OTTAWA (Reuters) - The head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police acknowledged on Friday that the national force needs a major overhaul to deal with a widespread lack of morale, scarce resources and heavy public criticism.
The Mounties have been embroiled in a series of scandals and unsavory incidents over the past two years. In October, officers were condemned for using stun guns on an unarmed Polish man who collapsed and then died after being restrained.
RCMP Commissioner William Elliott spoke minutes after the head of a task force looking into the Mounties said they had fundamental problems and recommended major changes.
"Let me be clear -- there is simply no other option. The RCMP must change and we must change in significant, relevant and meaningful ways to address the problems described in the task force report," Elliott, the first civilian commissioner in recent Mountie history, told a news conference.
"The RCMP clearly has significant weaknesses ... we must address them and we will address them. We must, however, not let them blind us to our many strengths."
Lawyer David Brown, who headed the task force, said he and his colleagues had "witnessed despair, disillusionment and anger with an organization that is failing (police officers)" and cited frequent complaints about "chronic shortages of people and equipment, of overwork and fatigue."
He recommended the Mounties be split away entirely from the government rather than relying on Ottawa to help manage its affairs. He also called for the creation of a civilian management board and a powerful independent commission for complaints against the force.
In June, Brown wrapped up an earlier investigation into allegations of fraud by those running the RCMP's insurance and pension funds by saying the force's culture was "horribly broken."
Officers in the 26,000-strong force complain about what they see as poor management, a promotion system that few trust, and what they say are harsh reprisals against whistle-blowers.
Brown said the reforms he was urging should be put in place by the end of 2009 and added: "Failure is not an option."
Elliott, who promised changes in the force's top ranks, declined to comment on specific recommendations.
He took over in July, six months after the previous permanent commissioner quit over the case of a Canadian man who was deported to Syria by U.S. agents, based partly on false RCMP information. An official report into the affair accused the Mounties of dishonesty and incompetence.
Elliott conceded that "these are difficult and challenging times" for the Mounties, but expressed confidence the force can rebuild itself.
"In spite of all the negative headlines, the vast majority of Canadians that I speak to remain confident in our ability to keep their communities and their neighborhoods safe," he said.
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, who has overall responsibility for law and enforcement, said he would need time to study the report before reacting.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway