Saturday, April 17, 1999

John Duncanson

P. A3.

Vocal police union vows to flex muscle

Combative leader looks at alliance with 'aggressive' U.S. law enforcement coalition

Craig Bromell and his crew at the Toronto police union have become masters at targeting their enemies, picking a fight, and then quickly silencing them through strong-arm tactics and political lobbying.

It's a formula that Bromell, president of the 7,000-member Toronto Police Association, and his executives have used successfully since they came to power 18 months ago.

Now, halfway through his term as union boss, Bromell says he's not about to let up on the politicians and police brass who have already felt the sting of his union's attacks.

"The decision-makers are probably thinking that the worst is over. But our message is: We haven't even started yet," Bromell says.

Not satisfied with what they have already accomplished at home, Bromell and his union executive hit the road earlier this month, visiting their counterparts in the United States, to find new ways to defeat their enemies while gaining political support.

"It went very well. We learned a lot," says Bromell after returning from a fact-finding mission to Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Next on the agenda, he says, is to make the police association the leading voice of police union activism not only in the province, but right across the country.

The union took its first step toward that goal last month when it pulled out of the Police Association of Ontario, dealing a major blow to the umbrella organization which represents police associations across the province.

With the pullout, membership in the umbrella association dropped to 13,000 from 18,000 front-line officers. (The other 2,000 in the Toronto union are civilian employees from clerks to dispatchers.)

For years, a small percentage of the union dues from the paycheque of each Toronto officer went to the Ontario organization. Now, that money goes directly into the Toronto union's coffers, bolstering its multi-million-dollar war chest.

'The decision-makers are probably thinking that the worst is over. But our message is: We haven't even started yet.'
— Craig Bromell, Toronto Police Union President

The fund is used to finance efforts to crush its opponents through investigation, litigation and aggressive government lobbying.

The Police Association of Ontario "is a very good organization for the small-town police forces, but we just weren't getting the value for the dollars we were putting into it," says Bromell.

His union is now looking south of the border at the National Association of Police Organizations. The U.S. coalition of police unions has a membership of more than 220,000 law enforcement officers from 4,000 forces.

It makes much more sense to put money toward them because they are much more aggressive," says Bromell, adding he will be visiting Washington, D.C. later this month to meet with officials from the U.S. organization.

In its recent foray into the United States, Bromell says the union leadership picked up some valuable tips about how, to carry out "job actions" without actually striking.

He wouldn't give specifics on what the police brass may expect next time there is a dispute or crisis over its handling of one of his members.

Bromell is already considered a bit of an expert when it comes to labour protests. It was Bromell, then a patrol officer, who helped organize the only wildcat strike in Toronto police history in January, 1995.

Bromell and others shut down 51 Division in Regent Park to protest the disciplinary hearing involving two officers.

Bromell says leaving the Ontario police association will "help all the coppers in the province if we are let go and just do what we want. We are obviously going to be much more aggressive now."

There are those in police and political circles however, who feel that Bromell and his union are already too aggressive and too powerful.

In the past year, the union has threatened to target, with ad campaigns, politicians who it deems as anti-cop.

It has all but declared war on the province's special investigations unit, vowing to carry out parallel probes into high-profile cases where officers face possible charges by the SIU for killing or injuring a citizen.

Since taking over the union in late 1997, Bromell and his executives have gone to battle on nearly every issue involving policing in the city.

When the force's fleet of cars was falling apart, the police union went on a media campaign and persuaded city hall to kick in millions to buy new cruisers. The police brass was accused by the union of being more interested in spending money on the helicopters than the sad state of the police fleet.

'The things you (Los Angeles police officers) get fired for is giving false testimony or domestic violence.'
— Gary Morgan L.A. Police Union Vice-President

The union also flexed its muscles when it came to the highly charged issue of police pursuits.

When the province announced it was considering banning chases outright in neighbourhoods, the union lobbied hard behind closed doors and was successful in having that aspect killed before Ontario announced the new chase rules April 1.

The union has also been able to keep senior command of the police force off balance for the past year after it filed a complaint last April with the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services accusing the police brass of unfairly treating front-line officers when it came to discipline.

The provincial watchdog is set to release its findings next month.

While all this was going on, the union managed to secure a 2,9 per cent raise for Toronto police officers, making them the highest paid in the province after being ranked sixth. A first-class constable makes $56,270 in Toronto.

But the SIU was at the top of their agenda when Bromell and his executives began their U.S. road trip Easter weekend. His team included vice-president Jack Ritchie, director Al Olsen, legal manager Walter Jackson, and the union's counsel, Gary Clewley.

When Bromell and his team showed up in Los Angeles police union's downtown headquarters, they were greeted warmly by Dave Hepburn, president of the 9,700-member Los Angeles Protective League.

"So, you're the thugs from Toronto," was Hepburn's joking remark as he entered a conference room where the two unions settled down for several hours of discussion.

Hepburn was obviously well aware of the media attacks on Bromell in Canada where he has been labelled by columnists and in newspaper editorial as a thug and a bully.

Bromell says they chose the City of Angels because the police force there is about the same size as Toronto's.

During the meetings, the Toronto union found it has much in common with its Los Angeles brothers, but in other ways they are worlds apart.

The Toronto union leaders were shocked to learn that in a town famous for its wild cop chases and the infamous Rodney King beating tape, there is virtually no independent agency to oversee police.

The police chief, who directs nearly 500 Internal Affairs Investigations, is the one who does the hiring and firing without much opposition.

In fact, last year the chief booted 61 cops off the force, but Gary Morgan, vice-president of the L.A. police union, says it was for non-police related criminal activities, court matters and minor incidents.

"The things you get fired for is giving false testimony or domestic violence," says Morgan. He added that no officer has been charged with a serious crime since 1992.

"What I was really taken back by in L.A. is that they have no officers on criminal charges, but they are being fired for administrative reasons," says Bromell, adding: "We don't allow people to get fired for those types of issues."

Morgan and the other Los Angeles union executives seemed aghast when told about the existence of the SIU. Such an agency is unheard of in California, or for that fact, anywhere else in the United States.

Like most American cities, police shootings and car chases that end in fatalities or serious injury in Los Angeles are investigated by the robbery and homicide units, says Morgan.

Once the police finish their report on an incident — in Los Angeles shootings alone account for more than 130 investigations a year — it's handed over to the district attorney's office. Morgan was quick to tell Bromell the reason why charges are rare in his town was that the "D.A. is part of the team."

But Morgan admits having a friendly chief prosecutor hasn't stopped Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks from getting rid of his members for minor infractions.

"When all is said and done, we are definitely ahead of them when it comes to protecting our members," Bromell says.

Clewley, Bromell's chief legal adviser and friend, says the L.A. union was eager to hear how they have been so successful in saving the jobs of even the most troubled of cops.

"I think we taught them that on the ground where the battle for the jobs is won or lost they have a lot to learn from us," says Clewley.

While the strategy is to collect all the information from their trips to the U.S., police union officials have already made plans to copy the L.A. union's highly popular grading of senior command.

The report card on 63 L.A. captains — complete with their pictures — appeared in the union's newspaper, The Thin Blue Line, last October.

It was based on a questionnaire filled in by rank-and-file members and shows there is respect for some commanders, while others are obviously loathed.

'I think we taught them (L.A. police union officials) that on the ground where the battle for jobs is won or lost they have a lot to learn from us.'
— Gary Clewlew, Toronto Police Association Legal Adviser

One captain in the narcotics squad was singled out as being "more concerned with lunch than with his officers." A newly appointed captain was greeted with this comment by his troops: "Now a commander… horrifying thought." Another was described as a "self-promoter who leads by fear in the work place."

The L.A. captains were graded on issues such as trustworthiness, integrity, communications skills, and whether they were proactive enough.

"I was impressed by their report on their command. It's something we will be taking back to our members," Bromell says, adding a similar poll will appear in the coming months in his union's magazine, Tour of Duty.

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

Created: October 9, 2000
Last modified: October 9, 2000
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