The recent story that the Edmonton Police are facing a lawsuit by Pacey Dumas alleging egregious police brutality has made national headlines, and Edmontonians and Canadians are rightly demanding answers.
I’ve been asked by a few folks to provide a brief explainer on policing issues in Edmonton and how you as a citizen can make your voice heard. As a graduate ofCitizen’s Police Academy, I thought I would dust off my binder and help try to provide a few questions I’ve received from the public.
While the officer, Constable Todd, has not been charged, he is being investigated by ASIRT (Alberta Serious Incident Response Team). As far as I know, Constable Todd is still working for the Edmonton Police Service (EPS), and Chief McFee has chosen not to suspend him (with or without pay).
Why does good governance and public accountability matter?
Police legitimacy is only possible when the community has trust in the police. The Police build trust by being procedurally just—that is, by treating the public fairly and with respect.
When the Police do not appear to be taking public concerns, especially involving allegations as serious as brutality or lethal force, it damages the faith and trust in the police. When people don’t trust the police, they won’t call the police, they won’t obey the police, and they won’t cooperate with the police. Other officers are undermined when the tone set at the top does not treat serious concerns with the utmost of seriousness.
This harms the ability of the police to keep everybody safe.
So let’s talk about accountability. I’ll attempt to answer a few of the questions I’ve received:
Q: Who holds Edmonton Police officers accountable?
A: Police Officers are held accountable by the Chief of Police. The Chief has the ability to suspend officers with or without pay, and if he believes they are a threat to the public to put them on non-public duties.
Q: Could the police Chief have suspended Constable Todd? And if so, why didn’t he?
A: He could have, and I believe the Chief has not commented on why he chose not to suspend the constable.
Q: Who holds the Police Chief Accountable?
The Chief is hired, fired, and held accountable by the Edmonton Police Commission (EPC). The Edmonton Police Commission consists of two appointed city councillors, and nine citizens appointed by Edmonton City Council.
Q: Can the EPC call for an inquiry into the Chief or the incident?
A: Yes. The Commission can demand answers anytime. In fact the commission has powers under Section 32 of The Police Act to call an inquiry into the conduct of the police or any officer.
At any time, the EPC could call an inquiry. This motion could come from the two sitting members of City Council on the commission or any one of the public commissioners.
For example, they could call an inquiry into Chief McFee, allegations of police abuses under his time as chief, or, in this case, why he failed to suspend Constable Todd. They have extremely wide latitude they have yet to fully apply.
Q: As a member of the public how can you help hold the Commission accountable?
A: Speak out! Their meetings are public and you can attend as a member of the public. You can even speak and ask questions of the commissioners. Each individual has five minutes to address the Commission.
The Commission meets every month. The next meetings are Thursday, November 18, 2021 and Thursday, December 16, 2021. You can demand that a commissioner makes a motion to call for an inquiry in an issue (such as an officer’s conduct) and demand answers from the police chief.
Q: Can the commission fire the police chief?
A: Yes, likely according to details in his contract.
Q: What if the Police Commission is failing to hold the chief accountable. Can City Council remove commissioners?
A; While we can’t remove them, we can choose not to renew their terms. Six Commission members have their terms expire on December 31st, 2021. If they were failing in their duties to hold the police chief accountable, City Councillors may be reluctant to renew their terms and replace them with more animated commissioners who better represent the community's growing desire for accountability.
Q: How can I apply to be a commissioner?
Recruitment takes place every year. Edmonton City Council appoints commissioners, and there could be a number of openings on the commission this upcoming round. The Safer for All report also makes several recommendations (pg. 41) to change the composition and recruitment of the Police Commission to be more diverse and representative of Edmonton’s diverse communities.
Even if you don't personally want to serve as a commissioner, you can email your councillor and tell them what kind of commissioners the 2017-2021 Council should be appointing.
For more information:
Safer For All report: https://www.edmonton.ca/public-files/assets/document?path=PDF/SaferForAll-CSWBTaskForce-Report-March30_2021.pdf
Edmonton Police Commission: https://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/city_organization/edmonton-police-commission
Edmonton Police Commission members:
Edmonton Police Commission Bylaw: https://www.edmonton.ca/sites/default/files/public-files/documents/PDF/C14040.pdf