The following personal story was written twenty years to the day where Bob’s life and vocation took a dramatic turn. A story of resiliency and redemption, this experience has formed Bob’s worldview, understanding, and has allowed him to find his ‘Why’ in his consulting business.
January 8, 2020
It was twenty years ago today.
Handing in my badge and gun, in the midst of the distortion, fog and extreme darkness of my own complex emotions was one of the most frightening and dark days of my life – with no hope of redemption.
Or so I thought.
Wrestling with my anger, disillusionment, shame, frustration, loss of identity, and fear of the unknown, became an hour by hour, minute by minute battle.
And a battle it was. Seeking justice, redemption, hope, and clarity – at the personal and professional levels was – and continues to be – a journey towards increased understanding, resiliency, wisdom and grace.
How it Began
I often chuckle with incredulity at the Forrest Gump-like trajectory of my RCMP career. A combination of being at the right place, right time, personal and professional ambition, competency, grit, and dare I say fate, brought me on this wild and crazy journey.
Inspired by the popular cop shows of the early eighties (Hill Street Blues – Miami Vice) I had no problem envisioning myself as a pink t-shirt clad, no sock wearing, five o’clock shadow sporting, mullet rocking undercover cop, in my service of Queen and Country.
Problem was, I was posted in uniform in Cranbrook, British Columbia – a small city of 18,000 with no ocean beaches or Cigarette racing boats within a thousand kilometers. A camouflage ball cap and beater pick up truck would have to suffice.
I went on to be a part of the nationally and internationally recognized elite investigations team – The Undercover Unit – located in Vancouver, British Columbia. It was there that I met some of the best cops in my life, who are still dear friends. Conducting undercover investigations, infiltrating (and racking up convictions on) everyone from international organized crime figures to small town drug dealers – and everything in between – was where I cut my teeth and honed my craft.
Canada’s Anti-terrorist Commando team – SERT
In the early 90’s I decided to take a career detour, get a hair cut and get a real job. I trained and tried out for Canada’s then anti-terrorist commando unit tasked with protecting, and rescuing, Canadians from terror attacks. Named the Special Emergency Response Team – SERT – the team has since been replaced by the elite Department of National Defence team JTFII.
Rappelling out of helicopters and down the sides of buildings, blowing up buildings, windows and doors, becoming a marksman shooter, Muy-Thai kick-boxer, and, frankly, a trained killer – was a routine day. We were proud to say that our team held our own, and were just as highly trained as the U.S. Navy Seals who had come to our training compound outside of Ottawa for several weeks of cross-training.
‘Mr. Big’ Investigations- Hitman for Hire
On the disbanding of the SERT team, I was recruited and transferred back to the Undercover Unit in Vancouver. The focus, mission, risk, and profile was in the process of transitioning from primarily drug and organized crime undercover, to homicide. It was a heady time.
Working with the best in the business, we honed, developed, and executed one of the most successful ( and controversial ) investigative techniques in cold case homicides – in the world!
Now known as ‘Mr. Big’ investigations ( you can Google it ) – we often still playfully argue who first coined the term.
Pro-actively infiltrating persons suspected of homicide, we posed as organized crime figures, hit-men, bikers, drug dealers, terrorists and gun runners. Homicide suspects seeking to ingratiate themselves to our gang, were often quite quick to confess their dirtiest secrets in the hopes of gaining street cred and acceptance – once they were convinced of our bona-fides as gangsters.
My undercover persona, Jake, looked like he could take care of business and I was tapped to play the hitman for hire on several cases.
I’ve been hired to kill people, been in jail for days on end with murderers, infiltrated serial killers and pedophiles, dug up bodies, and been on the receiving end, directly or indirectly, of the ultimate confession to murder in over 30 homicide cases across the country.
The Biker Years
In the late 90’s, Canada – specifically Quebec- experienced a significant increase in Outlaw Motorcycle Gang violence and murder. The Hells Angels were expanding their criminal enterprise, protecting their turf, and using lethal means to do so.
Transferring to Edmonton, Alberta I was very excited to be recruited into the integrated intelligence unit – responsible for Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. That excitement quickly turned to disillusionment when I discovered that the expectations for an intelligence officer was not to pursue evidence for criminal prosecution, but, rather, to gather ‘intelligence’ for the purpose of reporting. Full stop.
“To what end?” I would ask other intelligence officers. I did not get a satisfactory answer.
As a highly motivated operational cop with a strong drive and skill-set to ‘put bad guys in jail’, this silo’d and ineffective focus did not sit well with me and I set out to change it.
Initiating, leading, and driving project ‘KISS’ – the largest biker gang enforcement (and criminal conviction) initiative in Alberta history at the time – became my focus. Again, working alongside some of the best people, and cops, that I have had the pleasure of knowing, was the light and hope in an increasingly dark time. We had a great team and did some great work. But not all was well.
Fighting administrative bureaucracy and roadblocks, silo and turf protection, myopic and destructive leadership, ineffective strategies, and police propaganda, became a daily grind.
Burnout – Post Traumatic Stress – and the fateful ‘Whistleblower’ day
The provincial motorcycle gang, the Grim Reapers, became Hells Angels in 1997. At the time I was running Project KISS ( a complex and elaborate drug and proceeds of crime undercover and wiretap operation), was responsible for biker intelligence, still conducting Mr. Big undercover investigations, and a member of the northern Alberta Emergency Response Team. I was burning the candle at both ends.
My days were an endless repetition of – work extremely hard – fight bureaucracy and character smears ( some of my peers and bosses didn’t appreciate push-back, change, or my challenges of ineffective status-quo) – drink heavy, sleep, and wake up and do it again. The disillusion, anger, depression, and extreme frustration were taking their toll, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
The Hells Angels ‘patchover’ ( a police term ) took place in Red Deer in 1997. It was then that I seriously crashed and burned.
In the midst of my darkest time I decided to resign from the RCMP. After three days of no sleep I walked in to my boss’ office and gave him my resignation letter. I had 15 years of service and had been promoted to Sergeant by that time.
To receive a disinterested and hurtful rebuke that my resignation was on the wrong form only increased my anger and sense of institutional betrayal.
It wasn’t until years later that I would be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress. We didn’t even know what that was in 90’s.
Good friends saw me through that time and I retracted my resignation. I went on to continue our year long investigation that resulted in the convictions of seven patch wearing members of a motorcycle gang and various hang-arounds and prospects.
When I was asked to sit on a Provincial Committee – representing the RCMP for the purpose of developing a business plan to fight organized crime, I was once again very excited. I could influence necessary change, break down silos, help police agencies collaborate, focus and fix the massive gaps in their approach to organized crime prosecutions.
I again became quickly disillusioned, as I discovered that the scope and purpose of the committee was to develop the business case – and financial ask – for the province to give the police more money.
Police organizations did not need more money, I argued, we need to align our resources towards the same goals and stop working in silos against one another and protecting fragile police leader egos and turf. Well, that went over like a lead balloon.
It was during this secondment that I became privy to the politics of policing and in particular the misinformation being used to increase budgets. I was sickened. When I came across the minutes of the national police chiefs ultimate strategy to combat outlaw motorcycle gangs:
‘ we need to use the media to cause fear with the public to put pressure on the Government to give us more funding,’
my resolve, hope, and optimism that critical change could happen was extinguished.
When an author I had become acquainted with called and asked me what I thought of the national strategy – I not only told him what I thought, I misguidedly shared with him the documents that exposed the ineffective, if not highly misleading and propaganda laden national police strategies.
These were the days when ‘whistle-blower’ was still a dirty word and documents were still shared in a non-descript brown envelope.
To be very clear, these documents did not expose police techniques, investigations, or jeopardize any operational – read criminal investigation – work that the excellent cops around the country were engaged in. My loyalty to effective and outstanding police work, in spite of the bureaucratic and administrative roadblocks, never wavered.
It was my attempt to raise the red flag and influence critical change, when I had lost hope that change could be influenced from within. My frustrations and motives were very real and true, my methodology, in hindsight, was ill-advised.
The Dual Courts of Public Opinion and Law
The author of the book ‘Hells Angels at War’ decided to reprint the documents I had provided to him. When I learned of this I was devastated. I had naively thought that he would use them for background information. I had moved on from biker gang and drug enforcement and received another promotion, this time to Staff Sergeant, and was well on my way to becoming a commissioned officer.
When I was made aware of the book, and the subsequent police kerfuffle, it took about a half hour of reflection and soul searching before I went in to the Commanding Officer’s office and fessed up to being the source of the information. He was sympathetic and quite supportive, and I thought I would be given a fair shake.
It seemed that way until it got very political very quickly. The author and originator of these misguided and ineffective strategy ideas and documents – a bully of a man and Chief of Police of a large police service in eastern Canada – did not take kindly to being criticized and maligned in the book, having his strategy be exposed for what it was.
Writing a demand letter to the Commissioner of the RCMP, calling my actions the “most corrupt thing I have seen in my 31 years of policing,” he demanded my head on a platter. The RCMP officers responsible for managing the internal investigation process kowtowed to his bullying demands and breached several of my legal rights, while tripping over themselves trying to ensure I was fired.
I fought back, and I won.
Some RCMP officers wanted to portray me as a corrupt cop. This struck at my very core as I had given my blood, sweat, tears ( and likely years off my life) protecting the Canadian public and winning convictions of hundreds of murderers, rapists, organized crime figures, biker gang members and drug dealers, in my career.
I had to fight back, and I did so with the truth. The CBC’s Fifth Estate was the first to call. They had been given the heads up on my story by other loyal and fearless whistle-blowers I had consulted with. It was my opportunity to take back the false narrative that had been provided to the media by the RCMP.
My journey, my story, my narrative. Although I was under a gag order, I would not be silenced and intimidated into submission.
I was a highly dedicated, loyal, and effective cop who had become justifiably disillusioned, frustrated, and despondent by the destructiveness of police silos, politics and turf wars. The safety of Canadians was at stake.
So, I told my story, as did others – dear friends and outstanding cops who I owe my life to. In 2001, my story made three Fifth Estate documentaries and the cover of Maclean’s magazine. It was also featured daily in local and national newspapers as my public disciplinary tribunal played out.
You can read the Maclean’s article here:
The flawed and highly biased investigation into my code of conduct breach, was exacerbated by the inappropriate senior political influences at the highest level – the RCMP Commissioner. How did I know this? Well, I did say I fought back.
I was a tenacious investigator. Pulling from my experiences and skills I had learned, I engaged in a series of Freedom of Information requests for all documents related to my investigation, tribunal, and handling of my case. Sifting through thousands of documents I found the nuggets of truth that identified the RCMP mismanagement and abuses in my case.
Submitting this to the Federal Court of Canada on appeal, my forced resignation was overturned. The Federal Court identified the two key areas of administrative law that the RCMP breached, known as the principals of natural justice : procedural fairness and reasonable apprehension of bias.
I won my case – in both courts of public opinion and law – was re-instated to the RCMP and was able to negotiate my retirement with dignity. I have not carried a badge since January 8, 2000, but it will always be inside my chest, where it belongs.
Finding my ‘Why’ in my story
The journey since has been both exciting and a little scary, with the usual ups and downs, successes and failures of life that one could expect.
When faced with the choice to become bitter or better, I chose better.
Pursuing and achieving a Masters degree in Theology has been a highlight. My continuing education, both formal and informal, is driven by my thirst to understand human behavior – my own and others – and the implications within our workplaces.
Going on to envision, develop and lead a Corporate Investigations Unit within the largest employer in Alberta and the largest Health Authority in Canada has also been a highlight.
Coming to terms with, identifying, healing from, and talking about my Post Traumatic Stress has been tremendously empowering and freeing. I am hopeful I can help other police officers and first responders make sense of their experiences, mental health and injury, and personal journey.
I have developed both a passion and expertise to serve clients in the areas of fair and just workplace and regulatory investigations, training in psychological safety at work, leading with emotional intelligence, and other leadership workshops.
As a consultant and public speaker I use the background of my story as an illustration to help promote and advocate for healthy workplaces, psychological safety, and fair and just workplace investigations that are based on fact, evidence, and truth versus anger, negative emotion and personal bias.
I am so very grateful for this wild and crazy journey, and the many supporters and kindred spirits I have met along the way. My lifelong friends (many of whom also courageously sacrificed their lives to serve and protect our society) and family, saw me through thick and thin, their loyalty and love never wavering, and for that I am truly blessed.
It was twenty years ago today – and the darkness of then has been replaced by the light of now.
Please contact me for information on my consulting, public speaking, investigations and training services.
In service and gratitude,