Thursday, August 11, 1994


p. A20.


The departure of Chief McCormack

Stripped of the spin surrounding Police Chief William McCormack's resignation -- is he being pushed out or leaving of his own volition? -- the fact is, he is stepping down. That's good news.

He clearly would have liked an extension at the end of his five-year term this fall. But that was not readily forthcoming from the Metro Police Service Board, the civilian agency that supervises the force. There was some concern that he might launch a divisive public campaign through the fall election to hang on to the job. That doubt now has been removed.

The chief has done the right thing by giving the board a date for his departure -- early January -- to allow for an orderly transition, although he dissuaded the members from discussing it publicly. "We agreed to leave the impression that he would not give us a firm date" for his departure, said a member.

McCormack obviously didn't want to be seen to be bowing to the board's timetable. Fine. There's no loss in letting him keep his pride and departing on his own terms.

There's no denying that McCormack loved policing, that he put his heart and soul into his job, and that he was much admired by many in the force. But, on balance, he was the wrong man for the times.

A chief who wanted, above all, to be liked by his men -- and they are mostly men -- McCormack was particularly weak on internal disciplinary matters, notably the notorious Junger and Whitehead affairs.

In the former, the chief allowed an officer who had been running an escort agency to resign quietly rather than face charges. In the Whitehead case, an officer who extracted sex from a woman on pain of a prostitution charge was demoted rather than fired. A provincial inquiry that looked into both cases thundered that the force had demonstrated "a tremendous lack of integrity."

As a weak manager, McCormack also had a tendency to back down in confrontations with the union over such fundamental matters as the provincial government's "use-of-force" guidelines. When union members protested by doffing their hats and discarding their badges in the fall of 1992, they escaped with little more than a reprimand for ignoring his orders and more importantly, breaking departmental regulations.

As well, McCormack failed -- despite some attempts -- to douse the flames of the dispute between the force and the black community, which feels no less harassed by Metro police than when he became chief.

His five years also were marked by ongoing conflict, and public spats, with the board and particularly its chair, Susan Eng, ever since her appointment. He had trouble accepting her as a chair with a strong provincial mandate to bring about fundamental changes so that the board was no longer a rubber stamp for the chief, as it was under her predecessor, June Rowlands.

Change doesn't come easy to institutions, especially paramilitary ones. Instead of providing the needed leadership, McCormack resisted reforms -- budget cuts, community policing, equal treatment of all taxpayers. He thus set a bad example for the rank-and-file, and ended up scoffing at the most basic premise of democracy: civilian control over those in uniforms.

It is essential that his successor come to the job recognizing and respecting such civilian authority. The alternative is unthinkable: a police force answerable to nobody but itself.

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