Former HR director alleges toxic work environment at Calgary Police Service

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Former HR director alleges toxic work environment at Calgary Police Service in open letter
The former head of human resources at the Calgary Police Service is speaking out, alleging a culture of bullying and harassment within the service. As Adam MacVicar reports, she’s penned an open letter. – Feb 28, 2024

A former director of human resources at the Calgary Police Service says CPS was rife with harassment, bullying and discrimination.

Angela Whitney says she’s worked in HR for two decades, and during the two years she was with CPS, says she saw conduct that ran counter to best practices.

“I have never seen a culture like this in my life, and I have made a career out of culture, behaviour and labour,” Whitney told Global News. “There was just really pervasive behaviors, a lot of harassment, a lot of bullying, sexual harassment, and really discriminatory behavior towards constables.”

But CPS Chief Mark Neufeld said a lot of work has been done to improve police culture in Calgary in the years since Whitney left the job.

And Calgary Police Commission chair Shawn Cornett said the civilian oversight body is aware of her allegations but has not received the allegations formally, so is unable to act on them.

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“Cultural change is complex. It takes time and effort, and it continues to be a concern for the commission. And we’ll continue to pay attention as we go forward,” Cornett said.

A look back

Whitney said she was brought into the CPS at a time of reform under then-new Chief Neufeld. Whitney said she thought her professional background in labour could be useful on the job.

“I had seen what had occurred in the news and I am so supportive of first responders, so I naively went in thinking ‘I can help.’”

During her tenure with Calgary police, she said she received a common line of advice from sworn and civilian members sympathetic to her cause: “Don’t get eaten, don’t let them see you cry and don’t f— up.”

Whitney said she was also a victim of harassment and bullying.

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“Whenever I had to deliver messages – discipline, expectations and grievances, suitability hearings, investigations, things like that – it was very common that the men who were receiving messages from me or whatever it would be would intentionally stand up and stand over me,” she said.

Whitney said she also had men stand in front of her and block her while speaking in a meeting. She said at times sworn police members were not respectful when she addressed HR issues, and she believes that’s because she’s a woman and she was a civilian in the service.

“I was body shamed. I’ve had men scream-spitting (while) yelling, just spit coming out from just screaming at me,” Whitney said. “There’s so much that I experienced.”

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She also said that because the Professional Standards Section independently investigates and disciplines sworn members, the human resources department was only able to act on cases involving civilian members.

“I exited a number of individuals for things like ageism, sexism, discriminatory behavior, bullying, harassing misuse of systems – meaning using police systems to look up information – etc. Those individuals would get exited if you were a civilian, but if you are an officer, absolutely not,” Whitney said.

Police Act frustrations

Under the Police Act, the chief decides on next steps in any complaints against officers after reviewing the evidence, whether that’s an internal investigation, a hearing, an investigation led by an external police service, or a dismissal of the complaints.

The former HR director said she once worked on a file that included allegations subordinates had sex toys thrown at them and pushed in their direction. She said she got into a verbal disagreement with the chief of police about how that kind of behaviour created a psychologically-unsafe workplace.

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Whitney said, especially among female CPS members, she saw a “pervasive” culture of not speaking up within the police service.

She also said she received complaints from LGBTQ2+ officers who felt discriminated against while in the workplace.

“But again, not a lot of mechanisms to address this type of behaviour,” she said. “And so I would have to work with these complainants and try to help navigate the situation because we would not remove the offenders. We would not discipline the offenders and we would expect everything to just function as usual, and that wouldn’t be the case.”

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She alleges there were attempts to have her step out of her role as HR director with more than 80 team members so that a police officer could occupy the role for a year, part of that officer’s promotion track.

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Whitney said some officers received promotions shortly after allegations were brought to her.

On Wednesday at a Calgary Police Commission meeting, Neufeld said he is aware of past instances of CPS members being promoted with HR “concerns” on their files.

“Oftentimes when we’re talking about promotions, depending on what level we’re talking about, we’re talking about very senior officers who’ve had a long history with the service. So it’s entirely possible that somebody has had actually a very positive history with the service, but at some point has had a misstep or an issue occur and then been promoted after,” the police chief said.

A new-looking HR department

Neufeld said CPS has reorganized its HR division to include many more civilian members and has developed a “formal people plan” as part of its police commission-governed policing plan and reforms.

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The police chief acknowledged that CPS members experience that workplace differently, some more positively than others.

“One of the challenges I think that we face, still to this day and we continue to work on it, is with respect to people trusting the process. The process is very, very hard. These issues manifest themselves differently in different organizations, and across different business lines,” Neufeld said.

“I think in the past we were not adequately resourced in human resources. We did not have the right mix of sworn versus civilian.

“Although good progress has been made, it’s a pernicious issue and it’s a challenging issue. And so I think what really matters is that we create a safe and healthy workplace.”

The police commission chair noted that the ball got rolling on police reforms more than a decade ago.

Doug King, a criminal justice professor at Mount Royal University, said CPS should be taking the allegations seriously and transparently, given their seriousness and that they are coming from someone who had intimate knowledge of the police service.

Neufeld said he thinks “the public probably expects and should expect the police service to have its system together and to be a model, in terms of having a safe and, an inclusive workspace.”

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King also said issues of harassment and bullying have plagued police services for decades.

“It has everything to do with the culture of policing, which tends to be very paramilitary, very male dominated, very male oriented,” he said.

King did note Neufeld was brought in as an external candidate for police chief after multiple sexual harassment allegations and lawsuits against officers came to light.

“To give Chief Neufeld some credit, he’s done a good job in that area,” King said.

In June 2021, Whitney penned a resignation letter to Deputy Chief Raj Gill while on a health-related leave of absence – a not uncommon practice among the service members, she said.

“I realize this may not be a request that you are expecting, however after focusing on getting my physical health, mental health and marriage back on track these last few months, I know that the CPS is not a healthy place for me,” she wrote.

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Looking back, Whitney said despite the worst parts of her job, she also met many CPS officers and civilian members who were professional and friendly to her.

She said she’s coming forward now out of a sense of duty to her former colleagues. After filing a whistleblower complaint with the City of Calgary, she’s planning on making a formal complaint to the police commission.

“I have a sincere belief that these individuals working (at CPS) – sworn, civilian, everybody – deserve to have a healthy and a safe workplace,” Whitney said.

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Calgary police chief addresses officer charges and investigation timeline

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