This week, Knecht came to Global News for an exit interview, speaking at length on multiple issues including his relationship with the Edmonton Police Commission in the months leading up to his retirement.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Vinesh Pratap: We’ve heard the term “caustic relationship” with the police commission. What’s your take on everything?
Rod Knecht: It wasn’t the greatest relationship going out the door. It really came down to a difference of a time of me leaving. I think the commission had a date and I had a date and we really didn’t land on some middle ground. It is what is is; I’m here now and I’m in a good place, I think I’m ready to retire. I don’t know, maybe I needed a little help to be pushed out the door anyway.
Watch below: Wednesday will be the last day on the job for Edmonton’s police chief Rod Knecht. Vinesh Pratap sits down with Jennifer Crosby to discuss the chief’s career.
VP: What do you feel you’ve been able to accomplish since 2011?
RK: I think we were very inwardly focused when I got there, and I think we’re more outwardly focused. I think we’re certainly on the provincial stage, we’re on the national stage. We’re on the international stage as far as the police service.
The other part of our vision is to be the safest major city in Canada. I think we’re on our way. I think that’s a long-term goal; that’s probably a 10-year thing to make that happen, and that requires everybody pulling together in the same direction. Our fatal accidents are down. Our homicides are down this year compared to other years.
VP: What do you say to those groups who say they feel that police are still detached from them?
RK: We’re not perfect. We’re human beings. We’re going to make mistakes.
One specific community, we couldn’t get that particular community to warm up to the police. We couldn’t get anyone from the community to apply to the Edmonton Police Service. We were doing it wrong; we were trying to recruit the young people. What we had to do was go out to the families to talk to the parents… and win them over. And they, in turn, would say, ‘It’s different here. The police are your friend.’
We all bring our backgrounds to the job and we learn as we go along and we make mistakes. Community outreach and community engagement is priority one for the Edmonton Police Service.
Watch below: Rod Knecht is stepping down from his position as Edmonton’s police chief this week. Gord Steinke sat down to interview Knecht on Monday.
VP: So, along those lines: how come there hasn’t been an apology to the LGBTQ community (for past mistreatment)?
RK: Now, some folks would say it takes way too long and why didn’t you just come out and apologize. Well, I didn’t want our apology to be trite. I didn’t want it to be, ‘Well, let’s just check off a box and then everything will go away and we don’t have to worry about this.’ I think what we’ve done, what we’re doing right is we have built a strategy that will — it’s not about chief Rod Knecht. It’s about the Edmonton Police Service and what are we going to do long-term. Because people will say, ‘He’s just giving an apology, but he’s going out the door. So, it means nothing.’
I think you’re going to see a strategy fairly quick here. It’s going to be a strategy that will go beyond an apology.
VP: But that will be up to the next chief to implement?
RK: Yeah, it will be.
VP: Let’s talk about what you feel you haven’t been able to accomplish?
RK: Probably after my first year, I learned a lot about the vulnerable people in the community – the homeless, the mentally ill, the addicted. I thought there was so much more we could do. So, I wanted to set up a community wellness centre; I pushed that for five years… but it really never caught.
We wanted to shift it away from, ‘Let’s go arrest these people and put them through the court system and incarcerate them’ and them on that sort of hamster wheel. I thought the idea we had on taking people out of the criminal justice system, getting them to reconnect with their families, get the health care they needed, get them to safe housing. I thought that would have really pushed the yardstick forward.
I think a lot of our drug addiction problems would go away. I think a lot of our homeless issues would go away if we focus more on mental well-being.
READ MORE: Edmonton’s interim police chief announced
VP: So, why do you think there was so much resistance to maybe change course and be a pioneer down a different path?
RK: There’s a lot of people with the very best of intentions, and we sometimes get stuck in a rut. I’m guilty of that – you get focused on a certain thing and you don’t look at other ways of doing things.
VP: What’s your legacy for the City of Edmonton?
RK: I’m a little reluctant to say, ‘This is my legacy.’ As far as I am going out the door, very rewarding time here. One thing I find about Edmontonians is they’re very caring, they’re very giving. My greatest joy in this job is the interaction with the people and having that conversation.