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RCMP Senior Deputy Commissioner Rod Knecht. (Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail/Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)
RCMP Senior Deputy Commissioner Rod Knecht. (Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail/Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)

RCMP needs open leadership, new deputy says Add to ...

Rod Knecht sounds like the toughest RCMP critic out there, calling the national police force arrogant, stilted, self-centred and afflicted by a culture of entitlement.

But the RCMP's senior deputy commissioner simply feels a need to be blunt about the 137-year-old force's problems as he tries to fix them.

Five months ago, the 53-year-old Albertan became the top police officer in the RCMP, just one notch in the hierarchy below Commissioner William Elliott, who is a career bureaucrat.

With 33 years of experience, Mr. Knecht is responsible for all police operations in the RCMP, but his biggest challenge is bolstering the force's reputation after years of controversies. The Mounties are still trying to shake off the fallout over Maher Arar, Robert Dziekanski, the Mayerthorpe shooting, and the failed mutiny that senior officers launched against Mr. Elliott this summer.

In his first interview since he arrived at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa, Mr. Knecht relied on his experiences across Canada to provide clear examples of past problems at the RCMP, and the new vision that he wants to see implemented. Mr. Knecht was critical of the culture that set in over time among some members of the RCMP brass.

In his early years, Mr. Knecht remembers one of his superiors who left every day at 4 p.m. on the dot from Monday to Thursday, and occasionally played hooky on Friday afternoons.

"The higher you got, you really became insulated from the front line. The issues of the front line weren't your issues. Your world was quite a bit different," he said.

From now on, the entire RCMP must focus its energies on the services that are delivered to Canadians, with everyone pitching in, Mr. Knecht said.

"Where the rubber meets the road, where we have contact with the public, where we have the contact with the criminals and the bad guys, that's where we really have to focus on," he said. "My vision is the front line first. If everybody focuses on that, we will get to where we want to be. We're not there right now."

The RCMP announced the retirement of two more deputy commissioners on Friday, leading Mr. Elliott to pronounce that the force is going through an "unprecedented number of changes in the senior ranks."

Mr. Knecht said that as new leaders move up the ranks, they will have to embrace a culture of continuous change and achievement, drawing upon their early days in training at Depot Division in Saskatchewan.

"We have to get back to this teamwork," he said. "You can criticize that paramilitary way of thinking, the way we go through training, but it's a good thing, because it builds teamwork."

Mr. Knecht, in particular, wants to break down traditional barriers between junior officers, who wear grey shirts, and senior officers from the rank of inspector up, who wear white shirts.

"In the olden days, I never talked to an inspector, a 'white shirt,' " Mr. Knecht said.

The second major plank in Mr. Knecht's plan is to improve communications, both inside the RCMP and with the public. The big controversies that have hit the force were compounded by lousy communications, giving the impression the Mounties were engaged in a cover up.

"Historically, we are the silent police force. We didn't come out and explain ourselves. Maybe there is a little bit of arrogance there and maybe we didn't think we had to explain what we did," Mr. Knecht said.

The solution is for the Mounties to gather information as quickly as possible and update Canadians at every opportunity, without falling back on the traditional "no comment."

"We have to deal with the bad-news stories, and deal with them quickly, decisively, properly and openly. We're in the business where bad things can happen on the front line," he said.

In the world of videos posted on YouTube and images that travel quickly on social-media networks, Mr. Knecht said the RCMP can no longer expect to keep a lid on controversies.

"If we screw up, fair enough, report on us screwing up," he said, adding that the Mounties will then have to explain how they are planning to handle matters.

With better leadership and communications, Mr. Knecht hopes the RCMP will become more accountable to Canadians, and actually be able to explain its successes and failures.

"I think we have been in a situation in which we have been very internally focused. We've developed a bit of a culture of entitlement within the organization, and we have to get back to focusing on our key priorities, which are public safety and public security," he said.

Follow on Twitter: @danlebla

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