New chief, new era? How the Calgary Police Service can get back on track
This article was previously published for the Calgary Journal.
Calgary’s new police chief has his work cut out for him. Mark Neufeld, a veteran of the Edmonton Police Service and former chief of the Camrose Police Service, will head up the Calgary Police Service (CPS), which has seen troubling job satisfaction rankings among employees.
The Calgary Journal approached two experts about what the CPS should do to boost morale in the months and years ahead.
Doug King, a professor in Justice Studies at Mount Royal University and Melanie Peacock, a Human Resources Management professional and MRU associate professor, discussed solutions to boosting morale within an organization that recorded troubling employee satisfaction ratings in their 2018 employee survey.
King, who used to work for the CPS in research and analysis, provided long-term context while Peacock focused on the critical role of listening to employees face-to-face while modeling strong leadership.
King says that policing in Calgary needs to be completely updated.
“They’ve got to run it like a 21st-century organization.”
He adds that everything from the hiring process to education and communications is outdated.
King highlights the need to pick the very best people for the top positions, something that previous administrations did.
“It started here in Calgary by hiring the right chief who implemented changes ... it spread like wildfire across Canada,” says King.
King holds little hope the numbers will ever reflect the satisfaction seen under the leadership of former chiefs who seemed to have a better handle on managing the ranks.
“There is a difference between a police chief that is a manager and the police chief that’s a leader.”
Two police chiefs who King says exemplified leadership were Christine Silverberg and Rick Hanson.
Silverberg was the first woman police chief of a major Canadian city police force. According to a CBC news article, some of her accomplishments and strengths are as follows:
In her time as chief, Silverberg got rid of the superintendent level to clean up the ranks.
Silverberg also believed in increasing communication with officers and the higher ranks. She put a direct phone line in her office so that she can be reached by anyone in the organization.
She also led the charge of getting civilians more involved in increasing accountability. Silverberg placed a civilian in charge of the organization’s professional standards.
King says this type of accountability from civilians is missing today.
“We need a much more engaged police civilian oversight that has some hammer.”
King adds that external feedback is important and that it can help move the organization in a positive way.
This focus on the community was modeled by Hanson, who served a seven-year stint as Calgary’s police chief.
Some of his accomplishments included:
Taking a more proactive approach to leadership with a focus on prevention and intervention in policing.
During his time as chief, the Calgary Police saw a decrease in crime rates. His leadership also saw a 97 per cent citizen satisfaction rate with policing services, according to 660 News.
In 2015, a CBC article cited Hanson’s accomplishments as he worked towards the development of several partnerships with community services throughout his career, including working with homeless organizations, domestic violence groups and education advocates.
They’re not the only two chiefs to be successful, but Silverberg and Hanson were both credited with their dedication to the organization and community. King says this is seen through Silverberg’s ability to listen throughout the ranks and Hanson’s ability to always be visible.
Keeping everyone in the loop
Employee pride at CPS has seen a decline in less than four years. Graphic by Nathan Woolridge
King says that CPS has had a disconnect between the higher and lower ranks within the organization and that officers have been increasingly ignored in the decision-making process.
He says that officers are missing from the table during important decisions that affect the officer's job on the street.
“They weren't being brought into the decision-making process,” says King.
“It is important that people know who the senior leaders are, even if that is touching base with them once in a while and introducing yourself at the beginning of someone's employment,” says Peacock.
Keeping everyone within the organization in the loop is important. As well as getting to know the employees and how they respond and like to receive feedback.
Peacock adds it’s essential that any organization knows its employees well.
“Part of the art of leadership is knowing your people and knowing how they like to receive feedback.”
Peacock suggests that the best way to do this is through face-to-face interaction. She says that it is the foundation of communication by allowing other forms of communication to be more meaningful and effective.
If leaders within the organization often connect with employees, they are able to better receive and act upon feedback given to them.
It also opens up more dialogue “using technology or other forms for communication,” says Peacock.
Peacock says an organization needs to ask, “Where are there problems, where are there areas for improvement?”
Another aspect that was championed by previous leaders were their ability to involve the public into holding the police service accountable.
The 2018 Civilian Survey conducted by the Calgary Police Commission stated: ”Citizens suggest CPS could improve services with a greater visible police presence, more transparent and accountable communications, more officers, and improved officer training.”
Public trust has been further eroded thanks to a series of harassment problems within the organization. In 2018, The Star Calgary reported that CPS officer Kim Prodaniuk said that every time she reported harassment in the workplace, her situation worsened. Prodaniuk is now one of the founders of the National Women in Law Enforcement Association and told The Star that she is still receiving weekly complaints about “gender-based harassment.”
King says that harassment issues weren’t necessarily being ignored, but didn’t receive enough public attention; which goes back to his suggestion that there needs to be more civilian involvement to hold the organization accountable.
As for morale within the service, King doubts levels will return to what they once were.
“I think as soon as we see the appointment of the new chief, it'll start to pick up a bit. Will it ever get to the lofty heights? No. Once you lose it, you never fully get it back.”