No official complaints have been lodged against Lethbridge’s police chief, even as some municipal officers have called into question his ability to lead the police service.
Complaints about Chief Tom McKenzie would have to go through the Lethbridge regional police commission, which is responsible for overseeing the chief’s position. But the police commission’s chair says he’s heard nothing but rumours regarding a lack of confidence in McKenzie’s continuing tenure in the top job.
“I’m surprised about the rumours,” said chair Doug McLaughlin.
“No complaints have been filed with the regional police commission with regards to the leadership of the chief — nothing has come from the association in that regard, or from any individuals.”
The Lethbridge Police Association — a union group representing rank and file Lethbridge regional police officers — passed a motion at its private annual general meeting on Oct. 1 to hold a meeting on Oct. 15 to deal with the membership's concerns about the chief.
The police commission, made up of appointed community members, is responsible for overseeing the police service. It hires the police chief and investigates complaints about the chief through a process set out in the Alberta Police Act.
If there were an official complaint filed against the chief, McLaughlin said he would follow that process.
“I would review it and if I found it to be something that we should look at, then if I needed to I would call a special meeting of the commission. Or if I found that it wasn’t that serious, I would hold it over until our next commission meeting and then the commission would discuss it in a closed-door session and then decide what action should be taken,” he said.
McKenzie, who has been with the police service for 36 years, rose through the ranks and was sworn in as chief in January 2007. Just last year, the police commission renewed his contract for three more years.
“We felt 110 per cent confident at that point that he was the right man for the job for another three years. I’ve seen nothing up to (now) that would indicate otherwise,” McLaughlin said Friday morning. “And I don’t anticipate anything that’s going to come up before the end of this contract.”
The police commission has told the chief that “we’re behind him” amid these as-of-yet undisclosed concerns from officers, McLaughlin said. The chief issued a statement Thursday in response to media inquiries about the issue, indicating that he has had no communication from the Lethbridge Police Association but that he would welcome the opportunity to speak directly about any concerns.
“One of the attributes that Chief McKenzie has is a huge commitment to the communities of Coaldale and Lethbridge. I can’t believe the hours that he puts in outside of 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., meeting with community groups, establishing and maintaining partnerships with a wide variety of organizations, most of which meet outside of his regular working hours,” McLaughlin said.
McKenzie's contract as chief expires in July 2014, and although he has not yet announced whether he plans to retire at the end of this term, the police commission is working on a succession plan to replace him when the time comes. The commission has already earmarked $50,000 from this year’s budget to search for McKenzie’s replacement, and it will continue to put away that amount for the next two years so that by the time the chief’s current contract ends, the commission will have $150,000 to spend searching for a new chief.