Corporate Power Brokers

Corporate Power Brokers – How to Beat Them at Their Own Game (Part I)

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In the Spring of 2009 I accepted one of two coveted positions of Sergeant in charge of the Winnipeg Police Service’s Homicide Unit.

The City of Winnipeg has long been considered the Murder Capital of Canada (per capita) and often ranks #1 in the Country when it comes to violent crime, robbery, sexual assault, auto theft, arson and many other significant crime categories.

This wasn’t a job I lucked into.

I spent my entire twenty-two (22) year career, up to that point, working on the front lines confronting the criminal cesspool that had taken root in the City of Winnipeg.  I was a passionate, dedicated criminal investigator with over fourteen (14) years experience specifically investigating complex, high-profile and violent crime.  After securing two (2) promotions I found myself working in middle management where I would demonstrate the ability to elevate the performance of police officers and under achieving crime fighting Units.

Running the Homicide Unit was a great opportunity, an opportunity I worked hard for.

At the time of my assignment, the Homicide Unit consisted of a total of ten (10) investigators with the following rank structure

The WPS Homicide Unit enjoyed an excellent reputation and boasted a 90% solvency rate over a twelve-year period.

  • Sergeants (Supervisors / Case Managers) – 2
  • Detective Sergeants – 5
  • Detective Constables – 3

The WPS Homicide Unit enjoyed an excellent reputation and boasted a 90% solvency rate over a twelve-year period. These kind of numbers are extremely rare and were a product of over a decades work by extremely hard-working, committed supervisors and investigators.  In comparison, several other Canadian police agencies reported solvency rates in the mid 60% range.  I tremendously enjoyed my position in the Homicide Unit.  The work was extremely challenging and rewarding. During my tenure I brought several innovations to the unit that included;

  • Establishing a task management system
  • Creating electronic supervisory notes for investigative tracking and accountability
  • Creating electronic Crown briefing documents to facilitate the authorization of criminal charges
  • Creating a file auditing system
  • Creating protocols for cold case transition.

My working relationship with the officers in my chain of command was excellent during this time. It was clear, I was a valued employee and my superiors were satisfied with my performance.  I consistently received praise regarding the innovations I brought to the Unit and for the hard work and difficult “solves” we were able to secure regarding several gang related murders.  We were experiencing incredible success after cracking several extremely hard-core gang related murders.  These were first-degree murder cases that very few people believed could be solved.

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Winnipeg Free Press

We were able to “cut the head off the snake” by charging one of the Indian Posse street gangs reputed leaders with first-degree murder and took down many of his high-ranking captains and gang council members.  This type of success was almost unprecedented.

It was a great team effort and we all celebrated the results.

In early 2010, the Police Service initiated one of the most significant reviews ever conducted regarding Homicide Unit operations.  The Police Service attempted to disguise the true intent of the review but everyone in the “know” realized the review was initiated in direct response to the salaries earned by certain members of the Homicide Unit during the 2009 calendar year.  Specifically, the salary earned by Sgt Ken Shipley #1099, my partner and other Sergeant assigned as coordinator of Homicide Unit Operations.

In 2009, Sgt Shipleys’ salary was reported in the City of Winnipeg’s Compensation Disclosure Report as $190,093.69. My salary that year was reported as $181,635.55.  (These were top ten salaries for all City of Winnipeg employees.)  Other significant salaries in the report were published as follows:

  • Chief Keith McCaskill $180,040.54
  • Deputy Chief Shelly Hart $154,328.49
  • Deputy Chief Art Stannard $152,299.82

Herein laid the problem.

Two peons who ranked far down the food chain had earned salaries higher than the top ranking Executives in the Police Service.

As petty as it may seem, it was true.  Word trickled down from the Executive Offices that certain high-ranking members of the Police Executive simply couldn’t handle the fact the Homicide Sergeants earned significantly higher salaries than they did.  Rumour had it they believed gross mismanagement or fraudulent activity of some sort was behind these numbers and they were determined to expose it.

The reality couldn’t have been further from the truth.

This thought process was reflective of ego driven mentalities so disconnected from the realities of modern-day policing they presented themselves as nothing more than clueless bobble-heads.  These paper pushers failed to conduct even one simple inquiry into these important fiscal matters.  Inquiries that might have provided them with some real insight into these “allegedly” overblown salaries. The review was inspired by an uniformed knee jerk reaction that failed to take any of the relevant or obvious causation factors into account.  These factors included:

  • The impact of retroactive pay paid in 2009
  • The impact of a rare extra pay period in 2009
  • The impact of artificially inflated earnings paid to Sgt Shipley

The other significant thing “they” failed to recognize was increased salaries, such as ours, were being experienced across the board in all comparative Homicide Units throughout the Country.

There was no real mystery to any of this to those of us engaged in the work. We knew what the driving forces were, all they had to do was ask.

There was no real mystery to any of this to those of us engaged in the work. We knew what the driving forces were, all they had to do was ask.

Homicide investigation was becoming more difficult, more complex and more labor intensive every year and in every jurisdiction. The involvement of Organized Crime and Street Gangs in homicide was a significant contributing factor when it came to the bottom line.  The evolution of criminal justice, digitally recorded interviews and interrogations, disclosure obligations and increasing administrative requirements were also driving factors. The members of the Police Executive who questioned our integrity simply could have picked up the telephone and asked a few questions to discuss their concerns.  If they had I could have provided them with some of the following enlightening information;

  • The unsolved homicide rate in the City of Winnipeg had increasingly climbed over the last thirteen years
  • From the six-year period 2000-2005 the Homicide Unit reported a total of nine (9) unsolved homicides
  • From the six-year period 2006-2011 the Homicide Unit reported a total of twenty-five (25) unsolved homicides
  • These figures represented a staggering unsolved Homicide case increase of 177.77% during the noted time frame

(The Homicide Unit has not secured a 100% solvency rate for ten (10) years now.)

Everyone in the game knows unsolved Homicides cases are labour intensive, time-consuming, costly undertakings. Knowledge is power, unfortunately, certain members of the Police Executive had none.  Sadly, the questions were not asked and the review was commissioned.  The review was to be conducted by a young, ambitious Sergeant who had no practical experience in homicide investigation.

(I welcomed the review and knew it would be enlightening for senior management.)

The review was to explore the following topics:

  • Unit Mandate
  • Resources
  • Call Out Procedures
  • Continuing Overtime
  • Shifting

Once the review started it became clear that “Tenure” was also going to be a critical topic for review.

Tenure was a hot topic for discussion in the Homicide Unit.

In the spring of 2010 the Police Service instituted a new transfer policy that proved to limit the time officers could serve in the Unit.  The new policy ensured the Winnipeg Police Service had one of the most strict and limiting transfer policies of any Police Service in the Country.  It also placed two of my junior Detectives directly in the transfer policy cross hairs.  After working only two (2) years in the Homicide Unit these officers were designated as mandatory transfers. I was determined to fight to keep these officers who had only recently traversed the steep learning curve associated with homicide investigations.

From a business standpoint, it made absolutely no sense to lose investigators after we were only just starting to realize a return on our investment.

From a business standpoint, it made absolutely no sense to lose investigators after we were only just starting to realize a return on our investment.

The policy was a real problem for those of us in middle management who recognized the value and need for experience in our daily operations. Unfortunately, upper management was blind to these concerns.

On February 1, 2010, I wrote a detailed report to the Chief of Police articulating my argument to extend tenure in the Homicide Unit.  My report was signed off and supported by my Divisional Commander Inspector Jim McIsaac. I was extremely hopeful and pleased when I received an email from the Chiefs Executive Assistant who stated, “I will offer this assurance, your special (report) has not fallen on deaf ears.”

This email message proved to be a very important, albeit unofficial, acknowledgement of support from the Chief’s Office.  In any event, the review went forward and we were elated with the results.


The findings pointed to some revealing information regarding WPS Homicide Unit Operations:

RESOURCES:

  • Unit operates with half the investigative personnel of comparators
  • Unit operates with no civilian staff support in contrast to comparators who employed 1 – 15 civilian staff support members
  • Unit case load is extremely heavy

OPERATIONAL COSTS:

  • Unit solves homicides at approximately 50% of the cost of comparators

TENURE:

  • Unit operated under one of the most restrictive transfer policies in the Country

SOLVENCY RATES:

  • Unit has one of the highest solvency rates in the Country

The results must have stunned the people who drove the process.

They were looking for fraudulent activity only to find we were an extremely successful unit who operated at a fraction of the cost of comparators with half the employees and resources.

The report also identified significant occupational health concerns regarding excessive hours of overtime being worked and the inherent danger to employees during their commutes home after working lengthy shifts. The common sentiment expressed in the Crime Division at this time was, “What the fuck were they going to do now?”

“They” asked the question and “they” got their answer.  We knew they were sorry, but it was too late for that now.

After much consideration, “they” decided to form a “Homicide Review Panel” to examine the findings of the Operational Report and to make recommendations to the Executive of the Police Service.  My invitation to join the panel came on August 24, 2010, and identified me as a representative for “Homicide Unit Interests.”  It was interesting that I held the lowest rank of all panel members, yet I was the only person on the panel who had “any” operational experience in homicide investigation.  I noted I was identified in the Operational Review Report as a “subject matter expert.”

I was pleased to sit on the panel and took a leadership role in our deliberations.  Ultimately the panel made several unanimous recommendations, which included:

  • Increase in tenure
  • Increase in investigative personnel
  • Addition of a dedicated affiant
  • Addition of a dedicated analyst
  • Addition of civilian support staff

The recommendations were a virtual Christmas wish list for me as a Supervisor in an overworked, understaffed, under supported unit.

The recommendations were a virtual Christmas wish list for me as a Supervisor in an overworked, understaffed, under supported unit.

Now it was up to the Police Executive to consider and implement the recommendations.  The most important consideration for the Homicide Unit at this time was the issue related to tenure.  I had a total of three (3) investigators with their heads on the chopping block.  It was my position that it was essential to the units’ operational ability that we keep all three.  This would not have been an issue in any other police jurisdiction.  Adding to the intrigue and anticipation was a change in leadership in my chain of command.

Early in the year rumour had it our Commander, Inspector McIsaac was slated to move to the position of Executive assistant to the Chief of Police.

Rumor also had it his replacement was going to be newly promoted Inspector Rick Guyader.

The official transfer date was to be effective February 27, 2011, although, as is customary, Guyader would be involved in decision-making and other unofficial duties to facilitate a smooth transition. I had no negative history with Guyader and remained optimistic regarding our potential for a good working relationship.  Sadly, the more exposure I had to him the less enthusiastic I became.  Guyader presented himself as gruff, curt, and entirely disinterested in police work.  I noted he’d often walk past people in the hallways first thing in the morning and not even bother to offer a greeting.  I also observed his office door was always closed.  This was a significant departure from the previous leadership who encouraged and participated in cordial, open communication.

Word around the water cooler indicated Staff Sergeant Mike Stephens (Human Resources) was coming to the Crime Division to fill a spot vacated by my former boss, Staff Sergeant Rhyse Hansen.  Stephen’s official transfer date was to be March 27, 2011, but as was customary, he would also start becoming involved in Crime Division business and the decision-making process.  I had great expectations for a positive working relationship with Staff Sergeant Stephens.  He was young and athletic and played with me on the police basketball team during an earlier stage in my career.  He was also on the Homicide Review Panel and had joined panel members in establishing review panel recommendations.

In the spring of 2011, Sgt Ken Shipley, the other Sergeant assigned to the unit, was set to retire from the Police Service.  With his departure we were set to lose almost thirty-six (36) years of invaluable police experience.  As a result of his retirement, it was clear I was going to be required to assume greater responsibility for the daily operations of the Homicide Unit.

Additionally, I would be taking responsibility for the majority of “new” cases as Sgt Shipley transitioned out of the Service.

The year started off at a torrid pace with seven killings in the first two months.  One of these killings occurred on February 18 and involved the brutal murder of a vibrant seventy-three (73) year old widower named Elizabeth Lafantaisie.

Right from the onset I realized this was going to be one of the most difficult, stressful and labor-intensive cases I had coordinated up to this point in my homicide career.  The victim was a lovely, decent woman who did not deserve the fate that befell her.  I found myself deeply invested in the case.  I remember going to bed after working a very long shift during the first phase of the investigation and swearing to myself I would never rest until we brought her killer to justice.

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Winnipeg Free Press

I was fully committed to the case and was ready to bring every ounce of my energy to the table to resolve it.

The investigation had many moving parts with multiple plots and sub-plots in play.  It required significant front loading and dozens of Detectives committed to the task.  Ultimately, forensics provided us with the lead that would eventually break the case. (I will not get into the evidence as the case remains before the Courts.)  The resolution of the case was widely celebrated by members of the Police Service.  In fact, it was so high-profile the Chief of Police attended my office, shook my hand and expressed his great relief and appreciation for a job well done.  He also congratulated every investigator in my unit, an extremely rare gesture.

My new boss, Inspector Guyader accompanied the Chief and echoed his generous comments.

I was in a very good place at this point.

My supervisory skills and organizational ability were continuing to improve and evolve.  I continued to enhance my file management systems and continued to learn and grow with every case.  The Detectives in the Unit were all highly motivated, low maintenance people who required very little in the way of supervision. They were dedicated, committed professionals who checked their ego’s at the door.  They eagerly accepted every assignment and never bitched or complained.

I could see dramatic improvements in their interviewing and interrogation skills which were clearly starting to exceed industry standards.

I don’t believe I’ve ever worked in a higher functioning environment at any time during my entire career.

The future was looking bright, very bright, or so I thought.

NEXT WEEK: Corporate Power Brokers – The Winds of War

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3 Comments

  1. The WPS transfer policy often left me scratching my head as well. A member would go into a specialized unit, get all the training associated in that position and then be transferred out, often with the excuses, it was necessary to further your career and/or to enable others to be able to gain the experience in that position. There were times no one else applied at transfer time.

  2. Excellent read (part 2) James! “Winds of War” should be interesting…..

  3. Hi Jim,

    Make a big difference and run for office- take a leadership role with the city and then make your changes within the inner circle. You have the credibility, experience and passion. You also have the intelligence and balance to ensure oversight and vision. We do need strategic leadership within our political environment.

    There are many that believe and trust you. Time to step up. Lots of good writers out there- we need good leaders.

    Mike Lagace
    MBA- Public Relations and Communications

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