Winnipeg police board ‘concerned’ with results of mental health, workplace culture survey

“Toxic,” “frustrating” and “broken.” Words used by Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) members to describe the overall morale of its work environment.

Only one positive word, “good,” was among the 10 words respondents came up with.

“These are serious problems and it is clear that without prompt and decisive action, they will only get worse,” Winnipeg Police Association (WPA) president Maurice Sabourin said in a statement Friday.

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The report includes anonymous comments from members explaining what their work environment is like, how they feel about the job and the level of support.

The latter is evidently inadequate, given the number of comments including mention of Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth, the executive management team and other supervisors’ “lack of support.”

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The survey said anti-police public opinion, the COVID-19 pandemic, negative media attention and internal politics all played a part in issues leading to a toxic work environment.

Markus Chambers, chair of the Winnipeg Police Board, said Friday the board is “very much concerned” with the health and wellness of WPS members.

“It does impact their ability to provide effective and efficient service if it is not addressed,” Chambers said.

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The board is turning to a human resources specialist to address the results of the survey.

Chambers said he couldn’t comment on the internal issues which need to be addressed, and will turn to Chief Smyth to create an action plan.

Just over a year after George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police, Chambers said the public’s perception of policing has made officers feel “invalidated.”

“It can be weighing emotionally on you as you try to do your job on a daily basis,” said Chambers.

The board chair said he was only made aware recently of harassment within the WPS and said human resource advice will be taken when coming up with a plan that addresses the issue internally or externally.

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The survey shows 41 per cent of Civilian and 32 per cent of Sworn members say they have been the victim of workplace harassment or bullying in the last three years.

“When a problem is addressed, it usually is at the expense of the ‘victims’ who dared to stand up for themselves,” one of the anonymous comments states.

Chambers said there is a chain of command observed by officers when it comes to reporting harassment or bullying that will be addressed as well.

“We definitely need to look at if that’s the best way of dealing with those types of issues,” said Chambers.

Sabourin said he and the WPA will work “constructively” with the WPS Executive and are hopeful it accepts the findings in the report.

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