Edmonton police chief welcomes review of leadership

Chief Rod Knecht says he would welcome an independent review of his leadership after 80 per cent of Edmonton police officers who responded to a union survey agreed they work in "a toxic culture of blame and fear."

'It was not a fair survey ... the bias was evident,' senior officer says

Edmonton police Chief Rod Knecht said he would welcome an independent review of his leadership. (CBC)

Chief Rod Knecht says he would welcome an independent review of his leadership after 80 per cent of Edmonton police officers who responded to a union survey agreed they work in "a toxic culture of blame and fear."

The membership survey, conducted this spring by the Edmonton Police Association, had a 60-per-cent response rate, which union resident Sgt. Maurice Brodeur said he considers significant.
Sgt. Maurice Brodeur, president of the Edmonton Police Association, says most members feel they work in “a toxic culture of blame and fear.” (Richard Marion/CBC)

Brodeur told reporters Tuesday his members believe the culture of fear and blame "is driven from the top of the organization."

He called on the Edmonton Police Commission to oversee an independent, third-party investigation of the force's workplace culture and to "independently assess the chief's leadership."

Brodeur said about 30 per cent of members who responded to the survey rated Knecht's managerial competence as "poor." About half the respondents said they were confident the chief can continue to lead the police department.

"EPS members are working in a culture of fear." Do you agree with this statement?

Knecht said Tuesday he has not seen the survey even though Brodeur posted message on the EPA website two months ago promising to release the survey report to "the Chief's Committee, the Police Commission and the membership."

Knecht said police work is complex and sometimes members make mistakes.

Honest mistakes do not result in disciplinary action he told reporters, but he said officers must be held accountable when serious errors are made.

Last year, the department dealt with 317 formal complaints, he said. Of those, 19 resulted in formal disciplinary hearings.

Only one member was fired last year, Knecht said.

Discipline is "not a pleasant part of my job, but it is my job," the chief said.

But Brodeur said his members believe the discipline meted out "is too harsh." 

"We're known across the country as having the highest levels of discipline and accountability and the harshest punishments," he said.

Are you confident in Chief Knecht's ability to continue leading the Edmonton Police Service?

Dissension in the ranks

CBC News has obtained emails from some officers voicing strong concern about the union publicizing the survey results without consulting the membership. CBC agreed not to identify the officers.  

One senior officer wrote, "You put this whole 'toxic culture of fear' into the media spotlight and should not have. It was not a fair survey and it certainly had a tone that suggested what answers the creators wanted to receive. I know some members never completed the survey since the bias was evident."

In the email to Brodeur, the officer added, "If there was a vote, I would ask that you be removed from your current position and be banned from speaking for the rest of us."

Brodeur told CBC News he received mostly messages of support from officers after going public with the survey results.

'Deteriorated relationship'

Knecht acknowledged his relationship with the union has deteriorated since its leadership changed last December.

"I don't meet that often with the current president," ​Knecht said. "I would say the relationship has deteriorated somewhat."  

The chief said he would like to have a better relationship with the union including "more open and forthright communication." 

Brodeur was elected as police association president Dec. 11, 2015. He told CBC News he has not met with Knecht in 2016.

Brodeur would not speak directly about the relationship between the EPA and the chief.  

"We're having this press conference because we feel our concerns have been dismissed," he said. "Therefore, we've had to do something as drastic as this."