The Edmonton Police Service met with community leaders to discuss the police force’s controversial street checks policy on Wednesday night, but the meeting didn’t go as planned for everyone involved.
The meeting came after the release of data that showed black or indigenous Edmontonians were more likely to be subject to street checks.
Edmonton police describe street checks as a conversation between a member of the public and a police officer, in which police are interested in knowing what a person is doing in an area prone to crime and victimization. The EPS said information is recorded by police and entered into their records management system. The EPS maintains racial information is not automatically collected as part of the report.
Edmonton police said they invited community leaders to the meeting who have a specific interest in the street-check policy.
Black Lives Matter (BLM) co-chair Bashir Mohamed was invited with a fellow member of the group. However, the pair — who showed up with other members of the public — refused to go inside when they learned it was not open to the public, calling it “very secretive.”
“It is disappointing that they shut the door on us,” Mohamed said. “Any discussion we have with someone in a leadership position should be in a public setting so people know what’s going on… we’re not refusing to meet. We showed up, they just didn’t let us in.”
Police chief Rod Knecht said he was disappointed that members of BLM did not attend the meeting, adding it was important to start the discussion with a focused group.
“We focused on the community leaders. The people that were engaged, the people that were the voices of their community and reflected the interest and the concerns of their community specific to the street check issue,” he said. “It was a good-sized group where you could actually get at the issues, discuss them and come up with solutions and a way forward.
“I think there was a lot of value and they would have added value to the equation here today. I think it would have been good to get their perspective and I think they would have appreciated the perspective of the other people in the room.”
Watch below: Global National’s Reid Fiest reports on the calls for the checks to be banned in Alberta
Community representatives in attendance said it was a thoughtful, educated discussion and they left feeling positive that their concerns were heard.
“It was a frank and open discussion,” said Ahmed Abdulkadir, executive director of the Ogaden Somali Community of Alberta Residents (OSCAR), adding he liked the more intimate setting of the meeting.
“I was expecting a little bit of pushback from EPS but EPS was open to any policy review that the community is concerned with.”
Kari Thomason, with the Metis Child and Family Services Society, also thought the meeting went well, adding she believes in street checks.
“It has helped within our aboriginal community, helping locate those that have been reported missing. So it has helped, there is positive aspects,” she said.
“There is no hidden agenda, there is no targeting and that needs to be put out there and perceived by everyone that this is a benefit to our community at large.
“When somebody is out there and they’re getting street checked, it’s going to be that, if they’re in a difficult predicament within their lives, if they are out there and they are homeless and they’re in an area where there is a high crime rate. So if they’re being street-checked over and over by officers, it’s for their own safety. It’s not as individuals being targeted.”
Knecht said the discussion wasn’t without “some bumps,” adding there is work to be done when it comes to the transparency of the program. He said the group came out with four items the police and the community will work together on.
- Community consultation
- A better definition of what a street check is
- A policy review
- More training for police officers
“Some interesting things came up about perception,” Knecht said. “Our officers have a certain perception, the community has a certain perception. So we’re going to work towards a common perception so we better understand each other.”
Knecht said he strongly believes police and the community will reach a common ground that both will be comfortable with.
“I didn’t hear anybody in there say they don’t want checks anymore,” he said. “They were supportive of checks. It’s just the way we do checks, the way we communicate checks, the way we record those checks going forward – that’s the discussion we’re going to have going forward.
“We want to reflect the needs and the desires and the wants of the community. We’re not going to tell the community what to do. I think the community should be telling us what we want,” he continued. “As long as it’s legal, moral and ethical I think we can make it happen.
Knecht said everyone at the meeting was given a copy of the street-check policy. The group will meet again on Sept. 1 to discuss any issues they have with the policy and how best to move forward
Knecht said he is open to a public meeting, as long as it’s what the community leaders want.
Last week, the Edmonton Police Commission announced it will launch a third-party external review of the controversial street-check practice.