West Vancouver’s police chief has announced he will step down amid allegations of bullying, harassment and racism in his department.
However, Peter Lepine says his leave is a retirement – not a resignation – and had been planned long before media reports this week.
“When I came to the department in 2009 I signed a five-year contract,” he told media on Monday. “It was my intention to align that contract up with my 35th anniversary as a police officer, and that time is arriving in September of 2014.”
A 2013 employee survey, prepared last November and reported Feb. 17, showed a dramatic drop in engagement, job satisfaction and confidence in senior management at the West Vancouver Police Department. For example, when asked to rate the statement “Senior management communicates openly and honestly,” 68 per cent responded unfavourably, compared to 47 per cent in 2010. Regarding the statement “Senior management has a sincere interest in employees’ well-being,” 72 per cent responded unfavourably, compared to 35 per cent in 2010.
Chief Lepine’s predecessor Kash Heed said Monday he still hears accounts of bullying, harassment and racism at the department, and attributes it in part to the “broken culture” of the workplace.
“You’ve got a police organization that is in disarray because of the ongoing broken culture,” said Mr. Heed, who held the position from 2007 to 2009 before leaving for a career in provincial politics. “And that’s the best way to describe it. That broken culture allows the issue of sexual harassment, sexual innuendo, racism, bullying and workplace harassment to continue.”
Mr. Heed said there is a “lack of accountability at all ranks within that department” – something he had to deal with back in 2007 as well.
Chief Lepine acknowledged the unfortunate timing of his announcement, but said it was a coincidence that it aligned with the reports.
“It isn’t a good time now, in the sense of how the two stories are aligned,” he said. “The discussion around my retirement has been a discussion that I’ve had with the police board going on for the better part of four months now.”
Mr. Heed doubted this: “I’ve never seen such low ranking of a management team as what we’ve witnessed in the latest [survey],” he said.
“When you put the two together, I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that the morning … it becomes a public story that the chief [says], ‘By the way, I’m retiring.’”
B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said while it is too early to speculate on what may have happened at the department, she is “obviously extremely concerned” about the allegations and has asked her director of police services look into the matter.
“He’s talking to the police board, he’s talking to the police chief, and as I said, he’ll be reporting back to me,” she said in Victoria on Monday. “It’s far too early to speculate as to what may come as a result of that, if anything.”
In a statement issued Monday, West Vancouver mayor Michael Smith, who is also chair of the West Vancouver Police Board, thanked Chief Lepine for his service and said the police board will immediately begin looking for a replacement.
It is clear there are important matters to deal with at the WVPD, Mr. Smith said, but the people of West Vancouver continue to be well served by a department that has no tolerance for racism, bullying or backlash against whistleblowers.
“All our employees are to be treated respectfully and supported by their supervisors,” he said. “The WVPD is taking quick and decisive action to address problems that they become aware of and will continue to investigate any allegations of improper behaviour.”
With a report from Justine Hunter in Victoria
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