Advertisement

Lethbridge police chief addresses department concerns in virtual town hall

Click to play video: 'Alberta justice minister ‘disappointed’ by Lethbridge police action plan' Alberta justice minister ‘disappointed’ by Lethbridge police action plan
WATCH ABOVE (May 31, 2021): The Lethbridge Police Service and police commission have been asked to submit a more detailed action plan to Justice Minister Kaycee Madu to address concerns that have been raised about the police department. The Department of Justice found the initial report to be insufficient. Danica Ferris reports – May 31, 2021

The head of police in a southern Alberta city has addressed criticisms of his department in the face of continued warnings from the justice minister that the force could be disbanded.

Lethbridge Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh held an 80-minute virtual town hall on Tuesday night to outline plans for the department going forward.

He suggested ongoing media attention, policing during the pandemic, budget cuts and the opioid crisis have been major challenges for the Lethbridge Police Service.

READ MORE: Alberta justice minister calls alleged actions of Lethbridge police ‘completely unacceptable’

The department has, among other things, faced allegations of officers conducting illegal database searches for personal use.

Mehdizadeh, who has been police chief since last August, delivered a plan for change to Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu in mid-April after the minister warned there were serious problems that had to be fixed immediately.

Story continues below advertisement

Madu sent that plan back because he said there were “substantive deficiencies” he wanted addressed by June 25.

Click to play video: 'Lethbridge Police Service submits police action plan to justice minister' Lethbridge Police Service submits police action plan to justice minister
Lethbridge Police Service submits police action plan to justice minister – Apr 14, 2021

“He sent a letter that he wanted additional information which we are in the process of providing to him… the additional information he had asked for, really diving deeper into some of these areas,” said Mehdizadeh.

The original plan included improvements in ethics, accountability and management of conduct files; annual ethics training and a review of the police service’s social media policy.

It also called for developing better leadership in current and future police members and restrictions on access to database searches.

Last year, two officers were temporarily demoted after a review determined NDP legislature member Shannon Phillips, while environment minister in 2017, was surveilled and photographed at a diner. The officers were apparently concerned about changes Phillips was making to off-highway vehicle use at a nearby wilderness areas.

Story continues below advertisement

Separately, five officers and one civilian are currently being investigated on allegations of improper database searches on Phillips while she was in cabinet in 2018.

READ MORE: Lethbridge police acknowledge upcoming misconduct hearing for 5 employees

“We have a few investigations on the go, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results on that, but the allegations are not good. We have been working to make sure investigators have all they need to do a proper and unbiased investigation to get to the bottom of it,” said Mehdizadeh.

Click to play video: 'Alberta justice minister ‘disappointed’ by Lethbridge police action plan' Alberta justice minister ‘disappointed’ by Lethbridge police action plan
Alberta justice minister ‘disappointed’ by Lethbridge police action plan – May 31, 2021

The police chief said there are a number of allegations of misconduct against some officers, mostly dating back to 2017 and 2018, but investigations can take time to make sure they are legal and ethical.

“I just want the public to be patient so we can… provide a meaningful process-based approach in dealing with that and a balanced approach in dealing with individuals,” the police chief said.

Story continues below advertisement

“Not everybody needs to give a pound of flesh but we will hold people accountable.”

Mehdizadeh said safeguards have been added to the local database, including a mandatory field so anyone using it has to provide a reason why. There’s also a warning statement reminding users each time what the database is meant for.

He said there will be quarterly audits of the database “to make sure people are using it for only police activities and nothing else.”

Mehdizadeh said the use of social media is also being addressed to make sure it is “proper and respectful.”

Fewer than 50 people were online to watch the town hall.

Click to play video: 'Lethbridge police chief responds to complaints involving members' Lethbridge police chief responds to complaints involving members
Lethbridge police chief responds to complaints involving members – Mar 10, 2021

Sponsored content