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‘No one teaches that stuff!’ Edmonton police want more training to work with Somali-Canadians

WATCH ABOVE: At times, it's been a strained relationship, but efforts continue to build trust between Edmonton police and the city's Somali community. Vinesh Pratap explains.

Edmonton Police officers want more training in how to interact with members of the Somali-Canadian community, according to a report submitted to the police commission. The researcher who authored the report is a University of Alberta criminologist.

“EPS members did say that they wished they had more specific cultural training on different communities,” Dr. Sandra Bucerius told 630 CHED’s Scott Johnston. “They are very well trained when it comes to generic multiculturalism but front-line members felt that they would benefit from more detailed knowledge on different communities.”

During her presentation, she quoted a passage from one un-named officer who saw an incident that quickly escalated because members weren’t up to speed on Muslim beliefs.

“He described to me a situation during an arrest, and he said: ‘This guy was freaking out and becoming aggressive. And then I saw that a Qur’an was lying on the ground. The guy just wanted to pick it up but my colleagues did not pick up on this, they were not even aware that this was an issue because they don’t know the rules. So, he got to pick up the Qur’an and was cooperating after.

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“‘Rules like that, we need to know them. No one teaches that stuff!'”

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Bucerius credited officers for coming up with community techniques to build bridges.

“For example, going into a specific restaurant once a week to build those relationships was one thing that was constantly mentioned or listening to the concerns of community members as opposed to going to the community and telling them what’s best for them.”

“The best skill you can have as a police officer certainly in multi-cultural communities is to listen first,” EPS Chief Rod Knecht told reporters. “So we teach our members that.

“The feedback from our members in this study is quite frankly very positive. They want to learn more, they want to know more.”

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Scroll down to read the full Somali Experience in Alberta report. 

Representatives from the Somali-Canadian community have their doubts about the study, although overall they’re pleased.

To Mohamed Hersi, there isn’t enough verification on how the responses were collected.

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“Who they did? Where they went? Their parents, their elders, the Imams, we don’t know where they got the people to interview?”

The relationship between the EPS and the community continues to improve, said Bashir Ahmed, executive director of the Somali Canadian Education and Rural Development Organization.

“Build a more healthy atmosphere in order to go to the next step.”

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He said some are even considering a career with the EPS.

“They are very much interested in joining the police services but there’s issues that need to be tackled before we go into those positions.”

Ahmed said improving communication will help.

Knecht said he’s aware of one individual who has applied with the service, but doesn’t know the status of where things stand in the recruiting process. More are expected to join.

“What I was told certainly by the young people in the community is, you’ve actually got to win over the elders. You’ve got to win over the older people to say this is a career that is viable, that has great opportunity, that pays well, has benefits. Police officers are held in high esteem in Edmonton.”

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Community advocate Ahmed Abdulkadir, with the Ogaden Somali Community of Alberta Residents, said the number one focus to move forward is understanding the culture.

“Within this report, the Somali community’s culture is completely misunderstood.

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“The structure of Somali culture is similar to indigenous culture: we respect the elders … The people that police the Somali community are the elders. The elders are the ones that find solutions when somebody dies. The elders are the ones who find solutions when there’s a marriage. The elders are the ones who find solutions when there’s a dispute,” Abdulkadir said.

“That is one thing we need to advocate: promoting the culture and empowering the Somali community at large.”

After a homicide on New Year’s Day in 2011, detective Bill Clark expressed his frustration over what he described as lack of cooperation from potential witnesses.

“We’ve made great strides since then,” Knecht said.

The study compared attitudes between Edmonton and Toronto. Bucerius told the police commission that surprisingly, Edmonton fares better.

With a file from Global News

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