A ‘better partner’ on the outside: Calgary councillor Walcott leaves police commission

Calgary Coun. Courtney Walcott speaks with Global News on Oct. 26, 2022, after announcing he was leaving the Calgary Police Commission. Global News

A Calgary Police Commissioner is stepping away from the police civilian oversight body to try to better improve policing.

Tuesday evening, Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott made the announcement his term on the commission would end Oct. 31.

In a blog post, Walcott said he joined the police commission to help bring about “transformational change” to the Calgary Police Service through a better understanding of policing within the city.

Read more: Citizen perceptions of Calgary police down across the board: survey

“The risk factors that contribute to criminal and criminalized behaviour are well understood,” Walcott wrote. “But it is more complex than that. The health, personal and social risk factors include social exclusion, bullying, racism, addiction and often untreated mental health disorders.

Story continues below advertisement

“Without the systems of care that address this accumulated neglect, the results are entirely predictable. We rely on policing, the justice system and carceral state as a costly first and last resort to problems that should and could be addressed much earlier with much more favourable outcomes.”

In an interview with Global News, Walcott said he’s able to do more for the community outside the commission than from within.

“I think I can do more than that,” he said.

“The structures of police governance, in many ways, stand in the way of long-term sustainable, transformational change. And I see my colleagues on police commission as partners in this work, I see CPS as partners in this work, but I think I will be a better partner working as a councillor, as a citizen, as an advocate, rather than a commissioner in the long-term vision of this effort,” Walcott said.

Story continues below advertisement

The Ward 8 representative said he wasn’t able to advocate for other systems that could help community members that sat outside “efficient and effective policing.”

Walcott pointed to the need to review the Police Act, work that has begun following complaints out of Alberta’s largest cities.

Read more: The way Calgary police handled historic Sean Chu allegations ‘not OK’: commission

“Without that governing legislation correcting so that there’s more effective oversight of CPS and every police service, without those necessary changes that everyone has called for – including the Calgary Police Commission over the years – we’re going to find ourselves in the same position,” Walcott said.

“The police commission is only as strong as the Police Act.”

Before being elected to council in October 2021, Walcott was a member of Defund2Fund, a community advocacy group urging council to transfer budget funds from police into alternate responses including specialized mental health and addictions supports.

It was an effort some confused with calls to “defund the police” following the death of George Floyd at the hands of members of the Minneapolis Police Department.

Click to play video: 'Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld for his October visit to Global News'
Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld for his October visit to Global News

In the past year, the CPS launched pilots of alternative response models, including call diversion and having mental health professionals readily available to officers.

Story continues below advertisement

Walcott wasn’t the only police commissioner to vacate their seat after a year.

At Wednesday’s public meeting of the commission, chair Shawn Cornett announced Pam Karnik is also leaving the commission.

“We have appreciated the different perspectives they have brought to our table and the passion that they have for ensuring policing in our city is the best it can be,” Cornett said.

She said Walcott “provided important perspectives on community safety and through your recommendations, have highlighted ways in which we can build stronger partnerships and relationships within our community for the benefit of all Calgarians.”

Read more: Calgary Police had a ‘tumultuous’ year in 2021: chief

CPS Chief Mark Neufeld also thanked the two outgoing commissioners for their contributions.

Neufeld said Walcott’s role as city councillor allowed for “excellent insight” from Ward 8 residents.

In April, Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra announced he was stepping down from the commission after police opened an investigation of an alleged road rage incident.

Click to play video: 'Calgary Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra breaks silence on police investigation'
Calgary Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra breaks silence on police investigation

“I believe it’s completely appropriate that I recuse myself from commission until this matter is resolved,” Carra said at the time.

Story continues below advertisement

Walcott and Carra were the two councillors sitting on the police commission. Walcott said he joined the police commission to help bring about “transformational change” to the Calgary Police Service through a better understanding of policing within the city.

On Tuesday, Calgary city council decided their new representatives on the police oversight body, but will not announce the names until police are able to do a background check on the individuals. Those names are expected to be announced next month.

Sponsored content