The Lethbridge Police Service has been given a three-week deadline to have a report on how it plans to address the issues of waning public and government confidence in the force, or it could be dissolved by the Department of Justice.
Justice Minister and Solicitor General Kaycee Madu sent a series of letters to Lethbridge Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh, Lethbridge Police Commission chair Robert Van Spronsen and Mayor Chris Spearman saying the report — which must include specific plans to address changes to recruiting, training, oversight, discipline and transparency — needs to be sent to his department by April 16.
The letters, sent earlier this week, reiterate Madu’s “very serious concerns” related to issues plaguing the service, including recent allegations of officers doing unauthorized police database searches on NDP MLA Shannon Phillips.
Phillips confirmed last month she was the subject of searches which the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, the province’s police watchdog, said were conducted between January and November 2018, when she was Alberta’s environment minister under the NDP government.
In May of last year, then-interim police chief Scott Woods was also forced to address a Bridge City News report that alleged the LPS was a toxic and broken workplace, with a “high level of disfunction.”
As of March 11, the ASIRT has nine open investigations into LPS situations. That’s in addition to a number of internal investigations into allegations within the LPS.
In the letters, Madu referenced a March 9 conversation with Mehdizadeh and Van Spronsen, where both officials said they were committed to “enacting significant changes within the LPS that are necessary to restore public confidence in the service.”
Both Mehdizadeh and Van Spronsen also agreed to work with the ministry’s chief of staff to devise the plan.
“While I was encouraged by your acknowledgement of the issues and commitment to addressing them, I remain concerned that there must be a well-defined, written plan in place to address those issues, and that there be monitoring of the progress made toward implementing key milestones of that plan,” Madu wrote in the letter to Van Spronsen and Mehdizadeh.
“It is my expectation that the plan will outline how the chief and yourself at the commission will undertake specific initiatives to address the workplace culture in the service, including initiatives related to recruitment, training, oversight, discipline and transparency.”
Madu said he wants the plan to include “specific timelines that are being contemplated and anticipated checkpoints or progress reporting dates, and the expectation is that the people of Lethbridge will be well informed about the changes and work underway within the police force.
“Should I not see a plan for addressing the acknowledged issues, or should I not see evidence of progress in relation to acting upon that plan, then I will be in a position to truly consider utilizing the extraordinary authorities available to me under section 30 of the Police Act,” Madu wrote in all three letters.
In an emailed statement, the LPS said it is “able to offer such assurance” that Madu was looking for in his letter, adding “we have been deploying an action plan over the past several months to address the problems raised by these troubling past cases.
“In fact, while the minister had set a deadline of April 16 to receive such a report from us, we expect to provide it much earlier,” the police service said.
The service said once their plan is reviewed and approved by the police commission, it will be sent to the ministry.
“The action plan will contain a number of measures and set an identifiable timeframe for delivery, but an underlying common theme will be to ensure consistent accountability and a consistently high standard of integrity in our service delivery,” the LPS said.
“Further details of this plan can be released at appropriate times in the future.”
Spearman said in an email that he is “confident that chief Mehdizadeh and the Lethbridge Police Commission understand the importance of this task and are making it their number one priority.”
“We know there is important and critical work to be done within LPS and a plan is being developed to address that. Lethbridge residents should continue to feel confident in the police service that is here to protect them,” Spearman said.
“We know there are many, many hard working and dedicated LPS staff who go to work every day committed to the safety and wellbeing of our community.”
— With files from Quinn Campbell and Karen Bartko, Global News