Low morale plaguing Winnipeg Police Service: survey

A survey on morale shows 60 members of the Winnipeg Police Service contemplated suicide over the last year.

Over concerns about morale, the service agreed to the survey initially proposed by the Winnipeg Police Association.

It was conducted over two weeks in early April with 1,104 officers and 360 civilian employees responding.

The survey concludes low morale is impacting health and the quality of service, burnout is significant, bullying and harassment are extensive and there are significant concerns with the police executive, particularly with Chief Danny Smyth.

“When members were asked to describe their workplace using a single word, the most common words included toxic, frustrating, stressful, good, challenging and depressing,” the survey report states.

 "I’ve reviewed it once, gone through it once," said Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth. “It’s really – it’s really a humbling experience. No other way to put it.”

More than half of the members said their work is impacting their mental health.

The survey report said 44 sworn members and 16 civilian members seriously contemplated suicide in the last 12 months.

The report said a feeling of not being valued or heard by top brass, the Defund the Police movement and COVID-19 are contributing factors to the low morale.

It said officers feel “hated” in the community and through the media, and want leadership, specifically Chief Smyth, to support them internally and publicly.

The survey said many respondents discussed a lack of caring communication from the Chief following a recent member’s suicide.

“I think very highly of our members, but I think I need to find new ways to be able to demonstrate that,” said Smyth.

On harassment and bullying, the survey found 41 per cent of civilian employees and 32 per cent of sworn members said they were victims in the last three years and many were afraid to speak up.

“Many told narratives about how reporting the bullying and harassment would be ‘career suicide’ and if you do report it, it will only make the situation worse,” the report states.

The report said a theme emerged from respondents of “problem employees” being protected by the union and the service.

It also says demands in front-line policing are leading to stress, and members feel burned out and “betrayed,” believing general patrol is understaffed.

Winnipeg Police Association President Moe Sabourin said he is committed to working with the service to fix the problems but he questions how a leader like Smyth can stay in his job with the survey results.

“I don’t know how that person would think that they can continue to lead the organization,” said Sabourin.

Sabourin says more mental health supports are needed and a redeployment is required to beef up general patrol.

“I do feel optimistic that the senior management has committed to making these changes I’m just...concerned there may be a hindrance to those changes.”

Smyth said he is committed to responding to his officers and civilian staff and adds labour relations can be tough.

Smyth said there are opportunities to expand the service’s behavioural health supports.

For everything else, Smyth said working committees are being formed comprised of members from all levels of the service and the union to deal with the concerns raised in the report.

“Clearly it would appear some of our members have something to contribute here in terms of ideas,” said Smyth.

The report can be viewed below.