A group of Alberta volunteers has launched a searchable police misconduct database.
The first of its kind in Canada, the Alberta Police Misconduct Database tracks incidents of improper conduct, such as assault or excessive use of force, and the outcomes of any internal or external investigations over the last 30 years.
The project aims to strengthen police accountability and discussions about policing in the province and Canada, according to a Tuesday morning press release.
The Alberta Police Misconduct Database Association said the data comes from publicly available information such as newspaper clippings, court rulings, disciplinary hearings and documents from Freedom of Information requests.
So far, over 400 incidents have been logged and roughly 500 officers have been named. Some officers have multiple incidents noted under their names and badge numbers.
Devyn Ens, an Edmonton-based paralegal and head of the association, said the project took about 18 months to complete.
“It was this nebulous thing… Me and my team started to write tidbit entries about each incident of misconduct, and now it’s grown into what it is now,” Ens told 770 CHQR.
“(The database is) kind of a spider web… We would love for it to exist forever, even though ideally police misconduct incidents would stop happening one day.”
The database comes after years of demands from advocates for more transparency and accountability within police forces across Canada. These calls were highlighted during racial justice protests after the police-shooting deaths of Chantel Moore in New Brunswick and Ejaz Choudry in Ontario.
Kelly Sundberg, an associate professor at Mount Royal University’s justice studies department, said the database is a good first step to holding the police accountable.
“I think it’s going to be a really good tool for researchers, journalists and the public,” Sundberg said.
“(But) the Government of Alberta, as opposed to a group of concerned citizens and lawyers, should have made this. Clearly, there’s a demand for this. This should be a provincial initiative.”
He said the database remains incomplete, and pointed to a lack of data from the Alberta RCMP.
Ens said the team is working on adding incidents involving Alberta RCMP officers within the next six months.
Doug King, a justice studies professor at Mount Royal University, also raised concerns about the accuracy of the data presented.
“I know they put (the cases) through a six-member board to do an assessment, and that’s good, but how independent is the board during that process? Are the incidents based on complaints or findings?
“Those are legal distinctions that need to be taken into account… Findings need to be the focus as opposed to complaints,” King said.
He said the database is still important even if it might not change policing in the province.
“There’s been a breakdown in policing and the focus on community-based policing. The pillar of that is open dialogue and communication with communities,” King said.
“The public is saying that the complaint board and the Calgary Police Commission don’t go far enough because they are cynical of how the police communicate with the public, and that leads some to believe that the police always lie and attack others.”
In separate statements to 770 CHQR, both the Calgary Police Service and Edmonton Police Service said they welcome new tools and resources that promote police accountability and transparency.
The EPS added that police accountability is the most regulated system in Alberta, pointing to disciplinary hearings that are open to the public as well as “checks and balances” involving the province, municipalities and courts.
“The Edmonton Police Service has implemented numerous additional mechanisms to ensure that public trust is maintained,” an EPS spokesperson said.
“The EPS has and will continue to work towards a system of accountability that leaves all of the parties involved being heard and satisfied.”
Joseph Dow, a spokesperson for Alberta’s justice ministry, did not directly comment on the database but said police services in the province maintain their own databases regarding complaints about their organizations.
He also said there are laws and oversight bodies in place to ensure that public complaints about the conduct of RCMP officers are fairly examined.
“Our province is currently reviewing the Police Act to ensure police remain accountable and responsive to the communities they serve,” Dow said. “We look forward to sharing more on this review and the steps we will be taking to ensure Albertans feel safe and are confident in our justice system.”