Edmonton officers must record reason for collecting personal info due to change in EPS policy

FILE: An Edmonton Police Service badge on Jan. 19, 2023. Global News

Edmonton police officers will have to record their reason for stopping members of the public after amendments were made to the policy on street checks.

Sgt. Jeffrey Westman, lawyer for the Edmonton Police Service, presented the changes to the Edmonton Police Commission Thursday.

He said the changes also reflect that officers do collect personal information from the public, and they have the legal right to do so.

“This change is intended to make it clearer for the public that the checks that our officers are performing are already authorized by law,” said Westman.

Street checks are “interactions or observations that result in an officer collecting personal and/or identifying information and entering it into a database for future use.”

Carding is “when officers randomly request personal information from a member of the public without reasonable grounds,” according to the Alberta government.

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The province banned carding and moved to regulate street checks in November 2020.

Westman said the service hasn’t allowed “street checks” since 2015 and this change was made to make the terminology less confusing.

A street check is defined in the Police Act as an interaction between a police officer and a member of the public where personal information is collected without a clearly stated reason.

A new term introduced in the EPS policy is an “officer contact,” where the officer has an existing duty, authority or responsibility — in other words, a legitimate reason — to stop someone and collect personal information.

“(The change) clearly defines what we’re trying to do and accomplish in that, and that we have the right authorities to do it,” said police chief Dale McFee.

Click to play video: 'What will stop Alberta police from carding under the guise of street checks?'
What will stop Alberta police from carding under the guise of street checks?

Those legitimate reasons, according to police, include:

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  • if the person is legally required to provide information
  • is believed to be a victim of a crime or a missing person
  • is being lawfully detained or arrested
  • or for other reasons, including a “catch-all” category

The catch-all category allows officers to make contact if the officer is “engaging in a necessary police function … or to provide for safe communities.”

Westman said officers can require people to show ID when they’re involved in a traffic stop or are breaking a bylaw, provincial law or the criminal code.

Click to play video: 'Alberta bans police carding immediately; street checks will have new rules'
Alberta bans police carding immediately; street checks will have new rules

The changes also introduce “observe reports” — the act of seeing a person known to police and making observations about them, like what clothing they’re wearing, but not talking to them.

Officers will be required to record the reason they had for stopping and questioning someone, and the service’s audit branch will take a look at the officer contact and observe reports to see if they show bias, particularly towards BIPOC (Black and Indigenous people of colour) Edmontonians.

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“I don’t want to underestimate the power of the audit, because if we haven’t got it quite right then we need to change it. … I think it will get us in a better place,” McFee said.

EPS is re-releasing a marketing campaign called “Know Your Rights” which is designed to inform the public of the change and let them know when they’re legally required to stay with police and answer questions and when they are free to leave.

“How do you communicate to the public? We have got to tell the public the expectations,” McFee said.

New chair, vice-chair appointed to commission

During the commission’s annual general meeting before Thursday’s meeting, a new chair and vice-chair were chosen.

Former vice-chair Erick Ambtman was moved up to become chair of the commission. Ambtman is the executive director of End Poverty Edmonton.

“The Edmonton Police Commission plays an important role in police governance and accountability, and I am humbled to lead this diverse group of talented individuals making a difference in our city,” Ambtman said.

Ambtman replaces former chair, John McDougall, who will stay on as a member of the commission.

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“My time as chair has been one of the major highlights of my career, and I’m excited to spend my final year on the commission under Mr. Ambtman’s adroit leadership and passion for helping Edmontonians,” McDougall saidx.

Aneela Hussainaly is now vice-chair. Hussainaly has a background in consulting and now works in early learning and childhood development. She was a member of the commission before being moved up to vice-chair.

“I look forward to working alongside my colleagues, collaborating on key matters of policy and community safety that can benefit all Edmontonians,” Hussainaly said.

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