RCMP Deputy Commissioner Bob Paulson, a cop’s cop who rose rapidly in the ranks as he investigated bikers and terrorists, is to be named the next head of Canada’s national police force, sources say.
The appointment promises new leadership for the 30,000-member police force, which has appeared rudderless of late as the federal government delayed naming a new commissioner.
Deputy Commissioner Paulson, who served seven years as a pilot in the Canadian Forces before joining the RCMP in 1986, could not be a more stark contrast to his predecessor, career bureaucrat William Elliott.
He spent years as a street cop, mostly in British Columbia, where he grew adept at organizing big investigations. In 2005, he was seen as a rising talent and brought to national headquarters in Ottawa. Last year, he stayed away from an attempt by senior commanders to oust Mr. Elliott over his tough management style.
Deputy Commissioner Paulson has tried to keep his career focused on the putting bad guys in jail, a police source said. Yet he inherits an iconic force in turmoil and stretched to its limits as it wrestles with complexity of policing Canada.
Provinces that essentially buy the RCMP’s services from Ottawa to police much of their territory are demanding more for their money. And inside the force’s new headquarters in Ottawa, budget cuts loom and investigations are sometimes stalled as commanders wrestle over priorities and resources.
Fatal shootings and controversial use of tasers have led to questions about officers’ judgment. Meanwhile, rank and file Mounties across the country have complained of burnout and harassment.
A year ago, police observers did not consider Deputy Commissioner Paulson a candidate for the commissioner’s job. Six months ago he began to be viewed as a something of a dark horse. In recent weeks, however, the buzz grew considerably, and it became clear that he had a chance to overtake two other star candidates, RCMP Deputy Commissioner Peter German and Ottawa Police Chief Vern White.
“His career has moved up very quickly in the past few years,” said Paul Kennedy, a retired federal security bureaucrat. Saying he knew the other two candidates far better as commanders than Deputy Commissioner Paulson, whom he knew more for operations, he seemed surprised at the pick.. “Certainly chapeau to him, if he came out on top,” Mr. Kennedy said. “They must have thought he had some strengths beyond what the other two presented.”
Recently retired RCMP staff sergeant Gaetan Delisle said it’s great to have a street cop in charge. But Mr. Delisle, who is trying to organize RCMP rank and file members into unions, warns the new commander had better remember his roots.
“The problem is management is not accountable. … Is he going to make changes?” he said. “If he was an inspector eight years ago and he climbed up all the way to commissioner, I wonder if he understands the federal portion of the RCMP.”
For the past six years, Deputy Commissioner Paulson has been in Ottawa getting a crash course in managing an almost unmanageable force – and was one of the few seasoned senior commanders left at headquarters when Mr. Elliott announced his departure early this year.
The spring federal election delayed the selection process. In June, the government created a panel of senior bureaucrats, police officials and former ministers to come up with a short list. Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the final selection only this month.
The formal announcement is expected to be made on Wednesday morning. Federal officials point out that Deputy Commissioner Paulson speaks fluent French – a point in his favour after recent controversies over the appointments of a unilingual Supreme Court judge and Auditor-General.
Fellow officers praise Deputy Commissioner Paulson as a Mountie whose priority is policing. “He can't stand inefficiency,” one senior RCMP member said. Another said he is no diplomat. “He won't be telling his political bosses what they want to hear.”
Not that long ago, Deputy Commissioner Paulson’s main focus was putting mob and biker bosses in jail. In that role, he was often effusive in his praise of colleagues and occasionally outspoken about what he saw as the shortcomings of Canada’s criminal-justice system.
In 2005, a judge’s decision forced a team of RCMP detectives in B.C. to pull the wiretaps from a gang they had spent months monitoring. Deputy Commissioner Paulson was gobsmacked. “They were all walking around with their mouths open saying, 'What does this mean?' I tell you, the level of commitment and work that they put into one of these projects is something no one appreciates,” he said. “You basically surrender your life for a year, working 18- to 20-hour days.”