EDITORIALS, TOP STORIES

Life Behind the Blue Wall – An Exit Interview

Detective Sergeant Thane Chartrand (Retired - FB)
Detective Sergeant Thane Chartrand (Retired – FB)

You hear a lot about the “thin blue line.”

The media often paints an ugly picture of it by attaching negative stereotypes and connotations to the term using it in conjunction with alleged police cover ups, secrecy and criminality.

People in Law Enforcement see it a different way.

The “thin blue line” is an emotional bond that connects us. We are people who take an oath to uphold the law, protect society and risk our lives in the pursuit of peace, justice and equality. The demands of the job mean we spend more time with our work partners than our spouses and children,

The bond is only strengthened by continuous exposure to human depravity and mind bending life and death situations.

The Thin Blue Line
The Thin Blue Line

The blue stripe in the Thin Blue Line symbol represents Law Enforcement while the black stripe above represents you – the citizen. The bottom black stripe represents the predators (criminals) who prey on the people we swear an oath to protect.

There is much about Law Enforcement and Law Enforcement Officer’s that the media and public do not understand.

There’s a reason for that.

Police Organizations place significant restrictions on the quality and quantity of information it releases to the public. That “cone of silence” is often a necessity to protect the integrity of high-profile police investigations.

Unfortunately, Police Organizations often use that broad brush to control innocuous information that could and should be released to the public.

Police Organizations have policies that prohibit rank and file officers from communicating with the public. Most modern Police Organizations have created Media Liaison Units to control messaging and to facilitate the release of information.

Front Line police officers are often frustrated with inaccurate or inflammatory media reporting that conflicts with the truth, distorts events or negatively influences public perception of Law Enforcement. Officers are equally frustrated when Executive members of their Organizations say nothing and do nothing to correct the record.

Police Executives have historically remained “mum” on issues involving race, use of force or employee misconduct.

I often found the information void frustrating and decided to do something about it when I retired from the world of Policing.

The Police Insider was created to bridge the gap between the Police – Mainstream Media and the Public. It’s my attempt to offer readers news from “behind the badge” and to talk about the difficult issues Police Executives prefer to avoid.

The Exit Interview

When a WPS Officer retires from the Service the Human Resources Department asks the officer to respond to a questionnaire tantamount to an “exit interview.”

I imagine the document was designed to debrief the employee so meaningful information might be obtained to improve working conditions for serving employees.

When I retired from the Service I completed my exit interview and submitted it to HR.

My exit interview contained pointed criticisms of Police leadership, ethics, policies and procedures.

I heard nothing back and wondered what the point of the exercise was.

So I had an idea…

I thought it might be interesting to do a meaningful exit interview with a recently retired member of the Winnipeg Police Service. I ran the idea past my editor (wife) and she said, “Go for it, I think people would find it interesting.”

When WPS Detective Sergeant Thane Alexander Chartrand recently retired I wrote a story about some of his experiences and career achievements. It was my way of honouring him and celebrating some of his impressive contributions to the Police Service.

I knew I barely scratched the surface.

Thane was an Indigenous police officer of Metis ancestry who joined the WPS at a time when the relationship between the Service and the Aboriginal Community was extremely tepid.

I sensed his story could offer enlightenment and inspiration to Police Insider readers.

I guess you will be the judge.

Detective Sergeant Thane Chartrand – The Exit Interview

Detective Thane Chartrand (Photo JGJ)
Detective Thane Chartrand (Photo JGJ)

J “When did you start your career as a police officer?

TC “I started in January 1989.”

J “Why did you want to be a police officer?”

TC “I needed a job, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do as far as a career goes and was tired of jumping from menial jobs. I remember seeing an ad in the paper about a year before I applied. They wanted Aboriginal officers, at the time the WPD was getting raked over the coals regarding the JJ Harper case so I decided to take them up on their offer. I took a course thru Red River College targeting Aboriginals which helped me get through the process.”

J “Can you give me a brief synopsis of the different areas you worked during your career?”

TC “I did my field training downtown and in the north end….after 2 years, 1992, I was asked to go to the Vice Division where I worked drugs (undercover) and in the Morals Squad until 1995.

After Vice I went back to uniform to the north-end, in the summer I did the Police bike patrol unit, and in the fall and winter I worked as a Field Training Officer… for 2 years (95-96).

In 1997-2000 I was asked to work in the Robbery – Major Crimes Unit. You were there, these were different times….this is where I learned the game from the senior experienced cops.

Back home to the north-end in 2000, Uniform Patrol where I slugged it out for another tour…3 years…field training and arresting bad guys.

In 2003 (Jan) I was approached to work in the Homicide Unit, I remember there was pushback from some of the people there….it was a weird crew back then now that I think about it. We had great leaders though, competent and fully respected. I learned a lot from those supervisors during that time. I stayed in Homicide as long as I could which was until the spring of 2007.

In 2007 I worked in the Street Crimes Unit and served as the acting Sgt. I stayed there for a year or so and then back to uniform in the north-end for another tour.

In 2009 Sept I was assigned to project Devote or Murdered Missing Women for about 6 months, I mulled over reports and realized it was not my thing. I transferred out after going to the Winter Olympics in 2010.

In 2010, after another failed attempt at promotion, they gave me an acting spot in the North End Community Support Unit.

In 2011 I was successful in the promotion competition. After my promotion I did my year in uniform, downtown staying in the mix….in the spring of 2012 I found my way back to the Homicide Unit.

Between 2012 – 2016 I worked in the Homicide Unit where I recently hung my hat.

Leaving Homicide and retiring was a necessity for my mental health, it was an extremely difficult decision. The work was stressful, demanding and draining but those stresses didn’t compare to the stress created by office politics.

For example when I first arrived, there was no real direction. No one with experience, no competent leader at the helm ready to make those tough decisions. It was incredibly frustrating.

Homicide just isn’t a training ground for that.

Those years took their toll on me.

Detective Thane Chartrand (Photo JGJ)
Detective Thane Chartrand (Photo JGJ)

I think the 27 years I worked as an operational soldier caught up with me, my battery ran out, and it was time to leave.”

J “What was your most interesting assignment in the police force?”

TC “All investigative assignments aside, my most interesting and fulfilling job would be my assignment to the Street Crimes Unit. The shift I was assigned to had just experienced the Jubilee shooting. Three (3) Officers had been shot, one of them was Constable Curtis Penner, a very close friend of mine. The Unit was short on personnel and the people left to carry on were emotionally fragile, for good reason of course. I wanted to help by offering my leadership and sharing my experience. This was a proactive unit, much like old days, kicking ass and taking names. It was the best place I ever worked, mainly because of the leadership.”

J “Tell me about your best day on the job?”

TC “I’m not sure if I can answer this, I know after being promoted I felt like it was a good day, was it my best day, I’m not sure I’d rate it as one of my best days. I think I tried 6 -7 times to get promoted, so when I did, it felt like…ugh finally. At some point in your career you realize its time to take the challenge. You sit on the sidelines and see people with much less knowledge and experience getting their invite to the dance. The promotion system has its flaws but its the only game in town.”

“I had a lot of great days on the job.”

J “Tell me about your worst day on the job?”

“The bad days all become blended after a while, I think with the passage of time you become numb to everything you’re exposed to. Some of my worst days were when I realized I didn’t have the support of my co-workers or management during critical times and events. You always want to believe they have your best interests in mind but that’s just not always the case.”

“I worked in some toxic environments. Some people can be extremely negative and judgemental, that comes with the territory I guess. It was tough sometimes working for close-minded people who had much less experience than you did. Experience matters in homicide investigation but not everybody gets that.”

J “Were you ever exposed to an incident you found extremely emotionally damaging?”

TC “Earlier in my career, I remember an 8 month old child left alone to die in her crib. Her 16 yr old mother was out partying for the night and left the child to literally cry herself to death. We found the infant in the morning after a neighbour complained about the loud TV.”

Detective Thane Chartrand (Photo JGJ)
Detective Thane Chartrand (Photo JGJ)

“The mother left it on to drown out the sounds of the infant’s crying while she was out. I had an infant child at home the time, about the same age as I recall. I tried to resuscitate the child in front of the family even though I was confident the baby had been dead for several hours.”

“That was a hard one.”

J “How does somebody cope with that?”

TC “I suppressed it I suppose. After awhile we become numb to these kind incidents and block them out. I’m certainly not the only one. At the time I was junior and related it to my son. There was no “help” per se, in the form of counselling, so you chewed on it, swallowed it and stuffed it down.”

J “What was the most rewarding case you worked on?”

TC “A good solve was always rewarding. There were so many rewarding experiences. It was even more rewarding when a family of a victim reaches out to you to say thank you. That’s when you know you’ve made an impact in their lives, it’s rewarding when you receive that kind of recognition.”

J “What is the most disturbing case you worked on?”

TC “I can’t really talk about the case because it’s still before the Courts. It was a sexually sadistic killing of a young woman who was horribly abused. We worked hard on the case and faced tremendous struggles in our efforts to find some sort of justice for her. Ultimately, we were able to give her a voice and bring charges against her killer. The case was disturbing on many levels.”

J “What does it take to be a good interrogator?”

TC “You have to be a good listener. I think most interrogators think too much about what they’re going to say next and miss what’s being said. Some times you just have to shut the f_*k up and listen.”

J “Tell me about your most intense interrogation?”

TC “That would have to be my interrogation with (alleged serial killer) Shawn Lamb. The interrogation went on and on and on, over several days. He would call me, we would take him out of jail and have a nice mind f_*k chat for hours and then take him back to jail. It was intense and insane, dealing with this master manipulator was incredibly emotionally draining.”

Detective Thane Chartrand (Photo JGJ)
Detective Thane Chartrand (Photo JGJ)

J “How would you describe Lamb and how do you feel about the case now that is concluded?”

TC “Shawn Lamb is a predator. He’s just another low life out there preying on the weak. I think I could have done more with his interrogation but supervisory issues crept into the investigation and delayed the decision-making process and that didn’t help. I feel there was victory, however, it would’ve been much more satisfying if there had been a court case to expose the truth. I’m glad it is concluded, but I truly believe there was more.”

J “More bodies?”

TC “Yeah, more bodies.”

J “Did you think the Crown did the right thing when they stayed the charges against Lamb regarding the Tanya Nepinak case?”

TC “I fully understand and appreciate the difficult role the Crown plays in these cases. On a personal level, I have to say I was extremely disappointed when they stayed the charges connected to the Nepinak case. I think there were other options that could have been pursued. Win or lose, I think a trial would have been beneficial to her family for closure if nothing else. I don’t think we had anything to lose by taking Lamb to trial for Tanya’s murder.”

J “How would you describe the justice system to someone who doesn’t work in law enforcement?”

TC “Its, “Let’s make a deal” for the most part and not usually in the best interests of the victim or surviving family members. I don’t think victims get the kind of respect they deserve in our criminal justice system.”

J “Is there a disconnect between the Executive of the police department and frontline officers?

TC “Yes.”

J “Why?”

TC “It would be like an original Apple Commodore 64 with floppy discs (Executives) commanding Mac Notebooks and Apple iPhones (Front line officers) trying to understand how they work and what they do and giving them direction.”

J “What do you say to Indigenous people who have the belief police don’t investigate missing persons cases and crimes like homicide involving Indigenous women with the same intensity they do for non-Indigenous women?”

Detective Thane Chartrand (Photo JGJ)
Detective Thane Chartrand (Photo JGJ)

TC “For the most part, I think the media creates the controversy for the sake of a good story and for giving a small percentage of people a platform. We both know it isn’t true and I really think that’s all that matters. It may seem that way because the City is plagued with social problems, Aboriginal people for the most part are on the bottom rung, so to speak. Violent crime is a result of the intense social issues that face the community. More prey, more predators, to use that analogy. Investigative effort is never determined by the race of our victims, that’s insane, everyone who works in Homicide is driven by the intense desire to catch killers, and that’s the truth.”

J “Sometime ago you participated in a round table discussion with Free Press reporter Gordon Sinclair, you and several other Indigenous Officers were asked questions concerning the issue of racism and bias in the police force. Can describe your experience as an Indigenous Officer working for the Winnipeg Police Service?”

TC “Racism and bias exists everywhere, we can’t say it doesn’t. The only people who say it doesn’t exist have never had to worry about it. It exists in the Winnipeg Police Service, just like anywhere else, I can’t say it doesn’t. We all have our biases and opinions.”

“Example: If someone was being an asshole, then they are an asshole, I think it’s ok to clearly state that. “That guy was being an asshole.” When you turn the conversation to say, “That Indian was an asshole,” I think that’s wrong. There is no reason to bring race into it. If I was present during that kind of conversation I might say something like, “I think you meant to say, “That “person” was an asshole.” That’s how I might have dealt with a situation like that, but you pick your battles.”

“I was hired shortly after the JJ Harper shooting and there were a lot of old timers still on the job that came from a different generation. I accepted that, times have changed.”

“I remember being assigned to the north-end when I started my career, I’m 22 years old, one of my first shifts I decided to ride my bike to work, to the Hartford station. I had a beat up old mountain bike. I came into the north-end from the Redwood Bridge and headed north down Main St. I guess I rolled thru a red light at Mountain Ave and next thing I know I’m getting pulled over by a cruiser car.”

“This white-haired cop comes up to me and asks for my ID. Now I’ve just started with the police, in fact, I was in my last phase of field training. So I gave him my driver’s licence. He looks at my ID and says your too white to be a Chartrand. He then tells me I went thru a red light and asks if this was my bike, unfortunately, it was I assured him.”

“I guess he ran my name on the computer for any warrants, he comes back and says he was surprised I hadn’t had any contact with the police. I never told him I was a cop and he sent me on my way. Later that day I saw him at the station and he looked at me and said, “Wow I guess they will hire anyone.”

“From then on I fought hard to prove people wrong regarding their misconceptions and stereotypes.”

J “Did you ever feel discriminated against during the course of your employment?”

TC “Personally no. It’s never as blatant as one might think. Being a cop, you become good at shielding and deflecting, pick your battles. Some people are just ignorant.”

J “Why do you think Mr. Sinclair never published his article after debriefing you and the other Indigenous Officers?”

Detective Thane Chartrand (Photo JGJ)
Detective Thane Chartrand (Photo JGJ)

TC “I don’t think he got the answers he wanted. Mr Sinclair is pretty one-dimensional, he has a dislike for police. There was nothing on his agenda to report. I think he was looking for a bunch of racial controversy and it just didn’t happen.”

“I told a story that day about Mr Sinclair. I could tell he remembered me from an encounter on the street, he told the group I was abrasive with him and he was offended.”

“I told the story because I wanted him to consider his thought process.”

“This is how I remember the encounter…”

“My partner Al and I were “spot checking ” a potential robbery suspect in Osborne Village. You know, “gum shoe” type detective work. We were in plain clothes and it was probably in 1998. There was a presence behind us, it was close enough to cause us concern. Mr. Sinclair and his wife decided to play “big brother” while we were trying to do our job. We asked him to step back and he commented “Just making sure you’re doing your job properly.”

“I recall feeling he was interfering and wouldn’t step back. When we finished up with our spot check words were exchanged with Mr. Sinclair. He said he didn’t like our “tones” and demanded our names. I had no problem with his request and threw out my name. “Oh, you’re a Chartrand, when were you hired?” he asked. I told him 1989, “Well you have me to thank for your job,” he said, “Have you read my book Cowboys and Indians?”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t thank him for anything.”

“So let me get this straight, I work my ass off to get to where I am, working for the WPS in a Specialty Division catching major offenders and I have to thank Gordon Sinclair for this?”

“There was a reason I told the story to Mr. Sinclair.”

“It’s his thought process that perpetuates the systemic racism everyone is trying to change. If he believes I have him to thank for “a job” he’s wrong. I did all the hard work. I had to put up with people like him thinking I only have a job because of my race. Well I excelled in my job over the years and I hope every step of the way it wasn’t because of my race but instead was about my work ethic and ability to perform.”

“I think Mr Sinclair had a rude awakening when I explained this to him.”

“I hope he caught my play.”

J “What are some of the most significant changes in law-enforcement from the time you started to the time you recently ended your police career?”

TC “Technology, keeping up with the ever-changing fast world of technology on a shoe string budget. Policing is still the same, call comes in, police go to said call and talk to people and try to solve their problems”

J “What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in law enforcement?”

TC “You better check yourself, before you wreck yourself, to quote NWA. Just be prepared, keep fit and live healthy.”

J “Would you do it all over again?”

TC “Yes, in a heartbeat, its in my blood.”

2 Comments

  1. Terrific article James as usual. I wholeheartedly encourage our students at the Northwest Law Enforcement Academy to regularly read your articles. The topics you cover are important and useful points for generating reflection and thought in our human relations and ethics classes. Thank you!

  2. James, another great & informative article. Thane Chartrand is to be commended for his candor. During my 8 years as Chief of Police, I insisted we hire qualified officers, including First Nations, Metis, Inuit and visible minorities, and had many discussions with City officials to maintain our standards. I can assure you that Gordon Sinclair had nothing to do with who was hired during my tenure as Chief (1984-1992) and this includes Chief Clunis (1987) and Chartrand (1989). For Sinclair’s information I have never read “Cowboys & Indians.”

    For the most part, all members of the Police Service are aware of Sinclair’s reputation regarding the Police.

    I can’t comment on the current executive of the Service. During my career I served as a Detective, Det. Sergeant, Sgt. of Dets, Staff Inspector & Supt. of Crime, overseeing Homicide & Major Crime.

    As Chief, I worked hard to ensure their was no disconnect between the Executive and front-line officers. I hope I was successful.

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