Fixing morale at Ottawa police will take more than money, union says
Police association says selective discipline, staff shortages at core of malaise
Repairing the damaged workplace culture at the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) will take more than what's contained in the budget tabled this week by Ottawa's new chief, the head of the Ottawa Police Association (OPA) says.
Barely a week into his new job, Chief Peter Sloly described the morale on the force as the worst he's witnessed.
"There is a level of emotional tension in this organization that I have not experienced in any organization, private sector or public sector," he told the police services board Wednesday.
Fairness needs to be applied evenly, not selectively.- Matt Skof, Ottawa Police Association
OPA president Matt Skof said fixing that lousy esprit de corps will take more than any single line item in the budget. Instead, Skof said it will require a top-down cultural shift around how the OPS handles discipline.
"Fairness needs to be applied evenly, not selectively," said Skof, who continues to call for Ontario's solicitor general to review internal investigations and discipline at the OPS.
"Our experience over the last seven years are, those that are in a very select group with the upper management are not held to account versus the members on a whole."
Sloly's 2020 spending plan includes hiring 30 new officers on top of filling vacancies, and two new officers dedicated to combating gun violence.
Officers will work more closely with the communities they police, Sloly said. Areas with higher crime rates will see more community police officers.
The budget also includes millions more in "wellness programming" like peer support and counselling.
Praise from former officer
Retired Ottawa police officer Doug Kirkland said he's glad to hear top brass talk about mental health and peer support because it's when issues like post-traumatic stress and addiction are buried or stigmatized that officers can really suffer.
Kirkland said he believes Sloly is making the right decision to hire more officers and refocus on community policing.
"It's just critical. I just can't emphasize it enough," Kirkland said. "You've got to be in the community to gain its trust, and not have to just come in and deal with very sad events."
Kirkland, who retired in 2000 but has stayed in touch with current and former officers, said he saw a shift away from community policing in Ottawa when police budgets stagnated and new hires were cut to save money. Communities suffer as a consequence, he said.
There were no OPS staff increases between 2010 and 2015, according to Sloly's budget documents. In the last three years, 105 officers were hired, and Sloly wants to hire 30 more each year until 2023.
Skof agreed staff shortages are at the root of a lot of the morale issues.
"It's very good to see the continuation of a commitment to hiring 30 new officers over and above the complement of what we currently have," he said. "We've [gone] through a significant period of time where we were shrinking our service, which put a significant stress on our front-line officers, our investigative unit and our civilian staff."
Skof, who continues to face charges of breach of trust and obstruction of justice and is suing Sloly's predecessor over his suspension from the service, said he'll continue to advocate for changes to discipline at OPS when he next meets with Sloly.
City council will discuss the police budget Dec. 11.