Winnipeg officers disciplined dozens of times in 5-year period, records released under court order show
1 officer was fired, most either given verbal warning or lost pay, documents obtained by CBC show
Winnipeg police officers were internally disciplined dozens of times in a five-year period, with punishments ranging from admonition to one case where an officer was fired, according to records obtained by CBC News through a court order.
The newly released documents offer a window into what happens when an officer is found guilty of internal misconduct, and into the operations of the Winnipeg Police Service's professional standards unit.
But those outcomes aren't always made known to people affected, says the father of a 14-year-old girl who had a negative interaction with a police officer.
"I think they should let you know that … [they] suspended [the officer] for a week or it should be publicized," he said.
In Winnipeg, disciplinary board hearings that are held when an officer is accused of internal misconduct are not open to the public and the outcome is never released.
In contrast, police disciplinary hearings in other cities such as Toronto and Edmonton have mechanisms in place for the public to either watch the hearings or find out their outcome.
The newly released Winnipeg records were obtained after a years-long battle that led to CBC taking the City of Winnipeg to court.
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After nearly two years and several court hearings, a Court of King's Bench justice ordered the documents be released in November.
They reveal that in a five-year period, only one officer was fired because of an internal discipline matter. The majority were either given a verbal warning or lost pay for a specific number of days.
The father of the 14-year-old said their experience trying to get an officer disciplined left them wanting to abandon the process.
'They don't apologize'
The incident happened late last year, when an off-duty officer claimed the 14-year-old hit his car with her hand as she walked by, as his car was was parked at a crosswalk.
When she denied the accusation, he aggressively interrogated her until she was in hysterics, the family told CBC in November.
"It devastated her," her father told CBC News.
"I couldn't believe the way he was treating her and the way he was interrogating her. I was shocked."
When they first told their story last year, CBC agreed to withhold the names of the teen and her parents, as they fear repercussions for sharing it.
At the time, the Winnipeg Police Service said its standards unit was investigating the incident.
The professional standards unit manages complaints against members of the Winnipeg Police Service, including complaints about employee conduct, policies or service delivery.
When the unit contacted the teen's father, he was told no matter what consequences the officer faced, they would not be getting an apology.
"They don't apologize," the father said he was told by a member of the professional standards unit.
In an email sent to the father, an officer with the standards unit outlined the options available that could lead to the officer being disciplined.
The father could file a complaint with the Law Enforcement Review Agency, or LERA — the independent agency that handles complaints about police from the public. Unlike the standards unit, if the officer is found guilty by LERA, the outcome is publicly released and the officer is named.
However, the agency has been under scrutiny for years because most complaints are dismissed by its investigators and officers are rarely found at fault.
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They were also told they could go through the police service's standards unit. But in that case, they wouldn't learn the outcome of the investigation, and the daughter would have to go to the police station and face further questioning.
Neither sounded worth it for the family so they abandoned the complaint, the father said.
"I didn't want her to go through the trauma," he said.
Discipline 'considered a confidential matter': police
The standards unit and LERA handle the public's complaints about police, while Manitoba's Independent Investigation Unit is the agency that investigates incidents that cause serious injury or death to a person following an interaction with police.
The Winnipeg Police Service declined to be interviewed for this story, but in a written statement said its discipline hearings are not public because of current regulations that dictate they must be held in camera.
The spokesperson said the province is "considering providing direction in the area of police discipline" as it continues its review of the Police Services Act. They did not go into further details.
"Discipline is considered a confidential matter between the employer and employee," the spokesperson said.
People who file a complaint with the professional standards unit aren't told of the outcome due to privacy laws, police said.
Police officers are expected to follow certain behaviours that are outlined in their regulations and code of ethics. They forbid things such as corrupt practices, discreditable conduct, abuse of authority and neglect of duty, for example.
The professional standards unit will step in to investigate when it receives a complaint from a member of the public or from an internal source alleging an officer may have violated regulations — what is called a "service default."
If the allegation is substantiated, the officer can accept a recommended penalty or can be tried before a discipline board.
33 investigations opened in 2021
The professional standards unit's annual report says in 2021, it opened 33 investigations. The majority are related to discreditable conduct or "miscellaneous" allegations, including sexual assault and fraud, according to the report.
The records released detailing the officer's penalties are from the Winnipeg Police Service's routine orders, a quarterly document listing the discipline matters for that term.
From late 2014 to early 2020, there were 57 defaults listed in these orders. They do not list the specific details, but provide a number associated with each default.
The orders revealed:
- 28 officers lost pay.
- 15 received a verbal warning.
- 12 received a written reprimand.
- 3 were put on probation.
- 2 were ineligible for promotion for a period of time.
- 2 were given remedial training.
- 1 had a reduction of rank for two years.
- 1 officer was fired.
Some officers received multiple penalties.
For example, one officer was found in default on two counts of violating a Winnipeg police regulation against "corrupt practice," which the regulation says occurs when an officer "improperly uses, or attempts to use … [their] position within the service to gain personal advantage."
That default occurred in 2018. The same officer was also found to have committed a "discreditable practice" for making a misleading statement.
The officer lost five days pay as a penalty.
In another case in 2016, an officer was found to have committed a "neglect of duty" service default, which applies when an officer has "prevaricated or withheld pertinent information before any court, inquiry or Winnipeg Police Service investigation."
The officer was given a written admonition.
More than a dozen officers were found to have neglected their duties, 21 officers were found guilty of discreditable conduct, 15 breached the command of the chief of police or the City of Winnipeg, and three were found to have committed "unlawful conduct" — meaning they were convicted of a criminal offence. Two officers were found to have misused alcohol or drugs.
One officer was fired in 2017, after they appeared before a special committee established by the chief of police for cases where it's believed dismissal is the only appropriate penalty for the officer's conduct.
Freedom of information requests began in 2020
The internal discipline records were first requested by CBC through freedom of information laws in 2020, but the penalties were redacted by the City of Winnipeg, which argued revealing the information would be an invasion of the officers' privacy.
CBC complained about that decision to Manitoba's ombudsman — an independent review officer tasked with determining if a decision has followed the province's freedom of information laws.
The ombudsman upheld the city's decision, leaving a court application for unredacted documents as the only avenue.
A Court of King's Bench justice agreed with the CBC.
"There are over 1,300 officers in the pool of possible individuals, a number so large it makes Winnipeg's arguments that the disclosure could identify a specific officer far less plausible," Justice Chris Martin wrote in his Nov. 23, 2022, decision.
Kevin Walby, a University of Winnipeg criminologist who runs the university's Centre for Access to Information and Justice, said the decision is important and "will really help access users, and even freedom of information co-ordinators in the future."
He said there is a clear need for the public to learn the outcomes of internal discipline matters of police officers.
"Police are the only staff in our public service representing the government who have a monopoly on the use of force," he said.
"That is a monopoly that should be taken incredibly seriously … and people deserve answers."