Retired Edmonton officer on policing high-risk offenders: ‘The system is failing’
At any given time, there are more than two dozen dangerous offenders in the Edmonton area. It’s a shocking statistic and one that keeps some police officers up at night.
So who’s responsible for monitoring these violent offenders once they’re released from jail?
Their names have made headlines before in Edmonton.
Kenneth MacWatt served a seven-year sentence for aggravated sexual assault. Just two months later, he was sent back to prison after he randomly stabbed a woman in a wheelchair.
Michael Stanley had a lengthy history of assault and forcible confinement charges dating back to 1984. In 2013, he cut off his ankle monitor and fled to the United States, where he continued to reoffend against both minors and adults.
Dana Fash became known as the “Mill Woods rapist” after he was convicted of sexually assaulting two women as a teenager. He held one at knifepoint and stabbed another with scissors. He was tried as an adult.
Fash has served his time and is currently living in an Edmonton neighbourhood.
A spokesperson for Correctional Service Canada explained in an email to Global News why these types of criminals are freed: “By law, offenders who have reached the end of their sentence must be released into the community. Offenders who have reached the end of their sentence are no longer under the Correctional Service of Canada’s jurisdiction.”
At that point, the offenders are released without any oversight. They’re not on probation or parole. There are often no conditions upon their release. They’re simply free.
“They’re coming out no matter what and they have served their time,” Det. Greg Kitura explained.
Kitura works for the Edmonton Police Service’s Behavioural Assessment Unit (BAU) and is one of the people who help fill a gap in the justice system.
“We’re a specialized unit within the Edmonton police that deals only with high-risk, violent sexual offenders and high-risk violent offenders who are released to the Edmonton area,” Kitura explained.
When the Correctional Service of Canada deems an offender to be high risk, it notifies the Edmonton police. Kitura’s unit then makes its own assessment of the person to determine their likelihood of reoffending.
“This risk assessment not only looks at their offending history but looks at their entire life history: their family upbringing, education, employment, mental health — all of those kinds of things,” he said.
If detectives in the BAU also fear a convicted criminal may offend again, they can apply for a Section 810 peace bond through the courts.
“These sections allow the police to be a little proactive. We can place conditions onto someone who has completed their whole sentence,” Kitura explained.
At any given time, the BAU’s team of five is tasked with supervising 25 to 30 high-risk offenders through the peace bonds.
“We meet with them on a personal basis, at least once or twice a week. We see them in person. They come to meet with us. We do formal interviews or we meet them in their homes. We’ll go knock on the doors or wherever they may be, we’ll just show up,” Kitura said.
In addition to keeping tabs on offenders, the detectives also try and help them adjust to life outside of prison.
“We work with these social agencies, treatment agencies, to assist in their reintegration into the community,” Kitura explained.
It’s a constant balancing act, trying to be a life coach, making sure the public is safe and trying to ensure that criminals don’t reoffend.
“Their risk will never be completely eliminated. It’s just like an alcoholic who will always have to deal with alcoholism as an issue,” Kitura said.
The responsibility can keep him up at night. Retired EPS officer Doug MacLeod knows that feeling all too well. He worked in the BAU for six years.
“It causes a great deal of stress and a feeling of hopelessness because you want to make sure that they don’t reoffend. You want to make sure they’re not hurting children and women in the community — but there are times that they do. And then you feel terrible about it,” he said.
MacLeod supervised MacWatt, Stanley and Fash during his 34 years with EPS. He says many of the offenders he dealt with were unmanageable in the community.
“Many of them come from horrible backgrounds… in terms of their family life as they were growing up. Many of them didn’t finish school,” he said.
“Many of them have not worked so they’re unemployable. Many of them suffer from mental illness. They’re bipolar, they’re manic, they may be schizophrenic… They’re very much dependent on drugs and alcohol. They have severe substance abuse problems.”
WATCH (March 2, 2015): High-risk sex offender Michael Stanley arrested in Seattle
MacLeod says it’s impossible for officers to supervise the offenders 24-7. They’re not resourced for it so despite police’s efforts, criminals do reoffend.
“The Edmonton Police Service, and all the agencies like it across Canada, do the best with what they have. They’re doing the best job that they can. But the system is failing. And we need to fix that system,” MacLeod said.
“We don’t live in a country that will ever lock somebody up and throw away the key. We don’t believe in capital punishment; that’s fine. But we do need to make sure that our communities are as safe as they can be. Presently, we are putting our communities at risk.”
He thinks the Correctional Service of Canada is better suited to deal with some of the reintegration aspects of the work the BAU is currently doing.
“Corrections Canada needs to take the lead on this. They need to make the application for the recognizance order. They have all the tools set up and all the manpower in place, the management tools that would allow them to properly supervise and manage these individuals,” he said.
MacLeod fears that unless changes are made, there are innocent people who stand to be hurt or even killed.
“It’s your mom, your sister, your daughters, your kids. It’s those people that are in the community that are at risk,” he said.
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.