Appeared in the North Shore News – July 6, 2012
Is the curse of 13th and Marine Drive striking again?
After the violent public storms surrounding badly treated Chief Const. Scott Armstrong and the too well-treated Abominable Policeman Kash Heed, West Vancouver police chief Peter Lepine has not been much of a newsmaker.
But a self-styled whistle blower – who offered to talk directly to me but at this writing hasn’t made contact – sent a dossier of emails about an internal dispute shaking the West Vancouver Police Department and arguably compromising West Van citizens’ safety and access to quick police response.
Lepine (who hasn’t responded to a call) is the ham in the sandwich between the West Vancouver Police Board and the WVPD’s unionized dispatchers whose positions will vanish in October when their WVPD jobs are absorbed into the regional E-Comm 9-1-1 system.
He’s at the sharp edge of making this significant change, ordered in May by the police board. The board is chaired by Mayor Michael Smith, who gets the job ex officio, Latin for “it automatically goes with the role” of mayor.
The police board determines broad policy like this, leaving day-to-day operations to the chief and staff. (The board also has its own pressures from above). So Lepine couldn’t reject the board decision unless he had another job in mind.
Whatever his private opinions – and West Vancouverites strongly support their police department’s independence, surely a factor – Lepine unswervingly backed the change in a missive he acknowledged was “not an easy letter for me to write” to the dispatchers of the WVPD’s Operational Communications Centre, the people who answer when you phone the WVPD. (If it matters, only one of 15 has an identifiably male name.)
Mindful that the news would cause “mixed emotions,” Lepine wrote: “Overall, a move to E-Comm will lower many significant risks currently facing WVPD, offer us many operational benefits and efficiencies and provide cost savings.
“But that’s not what I want to focus on here. I want to assure you that E-Comm is anxious to have each and every one of you on board.” There’d be help during the transition, Lepine added, and went on to write, “I am confident that E-Comm is a people-focused organization that is committed to service excellence.”
The dispatchers weren’t buying it.
In reply, “Louise” – on behalf of 14 others whose top three members totalled 73 years of service – wrote: “The decision . . . springs directly from the lack of support afforded us from the administrative group charged with the responsibility to ‘sustain and maintain’ our section.
“The dispatchers involved, as well as the membership of the WVPA (the association representing West Vancouver police officers), know full well the great loss that will be experienced by all.”
Weeks later Lepine replied, apologizing for seeming “that I am either non-caring of you, or insensitive to the disruption. . . . However, nothing can be further from the truth.”
Here many managers could nod heads in sympathy: Because of “factors related to the collective agreement process,” Lepine explained, “I have had to deliberately keep my distance so that specific labour issues could advance without any perception that I may be trying to influence any outcome in this area.”
My whistle blower – and remember he/she has remained anonymous, and must be seen in that light – dismissed this as “all smoke in (sic) mirrors. The morale at the police department is very low.”
His/her argument for keeping the WV dispatchers includes familiarity with the neighbourhoods, natural geography and names – typing “Caulfield” instead of the proper “Caulfeild”, for instance, would draw a time-consuming blank – and in matters of quick response or pursuit, such knowledge could be crucial. Also cited: The WVPD’s special sensitivity to old people and to native people.
Apart from the decision itself, the whistle blower charged, “the manner in which the announcement was made to those affected was flippant and disrespectful. . . . It is clear that the decision process has been underway for some time, yet neither the dispatch team nor police officers were informed of the move until the last minute” – inexcusable in a small department “almost like a family.”
A tempest in a coffee pot, compared with the blatantly unjust treatment of Scott Armstrong and the outrageous conduct of Kash “The Stallion” Heed, now off his MLA high horse (but I’d guess looking for another steed for his vanity and ambition to mount). And a reminder that cutting this or that public work force or overhead, cheering though it is for taxpayers – and sometimes richly deserved – always involves a knife into human flesh.
. . .
Oh, let’s end lightly: Sportscaster Ed Garcia recently reported that the New York Yankees “won their seventh straight consecutive in a row game last night.”
For this amazing tautological triple, he wins top nomination for the Yogi (“Nobody Goes There Any More, It’s Too Crowded”) Berra Award for 2012.
© Trevor Lautens, 2012