Calgary police provide update on anti-racism, use of force work

The Calgary Police Service headquarters in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

The chief and executive for the Calgary Police Service provided an update to the Calgary Police Commission on some of the anti-racism work they’ve been doing since a September meeting with Calgary city council admitting the anti-racism work needed to be done.

Of the 11 areas of anti-racism work CPS identified, the service has been working on five in the past month: building a framework to create an anti-racism strategy, implementation of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) practices, reviewing the school resource officer (SRO) program, allocation of funds to a non-police response model and better communication with the community.

READ MORE: Calgary Police Service to begin anti-racism work, reallocate funds 

Commission members heard that CPS is still in the process of meeting and consulting with outside experts and associated organizations like the city on matters like the anti-racism strategy and engaging with the community.

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And it’s still early in the SRO review process for CPS.

“We are currently building the tender document that specifies the terms of reference and the deliverables for the evaluation of the program,” Deputy Chief Katie McLellan said.

The deputy chief said the CPS expects to hear about how the program is going and get stakeholder feedback.

“We do expect that the tender will be issued probably mid- to end of November with the work beginning in December.”

CPS has been meeting with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police POLIS (Police Information and Statistics) committee on how to best collect race-based data. Previously, Calgary officers collected the data sporadically, noting any ethnicity as what they perceived — a problematic practice.

McLellan said CPS agreed to end the practice and is “engaging community representatives from jurisdictions to see what we should capture, how we should capture it and when we should capture.”

The work to integrate best EDI practices into a police force like Calgary’s isn’t where Deputy Chief Raj Gill thinks “it ought to be at.”

“We’re certainly getting the eight ball, but we’re working hard to catch up as best we can and get moving forward on this work,” he said.

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Gill said the setbacks include filling senior management positions, the coronavirus pandemic and the anti-racism and Black Lives Matter protests that sprouted up after the death of George Floyd.

But Gill said his team is working on getting that EDI work back on track.

“We’re working on that right now — over the next month or two — and we will have a good indication of that timeline into January of next year,” he said.

The commission heard an update on the use of body-worn cameras and release of footage from the cameras — another area of work-in-progress for the service, with legal and privacy concerns to work around.

Chief Mark Neufeld also said conversations have been ongoing about the reallocation of funds from CPS to allow for calls where police aren’t the best first responder, like those involving mental health concerns.

“The important proviso would be that it would have to reduce demand for police in the short term,” Neufeld said. “So we have done some work on that in our most recent budget submission there for 2021.”

That budget has to be approved by the commission and then city council in its November budget deliberations.

Difference of opinion

The police chief addressed concerns from commission chair Bonita Croft about a recent letter in the Calgary Police Association magazine 10-4 in which Geoff Hoover questions the assertion of systemic racism in the service.

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“Having been a part of this organization for 12 years, I can assert from my own perspective that systemic racism does not exist in the Calgary Police Service,” Hoover wrote, also saying Black Lives Matter hates “all things policing.”

Neufeld said CPS members have a variety of opinions that span the same range Calgarians have.

“We just need to start with folks where they are,” he said. “And our message has just been to not be defensive about this discussion and just to be open-minded and curious about the lived experience of everybody in the community.

“Even though the voices aren’t as many that are expressing concern, they’re no less important.

“And I think that’s been our message through engagement thus far with the members.”

Use of force update

CPS also provided an update on how the service is implementing recommendations from the 2017 use of force review by Chief Justice Neil Wittmann.

Of the 65 recommendations, CPS say 88 per cent have been or are being implemented. Work has yet to begin on two of the recommendations.

CPS said the most important piece that hasn’t yet been implemented — but is on track — is the standardization police officer training program, from recruitment to going on their first call.

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“We’re revamping and reviewing our training programs that we offer recruits, both in the academic portion but also in the skills training, which is also where we do their use of force and de-escalation training,” Gill said. “And the area that we are going to strengthen our efforts on de-escalation and training in that regard — cultural awareness, anti-racism, bias-free and procedural justice.”

CPS expects that revamped training process to be complete by March 2021.

Neufeld said it will take more time to see on-the-street results of the anti-racism work within CPS.

“I think the measurement on some of these is a little bit more complicated,” the chief said. “And so to be able to point from A to B to direct this was the cause of that, this was causation — I think that may be a more difficult thing and I think it may be further down the road.”

2020 CPS Response to Wittmann Report

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