When Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire announced last week that he would not be renewing his contract and would be leaving the force at the end of 2014, it left many Hamiltonians wondering why.
A week later, citizens are still asking the same thing.
So far, De Caire has refused to address the matter publicly and those in a position to know, like mayor and police board chair Bob Bratina, aren’t talking.
There could be a thousand different reasons for De Caire’s departure, from the truly private and personal to a shot at what he may perceive as a better job (perhaps it’s just coincidence that Toronto chief Bill Blair’s contract expires in April 2015), but his unexplained decision leaves local policing in limbo for the next 16 months.
Whether you agree with him or not, De Caire has been a very effective advocate for the police at city hall, winning increases in both budget and staff in a time of citywide austerity. He knows how to play hardball and isn’t afraid to stare down councillors who might otherwise oppose him. But now, he’s lost his leverage. Council knows he won’t be around (although, given that there is a municipal election next fall, perhaps some on council won’t be around either) so it can stick to its guns and wait for the next guy or gal to don the chief’s uniform.
And what sort of buy-in will De Caire get from the community for any new projects he proposes? At this point almost anything of substance that he comes up with won’t be operational until after he’s gone. Why should residents take a chance on something that could be cancelled before it gets going?
Then there is the impact that the mysterious announcement will have on the rank-and-file officers of the Hamilton police. There is no question that the men and women in blue are professionals and that De Caire’s decision won’t lead to anarchy within the ranks, but one wonders if having their boss bail with no explanation will have a demoralizing effect on those sworn to keep the peace? And if it does, how will that translate onto the street?
In most professions, the public has no right to know the exact reasons why someone quits their job and moves on to other things, but police chief isn’t most jobs. It is a job that requires the public trust, a trust that must be re-earned every minute of every day. De Caire has often seemed to forget that, refusing to share basic information with the public and acting as if he is only accountable to the police board and not the people of Hamilton. Burying the announcement of his departure at the end of a press release which read like a cover letter for a job application, De Caire has once again broken that trust and may find it difficult for the rest of his tenure in Hamilton to get it back.
And that’s bad news for police and civilians alike.