Windsor·Exclusive

Windsor, Ont., police staff question leadership's concern for their welfare: internal survey

Two-thirds of Windsor, Ont., police employees in an internal survey say senior leadership isn't interested in workers' welfare, according to the findings obtained by CBC News through a freedom of information request.

66% of workers with southwestern Ont. force said upper ranks don't make fair decisions

The Windsor Police Association says a breakdown in communication under the leadership of Pam Mizuno, who retired in March, created some internal issues, and now, under Acting Police Chief Jason Bellaire, it's 'less stressful' and 'calmer' internally. (CBC News)

Two-thirds of employees with Windsor, Ont., police say senior leadership isn't interested in workers' welfare, according to an internal survey.

Only 23 per cent of those surveyed in December 2020, several months into the pandemic, said employee wellness was improving. 

The results of the 51-page Employee Consultation Survey, obtained by CBC News through a freedom of information request, were released internally in July 2021. It's the only internal survey undertaken in the last five years.

Although COVID-19 may have influenced the results, the Windsor Police Association (WPA) said, other factors were in play at the time. One major issue was a "communication breakdown" between the lower ranks and the leadership team over the last 2½ years during Pam Mizuno's time as chief of police.

Mizuno abruptly announced her retirement in March, effective in nine days, and she cited needing to spend more time with her family. CBC News reached out to Mizuno for an interview at that time and our request was denied.

"We find it [to be] a huge issue because if we can't properly communicate with our senior administration, it's hard to resolve issues," said WPA president Shawn McCurdy.

WATCH | Windsor Police Association speaks on lack of communication from previous senior leadership:

Windsor Police Association says there was a lack of communication from the previous senior leadership team

2 months ago
Duration 0:46
Windsor Police Association says there was a lack of communication from the previous senior leadership team

A major issue has been officers fighting to keep the 12-hour shifts that have been in place since 2016.

McCurdy said the shifts provide them with a better work-life balance.  Police administration has tried to revert back to what they call a "10-10-8" schedule — 10 hours on mornings, 10 hours on afternoons and an eight-hour midnight shift.

"Policing is a very demanding job, and if we can facilitate by scheduling our members on a steady schedule to give them some kind of balance in their life ... that will have a profound impact on their mental health," said McCurdy.

Within the last few weeks, an arbitrator allowed officers to keep the 12-hour shifts and ruled any changes must be made during collective bargaining, McCurdy said. Bargaining could start this fall.

Pandemic 'not an out,' acting chief says

As defined in the survey, Mizuno was just one piece of the senior leadership team at the time. Deputy chiefs, superintendents, inspectors and directors were also included.

Under Mizuno's watch, Jason Bellaire was deputy chief when employees took the survey.

Now, he's acting police chief, and told CBC News he takes "full responsibility" for the results. At the same time, he believes the COVID-19 pandemic had a "massive" impact on how employees answered the questions.

"I don't think that's unfair for me to say. That's not an out. It's not an excuse for having a bad report card, so to speak. I think it's explanation for some of it," said Bellaire.

"We were coming in here every day, giving new direction every day that wasn't good direction to give to people that was given to us by the province or the local health unit."

Bellaire previously told CBC News he intends to apply for the position of permanent chief.

WATCH | Acting Chief Jason Bellaire says he takes the survey results seriously:

Acting Windsor police chief Jason Bellaire talks about the positive and negative aspects of the internal survey

2 months ago
Duration 1:41
Jason Bellaire is the acting chief for the Windsor Police Service and said he takes the results seriously that were critical of senior leadership, but also points to some positive responses.

Separating officers from their teams and shutting down internal workout rooms are two examples Bellaire listed that "were incredibly unpopular" and could have contributed to poor survey results in the wellness category.

The atmosphere is different [now.] It seems to be much calmer and less stressful internally.​​- Shawn McCurdy, Windsor Police Association president

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, also chair of the Windsor Police Services Board, said that in hindsight, it probably wasn't the best idea to survey police employees about morale during a global pandemic.

However, he stopped short of taking responsibility for the internal survey's results. The board is tasked with filling the chief of police and deputy chief roles.

"Listen, my job is to help provide leadership on the governance level," said Dilkens. "The operations level is completely separate in the [Ontario] Police Act. The board is not responsible for operations. So on the operating level, that really falls to the chief and the leadership team. We're responsible for hiring them, and so you will see that there was also a change, not related to this, but there has been a change in leadership. We are eager to make sure the organization is a well-functioning, well-running organization."

On March 23, two days after the board met to accept Mizuno's unexpected retirement, Dilkens told CBC News in an interview that he hadn't "heard anything with respect to this [Mizuno's departure] affecting morale."

WATCH | Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens wouldn't say if he took any responsibility for survey findings:

Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens says survey speaks to operational issues

2 months ago
Duration 0:48
Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens, who's also chair of the Windsor Police Services Board, wouldn't say if he took any responsibility for the survey results that were critical of the senior leadership team.

The survey was prompted by concerns from the WPA, mainly around fairness for promotions, internal transfers, as well as equity and inclusion.

(Obtained by CBC News)

Out of the 676 employees surveyed, 281 voluntarily participated, or roughly 41 per cent. Seventy-seven per cent of those who responded were sworn officers.

Two-thirds of the total surveyed said senior leadership doesn't make fair and balanced decisions, while 77 per cent said the current promotional process isn't based on merit or reflects the applicant's competence, knowledge, skills and abilities.

However, nearly 80 per cent expressed satisfaction with the type of work they do.

Survey sparks external review 

Many of the Windsor police employees surveyed were critical when it came to questions about equity within the service.

Two-thirds said senior leadership doesn't make fair and balanced decisions and 77 per cent agreed the existing promotional process is not based on merit.

Bellaire said this survey has triggered a review of the way people are promoted. To help, they've hired an external agency to shape the new policy.

For instance, there could be changes to the "competencies that we want in a supervisor at the various stages or tiers of promotion," said Bellaire, adding the interview or written exam could be weighted differently. "We may determine some day that nobody needs to have a written exam — that stuff's all being discussed."

Looking to improve Windsor police culture 

Windsor's acting chief told CBC News there's more of an open-door policy now and senior leaders are interacting with the lower ranks more often.

Three out of every four police employees (75 per cent) also indicated information doesn't flow openly between the upper ranks and front-line staff, according to the internal survey. By contrast, 84 per cent of those surveyed said their immediate supervisor encouraged two-way communication.

On Feb. 12, police in Windsor were dealing with a blockade around the Ambassador Bridge by people protesting pandemic mandates. An internal survey conducted in December 2020 during the pandemic raises questions about the welfare of employees with the force. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Since the survey, an employment engagement committee has been created that will look to address concerns or hear ideas about how to make Windsor police a better place on the inside.

There's also a Patrol Response Continuous Working Group, which started in November as a way to improve community service delivery, among other areas.

'Much calmer' and 'less stressful' atmosphere

The WPA said its members have noticed positive changes already with this new, temporary leadership team compared to Mizuno's time at the helm.

"Over the last couple months, things have improved, said McCurdy. "I've been hearing that from our members. The atmosphere is different. It seems to be much calmer and less stressful internally."

To better gauge how both police officers and civilian employees feel about working at the WPS, they plan to conduct these types of surveys more frequently.

Bellaire said he's aiming to have an external company conduct one in the fall.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Viau

Journalist

Jason Viau is reporter for CBC News based in Windsor, Ont. He has an interest in telling stories related to accountability, policing, court, crime and municipal affairs. You can email story ideas and tips to jason.viau@cbc.ca.

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