Montreal police chief tackles culture of rivalries in plan to overhaul force

Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet believes centralizing senior managers at headquarters will help temper clan rivalries within his force.

Philippe Pichet wants senior officers to work together to avoid unhealthy competition

Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet was asked by Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux to create a plan to shore up public confidence in the force following a series of scandals. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet believes centralizing senior managers at headquarters will help temper clan rivalries within his force.

That was the main suggestion outlined in his plan to improve public confidence in the scandal-plagued SPVM.

"Since I [have been the] director, I told everybody I don't have any specific team. I'm working for the organization for the benefit of the citizens," he said.

Pichet presented the four-page document to the city's public security committee at city hall Friday morning.

The plan outlines 38 measures Pichet wants to implement. Most are structural changes and some are already being put into action, he said.

A preamble to the plan admits that problems of clan rivalry between groups of officers have been "immersed in the cultural fabric" of the force for years.

It says the current decentralized structure, where power is divided among five regions, has led to unhealthy competition where senior officers treat their regions like "individual kingdoms." Those senior officers will now be encouraged to work together.

Most of the changes Pichet wants to implement are structural, and some are already being put into action. (CBC)

A decade before the culture changes?

Some of the measures outlined in Pichet's plan include:

  • Changing organizational structure to encourage collaborative leadership.
  • Reassigning all deputy chiefs to police headquarters downtown as part of a single management team.
  • Examining the feasibility of uniting the internal affairs, safety and integrity divisions and the employee assistance program into one division.
  • Creating a communication plan so citizens are kept up to date on changes within the force.
  • Instituting a system where conduct of officers in "sensitive" posts can be reviewed every five years and all other officers every 10 years.

Pichet acknowledged some officers are frustrated by and resistant to change, and said the force must be "resilient."

He said while research shows it could take anywhere from five to 10 years before the force's workplace culture changes, that doesn't mean there won't be progress before then.

"Let's focus on more five than 10. We'll do everything we have to do to make it faster than too long," he said.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard stressed that he believes legislation could not change the culture within the force. He added that changes come through continuously working with employees.

"The ideal is to start with one or two actions that show the change they want, but it's certain that it will take a few years. Changing the culture of a big organization does not start the very next day," said Couillard.

Pietro Poletti, a former Montreal police officer, came forward alleging fellow officers filed a false report that said he was linked to organized crime. (CBC)

Plan 'so disappointing,' says whistleblower 

Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux asked Pichet to draw up the plan following revelations that senior officers may have fabricated evidence and used the internal affairs department to settle scores.

​"I saw different teams in the investigation part, faction A, faction B, maybe, maybe using internal affairs to resolve different problems," Pichet said.

Pietro Poletti, a former Montreal police officer who retired in 2014 after a 29-year career, says he was falsely accused by fellow officers. He alleges a fabricated report was filed claiming he was linked to organized crime. 

Poletti is one of the officers who chose to go public with his story. He described the chief's plan as "so disappointing."

"Basically they want to huddle and hold hands," said Poletti of the changes to the police department's structure. 

He believes there's a lack of police leadership, and the plan will not change that. 

"We haven't had leadership in this police department for the last 10 years." 

The only way to solve the problem is to have the force placed in trusteeship and a third body created to oversee all administrative decisions, including promotions, said Poletti.

Force facing investigation, inquiry

Provincial police are investigating the SPVM's internal affairs department and have taken over all its investigations. Several senior SPVM officers have been suspended.

Coiteux has also announced there will be an inquiry into the SPVM's "systemic" problems. The results of that inquiry are not expected for several months.

The allegation that officers were fabricating evidence was the second major controversy to rock the force in recent months. In the fall, it was revealed Montreal police sought to monitor conversations of certain journalists.

While the scandals have led to calls for Pichet to resign, Coiteux has expressed his support for the plan, and Coderre has stood behind the police chief he appointed in 2015.

With files from Kamila Hinkson and Alison Northcott