Calgary’s police chief was called to account by the force’s civilian oversight body following a high-profile police shooting over the weekend.
The monthly Calgary Police Commission began its meeting with commissioners asking Chief Mark Neufeld about the processes, policies and next steps the police service will be taking following the shooting death of Latjor Tuel.
Because the incident was under investigation by provincial police watchdog Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, Neufeld was unable to comment on anything specifically from that incident.
Commissioner and Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott said the questioning was to help the commission address “structural issues that just exist.”
“It’s not a matter of any one particular organization. It’s very clear that there are supports that are needed on a system-wide basis to really ensure and grow the ability to respond to people in crisis,” Walcott said.
The use of police dogs for the call of an apparently-armed Black man was brought up in several lines of questioning.
“Was it appropriate to use a K-9 unit who is trained to attack as a de-escalation tool with a member of a racialized community, given this understanding of our history and our collective – and when I say ‘our’ I mean the Commission and CPS’s — collective use of an anti-racist lens?” commissioner Heather Campbell asked.
“With respect, Commissioner Campbell, that’s a question for the ASIRT investigation,” Neufeld responded.
“I can’t answer that.”
He did note that had officers been aware of a mental health crisis, it could have changed the police response and de-escalation tactics.
“Part of the police tactics is to use a combination of tactics and communication to isolate and contain and then obviously speak to the person to try and develop a rapport, to get them to give up the weapon,” Neufeld said.
Neufeld noted police dogs are often used as a way to prevent a person from fleeing police and to intimidate a person into compliance.
That’s one of many tools literally and figuratively at hand for police officers, who are trained to respond as they evaluate the situation.
“They’re held to the standard of the Criminal Code, but at the end of the day they are trained in how to deal with certain situations and certain subject types,” the police chief said.
“We talk often in terms of people who are cooperative, people who are resistors and then people who are assailants.”
Deputy Chief Katie McLellan said the recent investment in the city’s community safety investment framework has expanded the ability of CPS to appropriately attend calls involving mental health crises.
“We’re working on many, many initiatives behind the scenes to continue to enhance that, and we recognize with all of our partners, all of our stakeholders, all of our community members that we have to have alternative call response, call diversion to ensure that we are getting the right resources to the right people at the right time,” she said.
Neufeld recognized more could be done with culturally-appropriate police responses in a diverse city, as the CPS pursues its anti-racism goals.
“With our relationships with the community and our anti-racism committee, I think we have the mechanisms there to be able to get that cultural sensitivity and to incorporate those pieces into our training.”
And Neufeld was adamant the CPS member’s actions were not a result of individual or institutional racism.
“In terms of the officers who responded to the situation and the manner in which they responded, I’m absolutely confident this did not have anything to do with the colour of Mr. Tuel’s skin.”
ASIRT investigation could get priority
Neufeld noted Saturday’s police shooting was the first of 2022. The city saw three shootings involving police in 2021, none in 2020 and five in 2019.
“These are indeed rare,” Neufeld said. “They’re obviously impactful on the community and on the police service and on the officers themselves.”
The officers at the incident would have been wearing body-worn cameras, the police chief said, after being implemented service-wide in April 2019. But the footage from Saturday afternoon will be in ASIRT’s hands, as part of their investigation.
Neufeld said ASIRT and its new executive director are aware of the profile and importance of this police-involved shooting.
“As much as we want justice and answers as quickly as we can for our community, Mr. Tuel’s family, our police officers, everybody involved, there’s people from previous critical incidents that want the same and that’s reasonable also,” the police chief said.
“I do know that this is high on the radar of the provincial government, they’re well aware, and I think there are some actions being taken to try to speed this up.”
The police chief opened his address to the commission by offering condolences to the Tuel family and the Sudanese community.
“It’s certainly a terrible tragedy, a terrible situation in our city.”
Family calls incident ‘a nightmare’
Tuel’s daughter, Nyalinglat Latjor, said she is seeking answers and justice for her father after his death on Saturday.
“The last few days have been a nightmare,” she said.
“I never thought I’d lose my father, let alone in this way.”
When asked about her father, Latjor said he was a hard-working and kind man who loved his family, community and country.
She said her father came to Canada 20 years ago to seek a better life after being recruited as a child soldier for Sudan People Liberation Army.
Aware her father suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from this childhood, Latjor said she didn’t realize how severe his mental struggles had become.
“I didn’t realize just how deep and how long my father was suffering in that way,” Latjor said. “I feel the incident was a clear cry for help and I don’t want people to think that’s who he was.”
Latjor said she feels her father’s death was preventable and said she has questions for the Calgary Police Service about the incident.
The community has raised more than $70,000 following Tuel’s death, which Latjor said will help bring her father’s body back to Sudan.
“I just want answers,” she said.
“I want to know why his life meant so little. Why was he left there?”