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Calgary police morale at historic low: survey

Click to play video: 'Employee survey finds Calgary police officers experiencing low morale' Employee survey finds Calgary police officers experiencing low morale
Watch: Results from a 2021 survey suggest there is a historical low in morale among Calgary police officers. The findings suggest many are overworked and underappreciated. Jill Croteau reports – Nov 18, 2021

Morale among Calgary Police Service members is at a low, according to a recent survey, and has an expert predicting a pending city council decision for increased funding could halt the downward slide.

The 2021 CPS employee engagement report shows 82 per cent of CPS members disagreed with the statement “morale at CPS is good.”

Pride in working for CPS is at its lowest level since 2008. Inadequate staffing was a “key concern” for 22 per cent of the 1,375 respondents. When asked if they agree or disagree with the statement that “CPS is adequately staffed,” 90 per cent disagreed. Work stress levels were also up.

Read more: Calgary police request $6M as city council set to decide on sub 1% tax rate increase

Perception of policing is down, as well, with more than a third saying it’s poor. Overall positive responses were down to 66 per cent this year from 81 per cent last year.

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In a statement to Global News, CPS Chief Mark Neufeld said his top priority is to address resource, morale and leadership issues.

“We absolutely recognize that the service we provide to citizens hinges on our member’s ability to function effectively as part of an organization. Our people are our biggest asset,” Neufeld said. “We know that change is needed and realize I have fallen short in supporting our members in ways that are meaningful to them.”

Read more: Pair of oversight roles vacated ahead of first Calgary city council meeting

Neufeld said he would work with the the Calgary Police Commission, the Calgary Police Association and Senior Officers Association to address employee concerns.

The online survey was sent to sworn and civilian members from Aug. 16 to Sep. 8. It was conducted by Illumina Research for the Calgary Police Commission.

The report also puts employee engagement on an index to measure pride, motivation, satisfaction and likelihood to recommend someone work at CPS. Index measurements among sworn members continued a three-year decline, with 62 per cent showing low engagement. But a majority of sworn and civilian members were proud to say they work for the police service.

Click to play video: 'Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld discusses the municipal budget, domestic violence month and Movember' Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld discusses the municipal budget, domestic violence month and Movember
Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld discusses the municipal budget, domestic violence month and Movember – Nov 17, 2021

Seven in 10 sworn members would not recommend policing as a career to family or friends, but 65 per cent of civilian members would recommend working for CPS.

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There’s an increase in distrust of senior leadership among CPS employees who took the survey. Four in five disagreed with the statement there is a climate of trust between senior leadership and employees. And 71 per cent felt the actions of senior leadership showed it cared. When it comes to internal communication and being well-informed about decisions that affect their tasks, 58 per cent disagreed that was happening.

Read more: 85% of City of Calgary employees fully vaccinated against COVID-19 ahead of deadline

Calgary Police Association President John Orr called the survey results “gut-wrenching.”

“Our members are clearly struggling and morale is the lowest we’ve ever seen,” Orr told Global News. “So it’s very concerning.”

“It’s going to take years to hire back to strength and we need to show our current members they are appreciated. We need to retain that experience.”

“Policing has been under a laser focus for the last two years. Our members feel that every day, as the pointy end of the spear,” Orr said. “Whether it’s protesting about Covid or police accountability, those officers on the front line really take the brunt of all of it.

“When they are understaffed, and when they don’t feel appreciated, we get these kinds of results.”

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Dr. Ritesh Narayan, a criminologist and lecturer at Mount Royal University’s criminal justice program, said the pandemic is playing a role in declining morale, citing continent-wide data.

“The survey indicates that many participants of the study have cited shortage of staff as a major factor in lowering morale,” Narayan said via email. “Note that during the pandemic we have seen a rise in personal violence such as intimate partner violence. These types of crimes are not only emotionally taxing, but also time- and labour-intensive. These types of offences have added to many police officers feeling stretched and frustrated.”

Click to play video: 'Calgary police request $6M as city council set to decide on sub 1% tax rate increase' Calgary police request $6M as city council set to decide on sub 1% tax rate increase
Calgary police request $6M as city council set to decide on sub 1% tax rate increase – Nov 8, 2021

Calgary city council is considering a budget increase for CPS to add 38 new positions.

A letter from outgoing Police Commission Chair Bonita Croft asked for $6 million to be added to the police budget. She said CPS faces increased pressure from areas like an anticipated return to, or increase in, crime to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, increased complexity of investigations and process due to legislative changes, demand to address systemic racism, an increase in protests and demonstrations, low police morale and increased cyber attacks.

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Narayan said that if city council decided against the added funding, police morale could continue to slide.

“City council has an intricate task of balancing levels of service and police funding,” Narayan wrote.

“This is an important balancing act. Not getting it right could further hurt staff morale.”

Recognizing morale was an internal issue, Narayan also said Neufeld “must take these survey results very seriously and act upon them immediately. “

Commission Vice Chair Shawn Cornett called the survey results “disappointing” and “a bit discouraging,” and reiterated the civilian oversight body’s commitment to work with the chief and executive to address morale and staff shortage concerns.

Read more: Calgary Police Commission investigating handling of historic Sean Chu allegations

“When you’re talking about things like morale it is not a short-term process,” Cornett said.

“So our timeline is to get together as a commission and look at data carefully,” the commission vice-chair said. “Within weeks and months we will be looking for plans to be brought forward and we will survey again next year.”

The next public commission meeting is Nov. 30. Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott and a yet-to-be-announced public member will join as new members, following the recent departures of Croft and former councillor George Chahal.

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