The new head of the RCMP in B.C. is vowing to transform the culture of the force to ensure sexually harassed officers can safely blow the whistle on their tormenters and get help.
Assistant Commissioner Craig Callens took over as RCMP ‘E’ division commander last month amid a series of allegations of harassment by female officers that began late last year when former B.C. RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Catherine Galliford went public with her own experience of being hounded by men in the force.
Most female officers he’s heard from report a “very positive” experience in the RCMP, Callens said, but that doesn’t change his view that much more must be done.
“Frankly, one case is too many,” he said in an interview with Black Press.
“I’m not persuaded that our response to these sexual harassment allegations has been timely enough or has been fulsome enough.”
Callens is seeking advice from throughout the force to improve the reporting process so abused officers can be confident their complaints will be acted upon and they won’t face retribution.
He said he’s interested not just in rooting out harassers, but also examining the response of those in the force, particularly immediate superiors, who have allowed it to fester under their watch.
“I will be equally interested in what kind of information the supervisor or the local leader or officer-in-charge of the detachment had and what he did about it.”
New policies will require strict timelines for investigation and action on harassment complaints, he said.
Callens agreed the harassment disclosures have been the latest in a barrage of blows to the RCMP in this province – ranging from Robert Dziekanski’s death at Vancouver airport to missteps in the investigation of serial killer Robert Pickton – that have pummelled the morale of officers.
Despite that, he said public confidence in the force does not deserve to be eroded because an overwhelming majority of RCMP officers “do an exceptional job every day.”
Callens also suggested Mounties don’t get enough credit, either for their greater transparency in recent years of disclosing incidents of officer misconduct, or for their support of external civilian oversight of police in those cases.
“We embrace and look forward to external review and civilian oversight,” he said, adding he could not be more pleased that Richard Rosenthal has been named as B.C.’s first civilian police investigator. Rosenthal is known for busting corrupt police in Los Angeles.
Callens said the RCMP will intensify its push in 2012 to lead a province-wide gun and gang strategy involving all RCMP detachments and municipal forces.
He said that will build upon the creation of additional Combined Forces Special Enforcement Units – which coordinate anti-gang investigations – in Prince George and Kelowna.
But he also argued B.C.’s anti-gang strategy of the last couple of years has been “very effective,” noting the number of gang-related murders fell from its peak of 35 in 2009 to 18 in 2010 and less than 10 last year.
Long-term success against gang crime will depend more on education and prevention, as well as rehabilitation of offenders, he said.
Callens declined to discuss the repeated calls for marijuana decriminalization.
On the issue of roadside penalties for impaired drivers, Callens said there’s no debating the fact they’ve been effective in reducing drinking driving, noting the more than 40 per cent cut in impaired driving fatalities.
But he said the sanctions must be constitutional and accepted by the courts, adding the force respects the court ruling that partially overturned the penalties and will work with the province in responding to it.
Callens said the single biggest area of success in recent years for the Mounties has been their pursuit of intelligence-based crime reduction initiatives.
“In almost all of our communities we have seen significant reductions in crime,” he said, listing 25 to 30 per cent reductions in property crime in Surrey, Prince George and Kelowna.
Those gains come from using crime analysts to identify prolific offenders who officers can target, preferably for reform through other social services partners who can provide drug treatment and other support.
Crime reduction strategies have gone from a pilot project tests in 2005 to “core business in every single detachment,” Callens said.
“We’ve made considerable gains, but we’re not taking our eye off the ball,” he said. “It remains a priority. We will be developing newer and even more comprehensive strategies to deal with violent crime and domestic violence in the years to come.”
Callens, a third-generation Mountie with 26 years in the force, comes to the province’s top post after working in general duty, major crime and federal drug enforcement.
He’s served in Prince George, Wells, Kamloops, Surrey and then at ‘E’ division headquarters in Vancouver.
He said the biggest challenge that has emerged for police in recent years have been landmark court decisions that now require vastly more paperwork to disclose every facet of an investigation to the defence.
“Our investigators are required to disclose every piece of paper, every computer entry, every query and inquiry they conduct over the course of that investigation,” Callens said. “That has dramatically changed the way we need to approach investigations.”