said the decision to retire was made for a mix of professional and personal reasons, but one motivating factor was that he wanted to give a younger, more contemporary leader the opportunity to step in as the force prepares to outline it's four-year business plan and make further workplace reforms. 

"I just thought it was the right time for the organization and this membership to be able to embrace new leadership," Chaffin said in a press conference Tuesday morning. 

"It seems now is a good time to make that transition before we get partway into any of that work."

The Calgary Police Commission said it will start the hiring process for a new chief by creating a search committee of commission members on July 31.

"Chief Chaffin set the Calgary Police Service on a course to become a modern police service that reflects the values and characteristics of our community," said Calgary Police Commission chair Brian Thiessen in a statement.

"The direction he took CPS fills us with optimism about the achievements we will see over the coming years. We wish him the best in his retirement."

Thiessen said in a press conference that he's incredibly proud to have worked with Chaffin and feels he has driven transparency. 

"I think Chief Chaffin was very clear when he commenced on that path it would not be a popular undertaking but he commenced on it anyway. I think there is a nobility to that."

Roger Chaffin receiving the Order of Merit of the Police Forces from Governor General David Johnston in 2015. (Governor General of Canada)

Chaffin previously served as deputy chief for five years before taking over from Rick Hanson in 2015. He's a recipient of the Order of Merit for Police Forces, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal and a number of other honours. 

He has tackled a number of issues in his three years as chief, from responding to an increase in gun violence, to pushing for a focus on diversity in hiring. 

Chaffin was in charge in 2016 when a workplace review from 2013 surfaced — dating back to when former chief Hanson was in charge — that brought forward serious allegations of workplace toxicity, bullying and harassment from inside the service. 

He instituted a whistle-blowing program and oversaw an overhaul of the company's HR system, but faced some criticism that it wasn't enough to tackle systemic issues within the force. 

Despite taking the helm through what he described as "rocky days" for the force, Chaffin said he's proud of both the HR and economic reforms the force has been able to institute but he does have some regrets. 

"There's always regrets. You can't do this job and not feel that.... Every success you have is always anchored by the things that weren't successful, the things that didn't work well."

In recent months, Chaffin told CBC News that he was open to exploring the idea of decriminalizing small-scale drug possession for users — a position that would have been unthinkable when he first joined the service in 1986.

He said the future chief will have a hard road ahead of them, listing rising crime rates, cannabis legalization, economic uncertainty and a possible gig as Olympics host city as future issues the force will have to contend with. 

"Policing has become a very difficult issue right now," he said. 

"It doesn't really matter where the chief is from as long as they're positioned to keep us moving forward."

Chief got a lot done in face of 'old guard': Nenshi

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he's grateful to Chaffin for what he described as a "tremendous" career with the force.

"He's been a huge partner for me, and for city council and the Calgary Police Commission, as we strive to adapt to new realities, as we strive to create a 21st Century police service — one that keeps every Calgarian safe," said Nenshi.

Nenshi said Chaffin got a lot done in his short term in the face of what he described as the "old guard" of the police service. 

"It's not too much to say he did the work of five years of being chief in the three and a half years that we've got him."

Premier Rachel Notley tweeted a tribute to Chaffin, thanking him for his service.

Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart said it's no secret that she's had her differences with Chaffin in the past and she looks forward to the force continuing its commitments to improving internal HR issues in the future. 

Colley-Urquhart quit the police commission after speaking out against what she called a lack of action around allegations of bullying and harassment against women in the service's ranks. 

"I think it was a really tumultuous period of time for him to be chief," Colley-Urquhart said of Chaffin's tenure. 

When asked if Chaffin's challenges in his role dated back to systemic issues that had been in place before he was in charge, Colley-Urquhart said, "Chaffin was a deputy chief looking after the HR issues for many, many years."

Both Edmonton and Halifax will also be searching for new police chiefs in 2019.

Here is Chaffin's statement in full:

"It is with mixed emotions that I am announcing my retirement as chief constable of the Calgary Police Service. Considerable deliberation has gone into making this decision, but for personal reasons, I know it is the right time for me to retire after 32 years of service.

The decision is not based on any particular event or issue, but is made with the best interests of the service and Calgarians front of mind.

When I accepted the position three years ago, it was with a goal to provide long-term resiliency through modernization and an evolved model of policing. With HR and financial reforms well underway, work being done to implement strategies and recommendations from Justice Wittmann's use-of-force report, and a solid four-year business plan, the service is best placed for ongoing opportunities to thrive.

I know this important work will continue as we strive to create a service that is positioned to support the needs of the community and our members. In my remaining months, I will continue to lead the service comfortable in the knowledge that our path is one with opportunity, accountability and integrity for many years to come.

I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank the commission for giving me the opportunity to lead such an incredible organization and for the support they have afforded me over the years. I also want to thank everyone at CPS who has made working here such a pleasure — being part of CPS in not just a career, it is like being part of a family.

As importantly, I wish to thank the citizens of Calgary. We have said for many years that creating a safe and healthy environment in a city the size of Calgary is not just a policing issue. It is an issue that can only be addressed when we all work together toward that common goal. We are reliant on the community we proudly serve — thank you."


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