‘We’ve actually regressed’ on domestic violence, Freeman says
The head of a Hamilton women’s shelter is criticizing the police services board’s decision to allow Chief Glenn De Caire to rescind his resignation.
Clare Freeman, executive director of Interval House, said “affluent” people seem to have had the most say in the decision to let De Caire stay on the job after his resignation was accepted in December.
Members of the board voted 4-3 on Monday to renew De Caire’s contract for two years with the option of extending it for another three, following an intensive lobbying campaign by some prominent citizens, including philanthropist Charles Juravinski and trucking magnate Ron Foxcroft.
Freeman said she found the decision unfair and undemocratic because it didn’t allow input from others who work with police and have concerns about the chief’s performance.
“I certainly wouldn’t support that he is the most community-minded and works with community agencies really well,” she said. “I think when you look at the fact that domestic violence is practically the No. 1 call for service, it would be our organization’s perspective that under this chief, we’ve actually regressed.”
Freeman said when her organization used to go to the service or the chief with complaints, it felt like a strong partnership.
“It doesn’t feel like a partnership anymore. It feels like we get told, this is the way it is,” she said. “I don’t want to come across as only negative. There are some things that this chief has done better, but in this area there is no progression whatsoever.”
In response to a request to comment on Freeman’s concerns, De Caire said the service has been working with the Woman Abuse Working Group, a coalition of 20 agencies working together to end violence against women, over the past five years to complete a domestic violence protocol and the sexual assault protocol. It’s also in its final stages of an enhanced women’s shelters communications protocol.
“These are not successful without a strong and committed partnership between the police and the women’s groups within the community,” he said.
Board member and Ward 5 councillor Chad Collins, who admitted to voting against the motion to extend De Caire’s contract, said he could understand Freeman’s frustration.
“There was certainly the public musings about whether the chief is coming back or not, but it wasn’t until late last week he publicly said that he wanted to stay and now we’re making our decision four days later,” he said. “That leaves no time for any individual or organization in the community to come forward and say, ‘Here’s how I feel about that, here’s how our organization feels about that.’ There’s no opportunity for public input.”
Collins said he understands it’s a “personnel issue.”
“But it’s been made a public issue by the people who have lobbied and the chief who went on the radio the other day and said I want to come back,” he said. “I can appreciate why there are some mixed feelings.”
De Caire had submitted his resignation last September, which the board accepted by a 4-3 vote in December, offering no explanation for his decision.
Last week, De Caire notified members that he wanted to remain in the job and then announced it publicly on CHML’s Billy Kelly Show.
After the 90-minute closed-door meeting where board members voted to extend De Caire’s contract, board chair and Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson told reporters that the change in vote reflected many factors that have changed since the chief resigned.
Ferguson said Deputy Chief Ken Leendertse has retired. If remaining deputy Eric Girt were to take the chief’s job, there would be an inexperienced chief and two inexperienced deputies running the service.
That could be a problem given the large soccer crowds expected here for the Pan Am Games, he said, because soccer fans “may not behave the best.”
“We thought we needed an experienced senior command within the organization to get through that period,” Ferguson said also citing De Caire’s leadership on a new $15-million forensic building and calling for changes to legislation that makes it mandatory for all suspended officers to be paid.
He said the rate of violent crime in the city also has dropped under De Caire.
“You can’t argue with the end results,” he said. “We’ve now seen that there’s a 19 per cent reduction in violent crime in 2012, which led the country. That’s a hard statistic to argue with.”
Ferguson said he couldn’t disclose how members voted, but admitted to changing his mind from December, when he voted to accept the chief’s resignation.
He said the high-profile lobbying had no effect and was approached by a “complete cross-section” of the city on the issue.
“In my view, there’s a bit of a misconception out there that this was the caviar club, if you will, that did this lobbying,” he said. “I don’t accept the arguments that it was their lobbying, it was their contact that convinced me, because it wasn’t. It was everybody that contacted me.”
When De Caire was asked about the issue of lobbying, he responded: “The office of the chief will remain independent in terms of the application of the law, the fair and unbiased application of the law.”
He said “thousands” of people asked him to stay.
“I can tell you that I am very proud of the discussion that has taken place in our city with respect to the passion and commitment for community policing and public safety,” De Caire said. “I said originally…I would listen to the board, I would listen to the members of the community and they have been all very influential in changing my decision.”
The board had already hired a headhunting firm to find a new chief, a contract with an $80,000 price tag.
Ferguson said $20,000 already paid to the recruitment firm will now be put toward recruiting a new deputy to replace Deputy Leendertse.