Police ethics adviser quits over sponsors

Concerns over role of companies like Taser International in funding lavish conferences were rebuffed, he says

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

April 8, 2009 at 3:57 AM EDT

The technical adviser to the ethics committee of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has resigned over corporate sponsorship - including that of Taser International - of the group's annual conference.

John Jones, an expert on police ethics who has advised the committee for three years, quit Thursday after the committee's efforts to stop the practice was rebuffed by the board of directors.

"I said in that case, I can't remain a member," a saddened Dr. Jones, the author of Reputable Conduct: Ethical Issues in Policing and Corrections, told The Globe and Mail in a phone interview yesterday from his Ottawa home. "[Such sponsorship] doesn't pass the smell test."

The CACP is composed of police chiefs and senior police executives from across Canada and represents most of the country's 220-plus forces.

Dr. Jones and the members of the ethics committee were in Montreal in August for two days of meetings around the CACP's annual conference when they learned about Taser's sponsorship and that of others, including a joint Bell Mobility-CGI-Group Techna donation of $115,000, which went toward the purchase of 1,000 tickets at $215 each to a Celine Dion concert on Aug. 25.

Each registered CACP delegate received one ticket as part of his $595 registration package; if his spouse was also registered for the spouses' program, she or he received another. Virtually all meals were also sponsored.

The ethics members raised the sponsorship issue with the CACP executive committee in mid-conference - "expressed our surprise and dismay" is how the genteel Dr. Jones put it - but later followed up with a formal request for the committee co-chairs to speak to the full board of directors.

That meeting happened in November, and by December the CACP's executive director, Peter Cuthbert, replied by memo on behalf of the board, basically thanking the committee members for their concerns, but repeating that the board was satisfied the association was abiding by its sponsorship guidelines.

It was at the committee's first meeting of the new year last week in Ottawa that Mr. Cuthbert's memo was read aloud, prompting Dr. Jones to walk away from his voluntary position.

While he said he was told by senior members of the committee that Taser gave $200,000 to the 2008 conference, Mr. Cuthbert is adamant the manufacturers of the controversial "conducted energy weapons," as the CACP prefers to call them, contributed only $25,000.

But he also said that over the past three years, Taser has kicked in a total of $75,000 for conference sponsorship.

Mr. Cuthbert was insistent there is nothing wrong with the sponsorship practice, and said that part of the association's job is to bring to the attention of the chiefs "the products and tools that are available to a police service." He then suggested that Taser was only one maker of "conducted energy weapons," but, when pressed, admitted he knew of no other and said, "I guess Taser is the only name out there."

According to Mr. Cuthbert, the total corporate sponsorship of last year's conference - by, among others, Power Corporation, the Canadian Bankers Association, Loto-Québec, Microsoft, Motorola and the RCMP, ironic given that it means the Mounties shared the platform with the very product whose use has brought the force into such disrepute in the Robert Dziekanski incident - topped $500,000.

The RCMP sponsors only the professional development part of the conference program.

One of Mr. Cuthbert's defences for the association accepting sponsorships is the CACP does "no buying, no endorsement, no promotion" of any products, including sponsors', and makes no "binding recommendations."

But in fact, just six weeks ago the CACP held a press conference in Ottawa with the Canadian Police Association to announce what they called "the police position on Conducted Energy Weapons (CEWs)" and issued both a position document and a press release.

The groups said they were acting out of concern that "inaccurate and incomplete" media reporting about the weapons may have led to public misunderstanding and in effect gave CEWs their blessing.

In January, Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino, a CACP member, spoke at an association workshop on CEWs and gave the weapon an even more ringing endorsement, and denounced the "irresponsible journalism" surrounding the issue.

Mr. Fantino was at least more direct: he called a spade a spade and used both terms, CEWs and tasers, to describe the weapon.

When Mr. Cuthbert was asked if it wouldn't have been better for the CACP to have publicly praised tasers with clean hands, he disagreed, and said, "Other than that, I tell you, with the board, it was not an issue ... the board was very, very comfortable with this."

But Dr. Jones told The Globe that most of the ethics committee members had concerns about the sponsorships, not just Taser's, which is why it sent committee co-chairs, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Sandra Conlin, her force's ethics adviser, and Edmonton Deputy Chief Norm Lipinski, to the board meeting. That, he said, was a measure of the committee's concern.

Mr. Conlin referred The Globe to Mr. Lipinski, saying he was the ethics committee spokesman. He was out of town and didn't return The Globe's call.

Dr. Jones, who at 66 has spent several decades of his career lecturing and consulting about ethical conduct, particularly in policing, also recently resigned as an adviser to the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

He rued how the CACP conferences have become increasingly "gaudy" affairs, with each host city trying to outdo the other, with members expecting bigger and better freebies. Indeed, Mr. Cuthbert's own figures - he said it now costs between $800,000 and $1-million to hold such conferences - back up Dr. Jones' perception.

Asked why the chiefs and senior police executives don't just finance their own conferences, Dr. Jones replied, "That's what we'd like."

He said there was "a shocking disconnect" between the lavish conferences for senior police and their increasing demands upon their rank-and-file that they refuse even a free coffee from the local doughnut store. "People now want their leaders to walk the talk," he said.