Nothing racist in police release: mayor
(Note: This is an edited version of a story that was originally published Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012)
A Thunder Bay Police news release that characterized a murder suspect in derogatory terms is a “setback,” but the force remains committed to fostering a positive relationship with the city’s aboriginal community, says its senior management.
“Sometimes our officers slip up and it sets us back a bit,” Deputy Chief Andy Hay said Wednesday.
“It’s unfortunate that a mistake like this happens, but building a positive relationship with our aboriginal community remains a very important part of our policing,” Hay added.
He spent part of Wednesday reaching out to some of the city’s aboriginal leaders after they were irked by a brief police new release that suggested a suspect in a murder investigation is an addict hooked on mouthwash.
Some leaders said the release smacked of racism because both the suspect and the 65-year-old victim are aboriginal.
"I’m not suggesting all officers are racist, but the email implies racial connotations," Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre executive director Wilfred King said.
Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs, who said he is a friend of King, had a different take on it.
Hobbs, a retired police sergeant, said it’s hardly unusual for police forces to put labels and “nicknames” on suspects.
“I think this has been blown out of proportion and it was wrong to put a racial connotation on it,” said Hobbs.
“During my career, I arrested many people for public intoxication who were white and drank mouthwash.”
Hobbs said that in his view, police needn’t be apologizing for the release, which did not mention race.
But Hay said the release, which was sent to medial outlets Saturday and was retracted minutes later, was an “embarrassment” that does not reflect the views of the force.
“Is it an indication that all police officers are racist? No, it is not,” he said.
Police are conducting an internal investigation into how the release was sent out, but no officers have been suspended or reassigned, Hay said.
A separate release said it had been sent out by a lead investigator in a homicide investigation.
King said he doesn’t think “all Thunder Bay police officers are racist,” but added the incident shows that more work needs to be done to improve police and aboriginal relations.
“There has to be more vigilance on the part of upper management that this type of thing does not take place,” he said.
About 35 per cent of Thunder Bay’s population is aboriginal, a figure that is expected to rise, King noted.
Hay said that although he didn’t have exact percentages, some of Thunder Bay’s 227 uniformed city officers are aboriginals.
The force also has two aboriginal liaison units.