“Well, 2020 certainly has had its challenges.”
That is perhaps an understatement from Calgary Police Commission chair Bonita Croft. Croft sat down with Global News to look back at an eventful year for the police’s civilian oversight body.
“None of us expected that we would have a COVID-19 pandemic,” Croft begins. “And for the Calgary Police Service, that certainly has meant adapting to a lot of new procedures and rules and challenges that couldn’t have fully been planned for.”
“And of course, in the same year, we have seen an incredible surge in the public conversation about racism in our society and all of our institutions, and particularly in policing.”
Croft is optimistic that the work the commission has done in the past year sets them up to make real progress with new initiatives.
Croft commended the Calgary Police Service in how they handled the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March, having to not only enforce public health orders and mask mandates but also having to put in COVID-19 policies for their own members.
“I think the police service has really stepped up and stepped up in ways that demonstrate their commitment to keeping Calgarians safe, even when it means adding new risk for themselves. And not just for themselves, for their families,” she said.
Wednesday, CPS Chief Mark Neufeld told Global News Morning Calgary’s Dallas Flexhaug that the coronavirus has not impacted police service numbers too terribly.
“We’ve had a total of 50 positive cases for COVID since the beginning, and only four in the first wave,” Neufeld said. “And so we have seen more since the second wave came around … 100 per cent of the people that we’ve had have recovered.”
Anti-racism takes the forefront
Following the death of George Floyd while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department, thousands of Calgarians took to the streets in protest.
CPS and the police commission tuned in to hear hundreds of Calgarians during a public hearing on systemic racism in the city. In a September city council meeting, police and the commission admitted there was a problem with racism in the service and committed to anti-racism work.
But Croft said it wasn’t just the death of Floyd in May that led police to take action –it’s been a years-long process to improve equity, diversity and inclusion.
“What we saw this year was a real increase in the focus on racial diversity in particular,” the police commission chair said. “And what that’s done, I think, is allow us all to learn more about what that looks like here in our city and in our country.”
Croft said the police and commission spent most of 2020 listening to the diverse members of Calgary, hearing their concerns and lived experiences with policing.
“Some of our assumptions and what we thought we knew about our relationship with diverse members of our community has been tested, challenged, and we’ve learned a lot of things that may not have been fully realized or recognized before,” she said.
“That sets us up really well, I think, for moving forward. And I’m really excited, actually, to move forward into 2021 to start taking action on this.”
While there have been some very vocal members of CPS opposing the anti-racism work their leadership committed to and decrying efforts like those led by the Defund2Fund group.
“The concerns that we have heard from members of the Calgary Police Service are concerns about not yet knowing what the changes are going to mean for them,” Croft said. “So there’s uncertainty.”
Croft said the commission and CPS leadership need to hear out concerns from all CPS members, a process that will help ensure the members trust they will have the resources they need to do their job.
As part of the city budget process, police suggesting reallocating $8 million from the CPS budget to explore alternative call response models and the Community Safety Investment Framework.
City council instead put up $8 million from their reserves, inviting police to make the decision on their suggested $8 million. It was a move the police commission chair welcomed.
“It allows us a little flexibility to step back and think, ‘OK, how else can we add value now that we have a little more flexibility and how else can we best use that funding to further the commitments that Calgary Police Service has made for the coming year? And there are a lot of them, including supporting and contributing to the work on alternative service delivery models.”
If alternative service delivery models prove beneficial in not having police respond to calls where they are not the best-suited response, like mental health calls, Croft said police funding could change to reflect that reduced need.
“And that’s the job the commission has to take to city council: what we believe to be the budget required to meet those needs for policing services.”
Policing during a pandemic under the added weight of calls for police reform — or even defunding — puts added stress onto an already stressful job, Croft recognized.
“There has been a lot of pressure put on our police officers at every rank — leadership and all through the ranks — through this year, and I know it hasn’t been easy,” Croft told Global News. “We know that there have been a lot of concerns about their own personal safety.”
Croft credits CPS leadership and organizations like the Calgary Police Association and Senior Officers Association with supporting CPS members with the added stressors. Croft also said the commission has a role in those efforts.
“It’s to make sure that the people who are carrying out this policing work have the right resources and have the support from us and from Calgarians to do their job well and to keep them safe while they’re doing it,” she said.
New commission members
On Nov. 4, Mayor Naheed Nenshi announced Councillors George Chahal and Gian-Carlo Carra would be council’s new members of the police commission. Coun. Jeromy Farkas’ term had ended and Coun. Jyoti Gondek resigned her seat.
A day later, professional engineer and co-chair of Alberta’s Anti-Racism Advisory Council Heather Campbell and former Carya CEO Susan Mallon were confirmed as new members of the commission.
The commission chair characterized the additions as “adding depth to the ability of the commission to do this important work.”
“It’s not so much that it’s changing the character of the police commission.”
Eight of the 12 members are women, and five are BIPOC members, enabling the commission to tap into the diversity of Calgary’s demographics.
“We have really diverse views and opinions around the table, and we have a very engaged, talented and committed group of volunteers who don’t shy away from sharing those views,” Croft said. “So the new members that we have had join us are going to add to what was already a very robust and great conversation.”
Croft says the work done in the past year around anti-racism efforts and alternate delivery models has laid the foundation for the commission and police to improve their service.
“We have built partnerships, strengthened partnerships with the police association, with the city, with organizations that the Calgary Police Service partners with on preventative programs,” the commission chair said. “And we have strengthened the depth of the expertise we have around the table at the commission to work on those issues going forward.
“So as we head into 2021, I am optimistic that we are very well placed to start taking action.”