As a profession, police officers are held to a higher standard. They are entrusted with the public safety of citizens and with enforcing the law. In some cases, it does come down to a matter of life and death. Citizens must be able to trust their police. The trust between Charlottetown Police Services and city residents has been shaken in recent days.
Two officers were demoted following an internal investigation which found them guilty of discreditable conduct and neglect of duty. Reductions in rank, loss of salary and a fine will cost the officers more than $30,000 over the next year. These are serious consequences for unprofessional breaches of the code of discipline.
Police announced the disciplinary action in a press release which was very short on details. A woman said she engaged in sexual activities with two officers over an extended period. The salacious nature of the incidents caused wide interest and embarrassment for city police far beyond P.E.I.
A debate is swirling whether the officers should be identified. If the consensual relationships took place while the officers were off duty, well, it’s really no one else’s business. But many of the liaisons occurred while the officers were on active duty and inside a police cruiser. These breaches become even more alarming when other officers on duty would call for backup or assistance, and the officer would ignore those calls for help - to remain with the woman.
One can understand Deputy Chief Brad MacConnell’s reluctance to identify the disciplined officers out of respect for their families. But declining calls for assistance potentially put other officers or civilians at risk. That crosses any line which might shield them against public disclosure. Not naming the officers casts a pall over the entire force. All officers are now under suspicion.
There was no news conference, no opportunity to ask questions and most importantly, no accountability. The public – especially women - should be aware of predators on the force. It’s unfair for police officers who are diligent in their duties, while the negligent are protected.
The demoted officers are not the only ones shirking their responsibilities. We have yet to hear from Police Chief Paul Smith, police committee chairman Jason Coady or Mayor Clifford Lee. There is silence at the highest levels of leadership. Where are the reassurances that such actions are not condoned and won't be tolerated? It falls to Deputy Chief MacConnell – as it so often does – to face the media and the public.
Citizens should not forget that their tax dollars pay police salaries. The force must be accountable. Because the city and police are not under the provincial freedom of information act, there is no way for the public or media to obtain additional details.
Charlottetown police might suggest that it’s not trying to keep anything under wraps. But the case should have been referred to an external agency for investigation or involved P.E.I.'s police commissioner.
City police felt this case could be dealt with effectively in-house, while still maintaining transparency. But those are two twains that rarely meet.