Media Address: Thiessen Resignation

Policing in Calgary is at a crossroads. The Calgary Police Association Board of Directors stand united, and we today are asking for change.

The Calgary Police Commission, chaired by Brian Thiessen, has been touting that HR reforms would repair a toxic workplace and create a fair and equitable environment for all. Brian Thiessen said that it’s one of the Commission’s top priorities and has been very public about how pleased he is with the progress being made with sweeping reforms and the Commission’s 7-point plan.

To implement the plan, the Service hired a civilian human-resources specialist as the Chief HR Officer, who would develop her team and modernize the Service’s HR section. Chair Thiessen stated in the media, “Bringing civilians in allows us to break free of the historical culture…” Last week, this highly accomplished HR specialist abruptly and unexpectedly resigned from her position after only a few months. Her second in command also quit.

Chair Thiessen says that full-on transparency and accountability within the Service is essential. Where is the transparency now? Chief Chaffin claims he didn’t know about this because he was on vacation. Really? The Chief claims the resignation of the top civilian manager heading this important initiative comes as a surprise. This highly accomplished, professional HR specialist, with a stellar reputation and 40 years of experience, leaves with no explanation? And the Commission appears to ask no questions, voicing little concern about why she would walk away. In fact, Chair Thiessen calls this a “Hiccup!”

The Chief and the Chair preach transparency, until the spotlight is on them. What are they hiding? They’ve been working on reforms for two years, and Chief Chaffin was head of HR for years as a Deputy Chief. We deserve answers. This profoundly affects every member of the police service. We find it hard to believe that her sudden departure came with no explanation whatsoever. Speculation and rumor within the Service feeds the belief that not even two HR specialists could survive the battles with this executive.

It’s clear the Chair of the Police Commission is out of touch with what is really going on within the Calgary Police Service. This is another fiasco which proves there are systemic problems in the oversight mechanism for our Police Service.

These startling resignations come at a critical time, and are the tipping point for the Calgary Police Association Board of Directors. We care deeply about our members and the safety of this City and simply cannot sit quietly any longer.

Chief Chaffin has resigned. It is time now for his ally, Police Commission Chair, Brian Thiessen, to resign as well.

Brian Thiessen clearly does not understand his role as Chair of the Police Commission. He has failed entirely.

His mandate is to provide objective oversight of the Chief, not to be his cheerleader. He has attempted to buffer the Chief from any criticism, has blindly supported every initiative, regardless of the detriment to the Service, and the public, and has failed to hold the Chief’s feet to the fire when necessary. He has ignored the pleas of our members, and meddles in union business, publicly attacking the CPA on several occasions. This is not a Commission function and is unprecedented conduct for the Chair of ANY Commission. Let me repeat, his role is to provide objective oversight to the Chief of Police.

Imagine this. He came out in the media and stated, “I consider Chief Chaffin a friend and I think if you were to look at the dictionary, Chief Chaffin’s picture should be beside the word integrity.” He said this knowing full well that there are pending complaints filed against the Chief. How then can anyone who’s made a complaint through the only avenue available, the Police Commission, then expect that Chair Thiessen could possibly be an impartial, unbiased adjudicator. Chair Thiessen substantiates the belief of a toxic workplace, where there exists an old-boys network, looking out for one another, deflecting any negative fallout. This perpetuates the fear that speaking out against the status quo will fall on deaf ears, and ultimately be detrimental to a police officer’s future career. Being the Chief’s FRIEND has turned into zero accountability at the very top.

The Calgary Police Service is better than this. Our police officers are hardworking, professional and courageous. The community and our members DESERVE better.

We are speaking out now, because for the two years that I have been President, the Police Association has worked hard to be collaborative, and I’ve got the documentation to prove that. We believe to be effective we should be working in unison, the Commission, the Service and the Association. In our function as a representative for our members, we brought our concerns time and again to the Commission and were disregarded on every occasion.

We watched as the Chair blindly supported bad decision after bad decision by the Chief. We have warned him that unless measures were taken, crime rates would surge upwards. Everything we predicted, everything we warned him about, that he ignored, has come to pass.

When I still led a team in Gang Suppression, Chief Chaffin and I spoke about the success the unit was having in keeping Gang activity under control in the city. Then, tenure was implemented and members were moved out. Sure enough, gang violence began to rise. As the President, I brought the issue to the Commission, and as usual, we were ignored. Now, the teams are so depleted that they only provide half the coverage that they did a few years ago. The result is that gang violence and crimes involving firearms have reached the highest levels in years.

We all know that we are battling an opioid epidemic. We warned Chair Thiessen that one of our most effective tools to combat the drug problem, our Drug Undercover Street Team, has been understaffed. These officers have been forced to take unreasonable risks and don’t have the manpower to perform operational missions safely. Criminals become more brazen when there exists huge potential for profit, and these officers simply can’t keep up. Again, the Chair has ignored our pleas, the opioid epidemic rages on, and we all suffer the results that these deadly drugs bring on our community.

We warned the Commission that the decision to disband the unit that dealt with prolific car thieves would lead to rocketing car theft rates, which they ignored. And now, we have the highest numbers in the nation.

We warned the Commission that criminals use vehicles as weapons against police officers. Recent events prove this to be true, yet the Chair did nothing when we pointed out that the changes made to internal policy could give our members pause in these dangerous encounters and put their lives at risk. What will it take to get his attention to take these issues seriously?

When Chair Thiessen blindly supported the controversial tenure policy, we warned it would ruin careers and lives of our members and the effectiveness of specialty units, and lower the quality of policing for our citizens. Two years later our warnings have all come true. Only now, through its own internal audit, the Service finally ADMITS tenure was implemented poorly, it has caused a multitude of problems, and not benefitted patrol or police operations overall.

Under Chair Thiessen’s watch, the Commission’s own surveys reveal that public confidence in the police has dropped significantly, and officer morale is at an all-time low. Brian Thiessen is a cheerleader, not oversight. He rationalizes the poor performance of the executive, or redirects it back at the union… Instead of being a powerful and influential advocate for effective policing, by his own actions, Chair Brian Thiessen has become a big part of the problem.

We need change. We need a Commission Chair who understands the job, which is to effectively oversee the Chief.

We need a Commission Chair who understands that the Service, the Association, and the Commission need to work together to address the crime challenges of our time with effective policing strategies.

We need a Chair who understands what exactly makes for an effective leader and who will find a new Chief who has the courage, abilities, and experience to lead the Service to become a proud organization once again.

We need a Chair who will ask the right questions, and insist upon transparency and accountability, starting right at the top.

Despite being ignored on every issue, and the lack of leadership and direction, our members are still working courageously to provide a high level of policing to the citizens of this City. Each individual officer takes great pride in making a difference to make Calgary a safer place to live. We are, after all, also citizens of this City and want nothing more than to make this the best place in Canada to live and to raise a family. They can only do their jobs effectively with the support of a strong Commission, starting with the Chair.

We need change.

After this, expect Brian Thiessen and his supporters to come out swinging at the Association, again…that’s okay… Let me be clear. This is not personal…it’s about policing. It’s about transparency and accountability. It’s about doing the job you’re assigned to do. And it’s about the safety of Calgarians. Clearly, we have witnessed a vacuum of proper and objective oversight. He has failed at his job.

We at the Association ask two simple questions:

  • Is the Calgary Police Service a better, more productive, and more effective Police Service since Brian Thiessen took over as Chair? The facts say NO.

  • Is this a safer City since Brian Thiessen became Chair? Again, the facts say NO.

The citizens certainly deserve better. Our members deserve better. For the safety of Calgarians and our officers, we are asking for a new Police Commission Chair.

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