Nova Scotia

Halifax police chief making 'irrational' decisions about members, union says

The union that represents Halifax police officers says the force's new chief is spreading unrest among the rank and file with "knee-jerk, irrational" decisions following his placement of two officers on desk duty after the recent arrest of a Bedford teen.

2 officers put on administrative duty after recent arrest of 15-year-old Bedford teen

Dan Kinsella is shown at his swearing-in as Halifax Regional Police chief on July 5, 2019. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

The union that represents Halifax police officers says the force's new chief is spreading unrest among the rank and file with "knee-jerk, irrational" decisions following his placement of two officers on desk duty after the arrest of a Bedford teen.

In a Feb. 24 email obtained by CBC News that was sent to Halifax's mayor, city CAO Jacques Dube and the board of police commissioners, union president Dean Stienberg called decisions made by management and Chief Dan Kinsella "inconsistent, rash, and unpredictable."

"This knee jerk, irrational behaviour on the part of the chief is having a tremendous impact on our officers," Stienberg wrote.

He wrote concerns have been growing for some time, but came to a head last week after two officers woke up on Feb. 22 to learn they would not be allowed to perform their normal duties or wear their uniforms.

The officers arrested a 15-year-old boy outside Bedford Place Mall the previous evening. The boy, who is black, recorded a video of the arrest because he believed the two officers who arrested him were racially profiling him.

These are some of the injuries a Bedford teen allegedly suffered during an arrest by Halifax Regional Police on Feb. 21. (Troylena Dixon)

The teen's mother said her son suffered facial injuries, hand injuries and a concussion. SIRT is investigating the matter.

Stienberg, who has been a police officer for 26 years, said the union was not informed before management called the officers.

"It has never been our practice to suspend members with absolutely no investigation or even an allegation laid," he wrote.

Within a day, Stienberg heard from about 30 members. He included excerpts from some of their emails in his own letter.

Officers were "expressing their concerns and trepidation about how the Chief will react if they make an arrest that someone films. Most cannot fathom that their Chief would jump to such a rash and harsh conclusion with little to no investigation," he wrote in his email.

Dean Stienburg is the president of the Halifax Regional Police Association. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Halifax Regional Police has said the officers involved in the teen's arrest have not been suspended but they've been placed on administrative duty, pending the outcome of the investigation. In a statement, Kinsella said internal and external dialogue is ongoing and necessary when dealing with complex situations.

"Every situation is looked at individually and requires its own review and response. This is done in consideration of the issues facing our members, our organization and the community we serve," Kinsella's statement said.

In an interview Monday, Stienburg said he couldn't speak to the specifics of the Bedford case as it is now under investigation, but he said the issues he raised with municipal officials went beyond that one incident.

He also said in his nine years with the union, he's never gotten so much feedback, and the outcry within the force is the largest he's seen during his career.

Kate MacDonald speaks at the Taking Back the Streets with Joy rally Sunday afternoon. Dozens of people of all ages gathered outside police headquarters in Halifax Sunday afternoon to speak out against police brutality. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

"Morale is probably the lowest I've seen it in 30 years, it's actually getting worse," he said.

Stienburg said Kinsella has made decisions without taking the time to look at the facts. He said members are worried public comments about incidents could have a negative impact on the independent oversight process.

He said members have expressed they feel they're "being managed by Twitter."

"The priority can't be 'I'm concerned about what's on social media, therefore I have to act right away,'" he said. "The department is getting out too quickly in the media, not getting the opportunity or the benefit of having all the facts before they start making comments."

On Sunday, people left messages written in chalk on the entrance to Halifax Regional Police's headquarters on Gottingen Street. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

Stienburg spoke to CBC the day after people held a rally outside the Halifax Regional Police headquarters on Gottingen Street where they called for an end to police brutality. Organizers also said they want to see more police accountability.

The mayor's office confirmed to CBC it has received the email, but is not commenting as this is a "personnel matter."

Stienburg said if fear about how management will respond to situations persists, there's a risk officers will stop being proactive in the community.

"They start being reactive, and they simply respond to the calls that come to their car, or their computer in their car or come over the radio, and that's a real step backwards for policing and a real step backwards for public safety," he said.

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With files from Shaina Luck

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