Dispute over contract length ends Edmonton police chief’s tenure

Knecht describes relationship with police commission as ‘caustic’
WATCH ABOVE: Outgoing Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht is opening up about the dispute that ultimately led to his contract not being renewed.

Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht said he and the Edmonton Police Commission (EPC) could not come to an agreement over the length of his contract extension, which is why he will be leaving the service at the end of his current contract in October.

Knecht released a statement on Friday, which stated he originally hoped to see his contract extended until the end of June 2019. He said this would give him enough time to complete a number of initiatives, which included mentoring senior EPS leaders to prepare them for the competition for chief.

Knecht said the June 2019 extension date was initially accepted by the chair and vice-chair of the EPC the week of March 26. However, following a commission meeting a few weeks later, they came back proposing his contract only be extended until the end of March 2019, Knecht explained.

Speaking to reporters later in the day, Tim O’Brien — the chair of the EPC — was asked if Knecht’s recollection of what happened differs from his.

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“If there’s any confusion, it’s just a misunderstanding,” O’Brien said. “The governance model that we work under, one individual, whether it be the chair or the vice-chair… cannot bind the entire commission.

“We can take the information the chief gives us in part of the negotiation and we come back to the commission as a whole, and it is the commission that as a whole makes the decision, passes the motion that would make the chief a new contract. A decision of this magnitude is not made by one individual, it’s the commission as a whole.”

READ MORE: Edmonton police chief says he’s on the verge of new contract

The chief said he didn’t think a five-month extension would give him enough time to “adequately address” the initiatives on his list, which also included setting up a cybercrimes strategy, seeing a Community Wellness Centre come to fruition and seeing through two major capital projects — the Northwest Division Campus and a new administrative building.

“I also felt it wouldn’t be in the best interests of the organization or the community to leave in the midst of such significant organizational change given that adjusted time frame,” Knecht said.

“No other options were provided by the EPC, and as a result, I will be completing my existing contract, which concludes at the end of October 2018.”

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O’Brien said the reason the EPC was offering an extension only up until March 31 was so “that once the search started, we wanted to move as expeditiously as possible.”

“From the commission’s point of view, once the chief signed an extension, for whatever length of time, the search process was going to start right away and we wanted to make that happen as expeditiously as possible.”

Watch below: Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht and the Edmonton Police Commission say a dispute over three months was all that prevented the two sides from agreeing to a contract extension for Knecht. But as Fletcher Kent reports, some former police commissioners say there’s more to the story. 

Edmonton Police Commission and Police Chief Rod Knecht explain why contract extension didn’t get done
Edmonton Police Commission and Police Chief Rod Knecht explain why contract extension didn’t get done

In a statement Thursday, the EPC did not go into the details of the contract length. Councillor Scott McKeen, who represents council on the police commission, said it came down to a scheduling issue.

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“I think it was just trying to reach the right time,” McKeen said. “Chief Knecht was not going to be around much longer anyway so it was just trying to work that out, I think. So, ‘not being extended’ sounds like the commission has a problem with Chief Knecht and that is absolutely not the case.”

O’Brien spoke about the EPC’s relationship with Knecht on Friday.

“The relationship that we have with the chief is professional and correct.” he said. “Part of the role of the commission is to challenge the ideas that come from the service and to make sure that we stress-test them so that we get the best policy and policing in the city of Edmonton and when you have that kind of challenge going back and forth, sometimes that creates a natural tension.”

John Lilley resigned from the EPC several months ago. On Friday, he told Global News “it’s not been an easy two years.”

READ MORE: Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht leaves ‘huge shoes to fill’: councillor

“The relationship has deteriorated between the chief and the various commission members,” he said. “[It’s] personalities. Some people just can’t get along.
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“Three months. You’d think somebody could come to agreement there but somebody drew a line in the sand, I guess.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Knecht released an internal memo to members of the EPS, informing them of his intention to leave after his current contract was up.

“I believed it was their right to hear first, directly from me, as opposed to learning of it on social media or otherwise,” Knecht explained. “Given that any extension to my contract ultimately rests with the Edmonton Police Commission, I further wanted to respect their role of advising the community of the commencement of a search for the next chief of police. That occurred late yesterday morning.”

Watch below: The questions continue about why the contract for Edmonton’s police chief will not be renewed. Rod Knecht had expressed a desire to stay on with the service. Vinesh Pratap has more on what’s driving the push for change.

Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht’s contract will not be renewed
Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht’s contract will not be renewed

Knecht was sworn in as Edmonton’s 22nd chief of police in June 2011. Over the past seven years, Knecht said he’s watched the EPS become what he believes to be the best police service in North America.

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“I’ve worked with an outstanding group of professionals, both sworn and civilian, that strive every day to make Edmonton the safest major city in Canada,” he said.

“I am extremely proud of the many achievements of the Edmonton Police Service throughout my time as chief of police and the positive community support that I have experienced.”

O’Brien thanked Knecht for his service and pointed out the chief took over his role during a “fairly tumultuous time in the service’s history.”

“Chief Knecht was tasked with restoring order and accountability within the service. He was transformative, ushering in many policies and procedures that moved the city police force to a more modernized approach to policing, earning him North American-wide recognition and many awards.”

O’Brien said the EPC hopes to have a chief in place for Nov. 1 but said if they’re still looking for the successful candidates, he knows there are people in the Edmonton Police Service who can fulfill the role of acting chief.

The EPC chair said a subcommittee has been struck to work with a consultant on finding a new chief.