Six officers have either retired or resigned so far this year from the Nelson Police Department, including some who allegedly shared racist material in a private group chat.
Chief Donovan Fisher told the Nelson Star that three recent retirements were due to family, medical or financial reasons, but that other departures were “mutually acceptable parting of the ways.”
Fisher confirmed the departed officers included some named in an ongoing investigation by the Vancouver Police Department and the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, which is an independent civilian oversight body that addresses complaints against B.C.’s municipal forces. Fisher’s comments were first reported by Storrm Lennie of mynelsonnow.com.
In March, the NPD and the City of Nelson said evidence had been found that six current and former officers had shared racist comments and memes in a WhatsApp chat group between 2018 and 2020. Those officers face discreditable conduct allegations while another has been alleged to be in neglect of duty.
Fisher declined to say how many of the officers under investigation had left the department. Their identities are unlikely to be disclosed unless the OPCC orders a secondary review of the findings, which in turn could determine it is in the public interest to know who the officers are.
The Police Act stipulates officers cannot resign or retire to avoid investigations or discipline. If officers who have already left the department are penalized, they are treated as though they are still active members.
Fisher did not say how many police are currently serving at the department — the number is typically capped at 21 — but said five have been hired since Jan. 1. They include three experienced officers and two recruits, with another recruit likely hired in the fall.
Two RCMP members meanwhile are helping to supplement shifts throughout the summer.
“Although most of these departures were anticipated, it is unfortunate that many of these happened over a short period of time, but is part of any department’s regular attrition,” said Fisher in statement.
“This will put a bit of resourcing pressure on the department over the short term, but we have new officers slated to start over the summer and we have an excellent core of officers that remain at the department.”
The high staffing turnover comes during a year of tragedy and public scrutiny for the 126-year-old department.
In January, officers Det. Wade Tittemore and Const. Mathieu Nolet were killed after they were caught in an avalanche while backcountry skiing near Kaslo.
A second OPCC investigation is also underway after Sgt. Nate Holt allegedly used excessive force during an incident on June 10, 2021. An OPCC spokesperson confirmed last month that case is still under investigation but declined to provide any more details.
Last week Fisher announced the department would hire two Community Safety Officers following a public outcry by business owners who say crime is rising downtown. The officers won’t have an enforcement role but will instead liaison with businesses and the street community.
“The Nelson Police Department will continue to provide excellent and uninterrupted service to the community,” said Fisher.