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Police officers ordered to turn blind eye to man's crimes, report says

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Blunt orders from senior police telling officers to turn a blind eye to a Newfoundland's man's crimes shows fresh leadership and civilian oversight are needed, the province's justice minister said Thursday.

"It's time to change course and rebuild trust," Andrew Parsons told reporters after he received an independent report that examined whether unnamed senior officers obstructed justice.

Two supervisors with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary told front-line officers to make no arrests despite their observation of a man committing "a serious property crime."

The man was under surveillance by police and seen as "an individual who might be able to assist" with a major case involving organized crime, the report said. 

The report concluded the senior officers didn't obstruct justice, and a third officer played no significant role in the case.

It said the command was "reasonable" because the senior officers thought the man might help them solve a major case.

However, the report also says the supervisors did a poor job of communicating or explaining the reasons to the front-line officers, creating concerns.

"Unfortunately, it seemed that officers 1 and 2 tended toward a management style that was top down in nature," wrote Ronald MacDonald, the chair of Nova Scotia's Serious Incident Response Team, which prepared the 12-page report.

"There was no discussion with the officers who observed the subject's behaviour to explain why charges were not laid or pursued."

"Better communication about the decision-making process and the rationales involved would have resulted in a better understanding and appreciation for the direction of the front line officers."

The case prompted Parsons to tell a news conference that he's looking for changes in management style from the next chief of the police force of over 400 people.

The current police chief, William Janes, is set to retire this month.

"In the past year-and-a-half that I've been minister of this department, there's been ... serious concerns within the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary," Parsons said.

"While I'm confident in our police agencies, it's become obvious there are issues."

Parsons' comments come after a lengthy public inquiry into how a RNC officer shot and killed Don Dunphy inside his home on Easter Sunday in 2015.

There has also been public criticism of the force following the acquittal of one of its members, Const. Douglas Snelgrove, who was accused of sexually assaulting a woman who asked him for a ride home while he was on duty.

He was found not guilty, but some citizens questioned the officer's behaviour in the case.

Parsons said he's eager to see the creation of an independent civilian oversight agency by this fall, and is looking forward to working with a new RNC chief.

"The issues addressed in this report are about leadership and communication. We have an opportunity now for new leadership and that is what we're in the process of doing," he said.

Janes declined to provide an interview, issuing a news release saying he was pleased no charges are being laid.

"I continue to have the utmost confidence in the skills and abilities of the RNC officers who were the subject of the investigation and all members of our supervisory and management team," he wrote.

Parsons said he expects some form of civilian oversight agency will be brought in by the fall, perhaps in partnership with Nova Scotia and the other Atlantic provinces.

"I can't go back and change what happened before I got here, but moving forward I can take concrete action to help strengthen the RNC: new leadership, review of the RNC act and other policies and an independent, civilian oversight team."

 Parsons says in addition to replacing Janes, there is a plan to hire a new deputy chief.

— By Michael Tutton in Halifax

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. Earlier versions said Justice Minister Andrew Parsons described man under surveillance as an informant.

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