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Leaders looking outward for new police chief

Local leaders say an external hire for chief could help reorient the Thunder Bay Police Service, echoing earlier public feedback.
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THUNDER BAY – Local leaders are expressing a desire to look outward for a new chief of the Thunder Bay Police Service.

Remaining members of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, along with the head of the Thunder Bay Police Association, said an outside hire could help reorient a force reeling from repeated controversies.

Current chief Sylvie Hauth announced her retirement Friday, the same day it was learned she will face Police Services Act hearings on three counts of alleged misconduct. Hauth has said she plans to remain in her role until June 2023.

Mayor Bill Mauro, one of two remaining members of the police services board, said in an interview selecting a new chief from outside the force would bring distinct benefits.

“There may be a great internal candidate that comes forward, but I really do feel [it’s important] that serious consideration be given to an outside candidate, as a result of what has gone on over the number of years – a new set of eyes, a fresh perspective, coming in and taking a good long hard look at things.”

“Of course, you need to be objective and open to anyone who makes an application, and give serious and fair consideration to all applicants,” he added.

Mauro said he’d give outside candidates a strong look “if I’m still there and part of this process” (he will first have to weather the Oct. 24 municipal election).

The appointment of Hauth, a career TBPS officer, in 2018 by the previous police services board came despite results of a public survey indicating a desire for new leadership from the outside.

Thunder Bay Police Association president Colin Woods said given the scale of internal challenges, it could be the right call.

“I think if the board really wants to effect change, looking on the outside might be a good option,” he said.

“To get somebody from the outside might do the service a lot of good – to have somebody come in that has no ties to Thunder Bay, no ties to people working underneath them, and can kind of come in with a fresh set of eyes… Coming from the inside, we might not get that.”

The new chief will have their work cut out for them restoring not just public confidence, but that of rank and file officers, Woods said.

He pointed to the results of a 2021 survey showing up to 80 per cent of TBPA membership “basically has no faith in our management.”

“If we did that survey today, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that number higher,” he said.

Those results showed staff wanted the chief to be more visible and engaged in day-to-day policing work, and highlighted concerns over human resources, transparency, and mental health.

Woods cast Hauth’s departure as necessary to address those concerns.

“If I can be blunt about it, it’s probably a year too late,” he said. “Our service has been in crisis mode for quite some time.”

The TBPA president has echoed concerns from others within the service who allege TBPS leadership created a culture of fear and reprisal.

“You speak out, and they target you,” Woods said earlier this year, welcoming the OCPC investigation into Hauth and other TBPS leaders.

He expressed optimism a changing of the guard at the top could bring about a real culture change.

“Hopefully this retirement of Chief Hauth will bring in a new administration, and the Thunder Bay Police Association looks forward to working with that administration to get this service pointed in the right direction.”

The association hopes to be included in the recruitment process for the new chief, he said.

Georjann Morriseau, the other remaining police services board member, agreed it will be key for rank and file officers to have input.

“They’re the day-to-day folks,” she said. “I’d like to see a chief of police come in who engages at all levels, and doesn’t forget where they come from.”

She said she’s friendly to the idea of an external hire, but cautioned the conversation about change in the TBPS needs to go much further.

“I see the merit in hiring outside the service, however I don’t think we should focus all of our attention on that,” she said. “It’s going to take more than just an external body to come in and all of a sudden, everything gets better. I think there needs to be a very serious conversation.”

The hiring process must be “robust,” she said, and should be guided by an outside firm with experience with police recruitment.

“We’re not going into this just recruiting a chief of police who’s coming into a fairly functioning service. They’re coming into a broken service, and having to repair that damage. A big part of it is the people – there’s broken people.”

Morriseau herself has alleged harassment and discrimination by police leadership including Hauth and other members of the board, in complaints to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

That makes her one of at least 11 current and former TBPS officers, staff, and board members to file HRTO complaints against police leadership.

It’s not yet certain if the hiring decision will end up in the hands of the provincially-appointed administrator, Malcolm Mercer, or the board itself, Morriseau said.

However, she described the decision-making process so far under Mercer as relatively “positive,” saying he has sought meaningful input from remaining board members.

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