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Calgary’s police chief, union call killing of George Floyd ‘gut-wrenching’ and ‘heartbreaking’

Residents walk the streets of downtown Calgary on Monday, June 1, 2020, as part of a protest following the death of George Floyd.
Residents walk the streets of downtown Calgary on Monday, June 1, 2020, as part of a protest following the death of George Floyd. Lauren Pullen / Global News

Calgary’s top cop called the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week “gut-wrenching” on Tuesday.

Police chief Mark Neufeld made the remarks while speaking on Calgary Today with Joe McFarland on 770 CHQR.

“As we watched in Calgary, the footage of the officer on George Floyd — there’s no question that was something that was preventable, it was avoidable, and I’m not surprised he was charged,” he said.

READ MORE: George Floyd: What we know about the arrest, video and investigation

Neufeld said when he watched the video, he asked himself what lessons he could take from it but noted he doesn’t think something like this would happen here.

“I see tactics there that we wouldn’t use. You have people on the street too and the gentleman himself saying that he can’t breathe and people pointing that out,” he said.

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“Our folks here would be switching to life-saving measures and that sort of thing, and I didn’t see that there either.”

READ MORE: George Floyd protesters defy curfews across U.S. amid Trump’s military threats

Neufeld admitted that the Calgary Police Service is not perfect but said officers work on maintaining relationships with the community.

“We have the relationships with our communities and we learn from them and we stay engaged ahead of time so when bad things happen — and they do happen here as well — but we’re actually not introducing ourselves at that point,” he said.

“We have relationships that we can rely on and we can work through those things together.”

READ MORE: Edmonton police chief calls death of George Floyd ‘criminal’

He said no matter where events like this happen in the world, CPS tries to see what lessons it can take from it.

“This is a reminder that you’re sort of one bad incident away from having a big negative impact on the amount of trust and confidence that the public affords you,” he said.

READ MORE: Edmonton police condemn killing of George Floyd: ‘Unacceptable’

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During the interview, Neufeld was asked specifically about the officers who were seen at Monday’s protest in Calgary taking a knee alongside protesters.

“I was down myself. I just thought that the community did a great job here in Calgary as they do,” he said, noting that CPS attends about 600 demonstrations per year.

“You saw people coming together down there. I don’t think anybody’s happy about what’s happened. I don’t think anyone supports the racism or the notion of police brutality. Our members don’t and so I don’t think even down there yesterday we’re so far apart.”

READ MORE: More than 1,500 Calgarians fill streets in 2nd protest in wake of George Floyd’s death

Police association weighs in

Calgary Police Association president John Orr echoed many of Neufeld’s comments in a separate interview on Calgary Today.

Orr said it is “heartbreaking” to see what’s happening south of the border but noted he was proud to see how Calgarians and CPS reacted.

He said there is always going to be allegations — or in some cases, actual police misconduct — but pointed out that in Calgary, those instances are few and far between.

Orr said that is still too often in his opinion.

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“Nobody dislikes a bad cop more than a good cop and that’s true of us at the Calgary Police Association as well. Any instances of police brutality are unacceptable,” he said.

He highlighted the fact that Alberta has a rigorous oversight process for cops.

“We have [the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team] to investigate criminal matters or matters that are very sensitive, we have Police Act investigations, there [are] fatality inquiries, there’s civil litigation [and] there [are] all of these forums to hold police officers accountable,” he said.

READ MORE: Lethbridge police chief calls death of George Floyd a ‘sobering reminder’

He said Canada has a very different dynamic between police and citizens.

“I think that’s because of years of building positive relationships with the community,” he said.

“That’s because we have a very stringent hiring process. We also have excellent training. We have officers who wear body-worn cameras everywhere they go. I think we’ve built a level of trust with the community.”

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Orr said he recognizes that trust can be tested at any time but said officers are always striving to maintain the relationship with citizens.