The public portion of the Taman inquiry is finally at an end. That is sure to come as a relief for bothÂ Winnipeg and East St. Paul police servicesÂ whose members’ actions andÂ testimony gave them each rather large and ugly black eyes. I refer to the chain of officers who took the stand and incredulously claimed no memory of the night’s events leading up to that terrible collision that saw Derek Harvey-Zenk kill Crystal Taman after a night of drinking and partying with other officers.
Worse still there have been whispers that the East St. Paul’s police service deliberately botched the investigation, allowing former Winnipeg officer Harvey-Zenk (a colleague of the St. Andrew’s chief) to walk away with only house arrest.
We’ve heard complaints that Harvey-Zenk’s colleagues (and fellow party-goers) have been unfairly tarred. People who believe that haven’t been paying attention; these officers made their beds and now they have to lie in them. Police officers who claim no memory of details of events like theseÂ are, in my opinion,Â either completely incompetent or lying.
A lot needs to be done from a crisis communications and public relations perspective. Police forces need credibility to exercise their authority. The public has to believe that police officersÂ willÂ act fairly and serve justice even if the criminals happen to be people of power or fellow officers.Â I’d be tempted to sack several of these officers because they have failed to live up to the honourable standardsÂ which we expect. If they can’t be sacked,Â they should be severely reprimanded. It wouldn’t be out of line toÂ hold themÂ in rank for the rest of their careers.
IÂ was encouraged to hear that the Rural Municipality of East St. PaulÂ offered an apology to the Taman family for what was clearly an incompetent investigation. That action shows the RM council understands how awful people perceive this case. I’ve not heard the same from the City of Winnipeg or its police service. Our civic leaders and police chief need to address this credibility gap immediately or things will get worse for the police. If nothing is done, then everyone will assume it’s just business as usual and our collective trust in our police service will continue to erode.
As I wrote before, this is both a management issue for the police (they need to execute on policies) and a communications issue. It’s not enough to do something, you have to be seen to be doing it.