Report finds RNC officers feel they aren’t treated fairly
By Local Journalism Initiative
By Peter Jackson
A 30-page workplace review of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has found significant deficiencies in how both civilian and police employees view their standing in the force and the opportunities available to them, but concluded the force is serving the province well despite problems with morale.
What’s been happening
“I believe that the employees of the RNC, both police and civilians, are in general a cohort of committed and experienced individuals who are proudly and effectively providing police services to the people of the Province on a day to day basis, despite the many challenges they face in doing so,” investigator Harriet Lewis wrote in her report, released Friday.
“Many civilian employees said they have remained working at the RNC despite less than perfect conditions and the possibility of higher-paid jobs elsewhere, because they believe that there is value to the community in the work they do.”
The review was commissioned in fall 2021 in the wake of numerous controversies surrounding the force, including allegations of sexual assault and a general discontent with the leadership.
While Lewis said she spoke to commissioned officers in person, most of the report seems to be based on answers to a questionnaire.
“From the outset I had been led to expect that the RNC employees, particularly the police officers, would be reluctant to engage in the review and were unlikely to be forthcoming with their experiences, stories and concerns because of a general reticence to speak to outsiders,” Lewis wrote.
“It was regrettable that the fear of identification and reprisal was still very real when some of the officers spoke with us.”
In reference to recent civil litigation for sexual misconduct in the workplace, Lewis found no one seemed taken aback.
“I was somewhat surprised that no one we spoke with was shocked by the information that was made public by the legal actions. That said, few admitted to actual knowledge of such behaviour by fellow officers.”
And while some officers said they’ve heard offensive remarks and seen inappropriate images, they did not attribute it to a general toxicity in the workplace.
“These incidents were described as unpleasant or disgusting, but were generally attributed to a specific individual’s immaturity or flawed personality, rather than to a general atmosphere in the force,” Lewis wrote.
However she added that a significant number of respondents felt there was a problem.
“There is a fairly large minority ranging from approximately 35 to 45 per cent who feel the opposite way and that indicates that more must be done to prevent such behaviour in the future and encourage it to be reported.”
Female officers currently make up about 30 per cent of the force.
Effect of publicity
Lewis devoted considerable space to the effect media has on members of the force, especially reporting of officer misconduct.
She referred to an officer who was recently convicted of sexual assault, an obvious reference to Doug Snelgrove who was sentenced to four years in December after his third trial. Snelgrove is still appealing.
The “armchair quarterbacking” that goes on in traditional and social media has a profound effect on morale, she said.
“Even when the subject officers are exonerated, the length and complication of the investigation processes undermine the confidence both of those officers and of other RNC members and has a deleterious effect on their morale and ongoing job performance.”
Among the most significant workplace concerns of officers was that of favouritism when it came to both discipline and promotion.
“The system of promotion and position selection pits members of the force against each other in competitions in which the requirements and rules are poorly understood and not clearly explained,” Lewis wrote.
“Some members told us that they believe that discipline and penalties have been applied inconsistently depending on the individuals involved, with certain people being more favoured or forgiven than others.”
In fact, only 20 per cent of respondents felt their workplace was free of favouritism. Fifty per cent strongly disagreed.
On Friday, Justice Minister John Hogan spoke briefly to reporters to acknowledge the report, but said he had not had a chance to read it thoroughly, other than the nine recommendations at the end.
“The Department of Justice and Public Safety will certainly review and look at each one, and take them very seriously as we work with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary to improve any issues that are going on at that workplace,” he said.
He agreed everyone should feel safe in the workplace.
“There should be no offensive behaviour in this workplace, in any workplace, so none of it is acceptable. That’s something we need to work on with the RNC,” he said.
And Hogan was quick to emphasize he appreciates the work police officers are doing.
“I want to let the RNC members to know that I appreciate all the hard work they do,” he said.
“We know day in and day out, these RNC officers go out on the streets and face dangerous situations and they do it to protect all of us.”
When asked for comment, both the official Opposition and RNC executive said they need to time to absorb the report and will be responding to it next week.