This would be cause for dismissal almost anywhere else, but not for police
By Howard Levitt
If you grabbed, made a sexual comment to and then threatened to strangle a female co-worker at an off-duty function, what would you expect would happen to your job? Now consider the answer, if your job involved preventing just this sort of assault?
Lyndon Locke, a 16-year veteran of the Peel Regional Police, west of Toronto, attended a farewell gathering for a female colleague at a restaurant. According to an agreed statement of facts, during the event, Locke approached her, compared her to female colleagues, described her as “bangable,” and stated if she had not been with her husband, she would be with him.
Throughout the evening, he attempted to chat with her, grabbed her right thigh and, at one point, her pony tail, wrapping it around his hand close to her head with a strong hold. He then took off his tie and stated “I’m going to wrap this around your neck and f—ing strangle you with it.” The colleague was “stunned, in shock,” and obviously frightened.
Locke claimed to have no memory of the death threat.
If this was the employee of a client, I would recommend not only firing the individual for cause, but having him criminally charged — both because he deserved it, and as an object lesson to staff. But, there are two additional egregious facts.
First, this case involved two police officers, whose job is to lay criminal charges against employees for behaviour such as Locke’s — simple assault, sexual assault and issuing a death threat. What is more astonishing is that the Police Services Board, after finding Locke guilty of the charge of discreditable conduct, decided the appropriate penalty was a four-week suspension.
I take Locke’s claim to not remember threatening to strangle his colleague with many grains of salt. He is a police officer who knows the game. He knows that he would be in deep trouble if he admitted to it. He also knows if he falsely denied doing it, his lie would be cause for even greater discipline. His only (albeit possibly dishonest) course of action was to disclaim recollection.
I discussed this case on my Sunday Newstalk 1010 radio show and received a call-in from a 30-year police veteran, with a degree in criminology and an MBA. He explained that if the female officer had laid charges her career would be effectively finished — no other officer would ever agree to ride in a car alone with her again, and she would be shunned in the police force. He also said that “short of shooting someone,” a 20-day suspension is as severe a discipline as ever meted out to police officers.
Is this case an exemplar of the difference between the public and private sector, the union and non-union sector, or both. There is no doubt a judge would find this cause for dismissal in the non-union world, regardless of the person’s “previously clean record.” Most arbitrators would find it cause as well, and all would find it cause for a dramatically greater discipline than was meted out.
Perhaps this female officer was intimidated by the social risks in the force into not laying charges. But, given the facts, why didn’t the police lay criminal charges, and why did the Police Services Board not consider Locke unfit to ever again work as a police officer?
Imagine the defence when Locke now attempts to arrest and lay charges against an accused for similar acts. For that matter, can’t any criminal defence attorney, defending an accused charged with an analogous offence have some fun (and potentially success) in cross-examining any officer based on how the police themselves rule on the consequences for serious sexual harassment and sexual assault?
There are many distinctions between the public and private sector, all favouring the former; greater pensions, salaries, less work, and a circling of the wagons by both employers and employees making it very difficult to fire anyone.
What is clear is that neither our federal nor provincial governments have any intention of changing this culture or even to bargain for equity between the sectors.