Calgary police receive more complaints, close more complaint files in 2020

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More police conduct complaints have come into the professional standards section (PSS) of the Calgary Police Service. But more of those complaints have been resolved this year, as well.

Last calendar year, 1,368 concerns were raised to CPS, a 10 per cent increase over 2019.

Nearly 30 per cent, or 404 complaints, resulted in a formal misconduct investigation. Fourteen per cent of all complaints resulted in officer discipline — just three per cent had a hearing.

Informal resolutions were found for 56 per cent of the complaints, 14 per cent were dismissed and two per cent were withdrawn.

CPS Chief Mark Neufeld called the informal resolution process not one “to be taken lightly.”

Allegations not serious enough for a formal resolution process are examined thoroughly, including the history of the officer.

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Whether or not a formal or informal process is used is determined on a case-by-case basis and “applying a lens of reasonableness,” Neufeld said Tuesday.

Broken down by category of complaints, professionalism drove complaints from civilians and officers. The “duties/services provided” and “investigation/notes/court” categories drew complaints from citizens. Use of force was the second-highest category of complaints from other CPS officers.

Neufeld said professionalism complaints are often resolved informally.

In 2020, 348 complaint files were closed, up from 293 in 2019.

The past year also saw an increase in the conclusion of files four years or older.

“I’m really pleased that we’ve got into some of that backlog because that’s really one of the challenges we had about complaints, and that makes it very, very difficult to resolve the current ones in a reasonable period of time,” Neufeld said.

According to a CPS release, better training and empowering front-line managers have improved addressing conduct concerns. Neufeld is able to have more oversight on investigations.

As part of its budget reallocation, CPS is hiring more civilian members to PSS, a move to enhance trust from members of the public.

The PSS also started collecting race-based data, part of Calgary police’s anti-racism commitment.

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“No real surprising trends,” Supt. Scott Boyd told the Calgary Police Commission on Tuesday.

“We are capturing some of the data as it relates to differentially applying the law based on race and those numbers are quite small up to this point in time.”

Boyd said CPS is collecting gender and age data from complainants too.

Complaints from citizens and CPS members have been trending up since 2017, but Neufeld said it’s almost too early to tell if 2020’s high mark is part of a trend.

“Virtually with all the data we’re collecting in 2020, we don’t really know because it was such an anomalous year,” Neufeld said.

“I think if we look at the end of ‘21, we might have some idea as to whether or not it’s anomalous or whether or not those sorts of differences that we see will continue on into the future.”

The provincial Police Act was identified as a major impediment to improving the complaint process.

“The badly in need of reform Police Act continued to create additional and arguably unnecessary work for PSS,” an annual report said.

CPS brass have lobbied the province for things like the police chief to retain discretion, an external complaints oversight body and improved transparency.

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The report also said investigations have longer wait times because of the “limited resources available to ASIRT and the Crown have increased their workloads per capita.”

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