Police Association goes public with second non-confidence vote for Chief

Prince Albert Police Chief Jon Bergen

For the second time in two years, a majority of Prince Albert Police Association (PAPA) members say they have no confidence in Police Chief Jon Bergen.

The association went public with results from a recent non-confidence vote on Friday. The results show 95 per cent of voting members do not have confidence in Bergen—up from 71 per cent reported in July 2020.

Police Association President Josh Peterson said the tension between the Chief and rank-and-file officers has been growing for years and the Board of Police Commissioners is not in tune with the realities in the police station.

“You would think the Board would want to know what’s happening in the building given the growing non-confidence of members in the Chief,” he said.

Peterson said they want engage the Prince Albert Board of Police Commissioners in a meaningful discussion about the deteriorating state of policing in Prince Albert.

The association moved their vote of non-confidence in Bergen over two meetings on March 3. PAPA says 92 of the association’s 102 members participated in the vote. The union represents in-scope Prince Albert police officers and staff.

On March 7, following the 95 per cent vote of non-confidence, the Association reached out to the Board again seeking a meeting to discuss the declining morale, pressing safety concerns and growing problems within the Prince Albert Police Service.

The Board’s reply to the request for a meeting was not received until March 10 and demanded a reply from the Association the same day. The Association did agree to meet with the Board on Monday, March 14.

Peterson said the board laid out a number of pre-conditions on the meeting, with the association believed to be inappropriate, irrelevant and redundant. The association said they could not meet all requests in the few hours the board provided. The Board of Police Commissioners has disputed the timeline of events provided by the association.

Peterson said they released the information to the public could understand their frustration, and convince the board to meet with association reps.

“We did not want to release these non-confidence numbers to the public and we told the Board that,” Peterson said.

“But by using this tactic with us, they gave us no choice but to turn to the public to ask for help and to let them know just how bad things have become at their police service.”

Petersen said that he and other officers have become frustrated watching good officers leave the service because of the deteriorating conditions and “the Chief’s reckless management style”.

Peterson argued Bergen “relies on ruling by fear” instead of teaching and talking.

“The Chief’s style does not include dialogue with officers, or our partners in the community,” Peterson said. “He refuses to hear the opinions of others or engage in face-to-face communication with members of the service.”

Petersen said that the impact of Bergen’s style has not only been felt internally, stating that the Chief’s inability to work with others has caused breakdowns in the Police Service’s relationships with other police organizations and with the service’s community partners.

The association said this resulted in some very significant safety issues, including a deterioration of the mental health of front-line police officers. Peterson said it’s pushing those officers to the breaking point.

“Our officers are frustrated by watching good officers either get pushed to the edge, or simply leave for other police services,” he added.

As an example of the increased safety risk to officers and the community, Petersen cited statistics which show general patrol officers struggling to keep up with community needs. In 2002, officers responded to 25,943 calls, with 12 members per shift. In 2021, that number had increased to 48,242 calls, with only 10 members, plus one recruit.

During that same period, Petersen said PAPS has grown from one chief and two inspectors to a chief, a deputy chief, and four inspectors.

“General Patrol has not seen a significant increase in nearly 30 years, even though the calls for service, the complexity of investigations and the violence have increased tremendously,” he added. “Decisions like that put officers and community members at risk.”

On a secondary issue, the Association expressed confidence in the Public Complaints Commission process currently reviewing the events which resulted in the death of Tanner Brass.

“We want to begin the process of healing as a police service and as a community,” he said.

“Unfortunately, it appears that process can’t begin with Chief Jon Bergen.”

Board of Police Commissioners responds to Union

The Prince Albert Board of Police Commissioners called Peterson’s comments inaccurate and misleading in a response emailed to media outlets late Friday afternoon.

Board chair Darcy Sander, an education administrator and former police officer, said he wasn’t impressed with how the association handled the issue.

“It is an understatement to say that the Board as a whole is disappointed in Josh’s approach and comments,” Sander said in the statement. “Our police service and the work it does relies on standards of professionalism and good judgment. We are concerned (these standards) are not demonstrated by Josh or his executive in this manner of conducting themselves.”

Other board members echoed Sander’s concerns.

“On Monday this week Josh Peterson sent his email giving the Board an ultimatum, that his executive team was issuing a press release on Friday saying members were not confident in our Chief,” board member Janet Carriere said.

“Josh said he gave us until then to come up with a ‘solution.’ It’s in writing. It was unprofessional.”

Carrier added that the board has confidence in Bergen’s leadership, and the direction the Prince Albert police are heading.

“Our Board is very engaged and we are well informed on policing issues in Prince Albert”, Carriere said.

“We strongly support Chief Bergen’s initiatives to insist on policing standards and member accountability in our Service. This week we learned from the Public Complaints Commission that we have five members whose standards and professionalism are currently under the scrutiny of independent agencies. We understand that is uncomfortable for members until due process completes itself, but it is certainly no time for tactics of deflection or distraction.”

The board released a copy of the chair’s letter responding to the association’s concerns. The letter is dated for March 9, 2022.

In it, the board says the association should confirm in writing the specific issues of confidence they have with Bergen before the meeting. The board also required the association to explain in writing why the meeting was so urgent, and show they had met with Bergen to discuss their concerns. The board also insisted that association executive members attending the meeting with the board not have a vested interest in any prospective or current disciplinary outcome that might be a topic of discussion.

Sander wrote in the letter that the board needed a timely response from the association to meet an agenda distribution line of Thursday, March 10 in order to hold a meeting on March 14. Sander wrote that this course of action was similar to requests made by the association executive in 2020-21.

Longtime police commission board member Sheryl Kimbley said they are an all-volunteer board with other jobs and responsibilities, and responded to the request as quickly as they could.

“We were able to respond to the union’s request for a meeting within just a couple of days,” Kimbley said.

“We offered to arrange our schedules to meet with them as early as Monday March 14, within a week of the request. We offered another date if they needed more time to get their preparation together. We asked them to outline their concerns for us. They never got back to us.”

Sander said the union executive was trying to take a political route to influence a change at the top of the Prince Albert Police Service. He also argued this wasn’t the first time the association had tried this path of action.

“We completed a process last March in which the union executive’s call to remove the Chief was focused on complaints related to Board and third party decisions,” Sander said. “That strategy was initiated just weeks after their Association sent a letter affirming their confidence in the Chief. It’s all very well documented.

“Article 3.03 of our agreement with the union requires their executive to discuss the same issues with Chief Bergen that they want to discuss with the Board.”

Sander said union executive has not responded to requests to identify the police commission board’s concerns.

“The recent issue reported to us that the executive discussed with Chief Bergen was a criticism in how he sent a matter of public concern out to independent investigation,” Sander added. “The issues raised in their media release were different.”

Mayor Greg Dionne, the police board vice-chair, said he believes “confidence votes” are strategies from the past, long since proven ineffective. Dionne said he’d prefer the association use a different approach.

“It’s widely understood that in the last municipal election union executive members supported a mayoralty candidate who made not-so-quiet commitments to them about the Chief’s position,” Dionne said.

“It’s not a large community, and folks have a good idea who the people are who were disappointed when that candidate was unsuccessful. That’s the past. Our police officers have important work to do, and as volunteer representatives of our community, our Board has full confidence in Chief Bergen’s commitment to uphold strong professional standards and accountability in our police service.”

The Prince Albert Board of Police Commissioners is a statutory body comprised of four appointed volunteer community leaders and three members of City Council, responsible to ensure diversity‐based community oversight and to provide governance on policing issues in Prince Albert. Chief of Police Jonathan Bergen reports directly to the Board.

Under legislation, members of the police are responsible to Chief Bergen in the performance of their policing duties. Sgt. Peterson and four other in-scope members of the Prince Albert Police Service are elected by union membership to represent the interests of its members to the Chief of Police.

Under Article 3.03 of the union’s Collective Agreement, the Executive can schedule a direct meeting with the Board of Police Commissioners on issues that the union executive has transparently and meaningfully discussed first with the Chief of Police.