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Edmonton criminologist, EPS veteran, hopes for shift in discourse around police: ‘We are human’

Click to play video: 'Former Edmonton police officer shares toll line of duty deaths take on members'
Former Edmonton police officer shares toll line of duty deaths take on members
As people mourn the senseless deaths of Const. Brett Ryan and Const. Travis Jordan, their fellow officers are having to continue to serve and protect Edmonton. It takes an immeasurable toll, and criminologist and former EPS officer Dan Jones says the public's support is more important than ever. He joined Global News at Noon Edmonton to talk about the impact on police across Canada – Mar 17, 2023

A criminologist and former Edmonton Police Service member hopes public support, discourse and perception of police might shift in the wake of the shooting deaths of two police officers in Alberta’s capital.

Daniel Jones, a 25-year EPS veteran, woke up Thursday to a text from his brother, who is an EPS superintendent, telling him two members had been killed.

“I was devastated,” Jones said, his voice breaking. “I spent more than half my life in that role. And you see the work that these members do — and the places that they put themselves in and the care and compassion that they have — and something like this happens. It’s just such a tragic event.”

The EPS has identified the officers who died as Const. Travis Jordan, 35, and Const. Brett Ryan, 30.

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Jordan had been with EPS for eight-and-a-half years and Ryan had been with the service for five-and-a-half years.

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The EPS confirmed they were shot at an apartment building when they responded to a domestic violence call. They were taken to hospital where they were declared dead.

Global News has confirmed that the suspected gunman is a teen. Police said he died after sustaining what they believe was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Global News has confirmed the suspect’s mother is in hospital in serious but stable condition.

Jones is now NorQuest College’s associate chair of justice.

“The thing that I struggle with the most right now is that the discourse on policing over the last two years has been really negative. Our members across the North American continent, for sure, probably across the Western world, have been reeling from the horrible murder of George Floyd.

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Floyd’s 2020 death triggered a waterfall of questions about the use of force by law enforcement. Police services across North America faced renewed scrutiny over policies, procedures and practices. There were calls for reform and to defund.

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Police-involved deaths in Canada on the rise: researchers

A Canadian research project released data in February, showing that in 2022, a record number of people died after an interaction with police.

According to the Tracking (In)Justice data and transparency project, there were 69 police-involved deaths last year, and Black and Indigenous people were disproportionately overrepresented. They comprised 27.2 per cent of police-involved shooting deaths across Canada, despite making up 8.7 per cent of the population, the Police-involved deaths on the Rise across Canada report said.

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The report found there had been a 66.5-per-cent rise in deaths associated with police use of force, comparing stats from 2011 to 2022 with the previous 10-year period.

The aim of the initiative, principal investigator and criminologist Alexander McClelland said last month, is to inform communities and police agencies and work towards greater transparency and accountability.

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“I’m not saying policing doesn’t need reform or change — because it does,” Jones said. “But the members on the frontline need to be honoured and they need to be treated like people.

“And it’s sad that it takes something like this to remind people that police officers are humans doing their best, trying to keep people safe, and then all of a sudden they’re dead.”

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He said Edmonton is seeing high levels of violence right now, which first responders come face to face with. Jones believes there’s a link between incidents of violence against police and perception and discourse.

“The best personal protective equipment for police is police legitimacy,” Jones said, referencing research by Tom Tyler, Justice Tankebe and Anthony Bottoms.

He thinks, to some extent, police legitimacy has been eroded.

“It becomes an ‘us against them’ rather than the police involved in the community. I think that’s something that we need to change.”

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The outpouring of support for EPS, first responders and the families and colleagues of the fallen constables is amazing, Jones said, and will help members who are struggling.

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“I think this is showing again that there is this massive support for police in this city and the community will rally around and support and show love,” Jones said.

“To see this kind of support — absolutely amazing.”

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A GoFundMe page, created by the Edmonton Police Foundation in partnership with the Edmonton Police Association, is raising money for the families of the fallen officers.

As of 2 p.m. Friday, more than $158,000 had been raised.

“We’re not surprised because Edmonton has always been a strong supporter of the Edmonton Police Service,” said Ashif Mawji, chair of the foundation.

“This is the community coming together. They’re all touched by this — just like you and I … We’re all heartbroken. Everybody wants to do everything they can and so we’re very appreciative of all the support.”

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Click to play video: 'Edmonton police continue to investigate 2 officer deaths as community grieves'
Edmonton police continue to investigate 2 officer deaths as community grieves

Claire Woodall, widow of EPS Const. Dan Woodall, who was killed in the line of duty June 8, 2015, made a $1,000 donation.

“I can’t imagine what Claire and their family went through when that happened but they know what happened and so they know what’s happening to the two families,” Mawji said. “It’s really moving that they’re contributing financially to this.”

Jones hopes that perhaps this is a point of change, of refresh.

“I think this is like one of those flashpoints where it’s almost a reboot,” Jones said. “Over the last two years, we’ve had this discourse around policing and a lot of it has been negative.

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“I think this is kind of a reboot for the members too… Out of tragedy sometimes comes some positive things and maybe that positive thing is a realization that the community is still behind you, still backs the police and is there for them, and that the police and the community can reconcile any of those issues.”

Click to play video: '‘Unthinkable and horrific tragedy’: Edmonton police chief responds to fatal shooting of 2 officers'
‘Unthinkable and horrific tragedy’: Edmonton police chief responds to fatal shooting of 2 officers

Chris Hayden, who served 27 years as a police officer in Edmonton, felt moved to speak out.

“I want to let them know: ‘We’re with you,'” he said Friday. “To simply be a voice that says: ‘Everybody supports you.’

“If somebody is coming through your door at 3 o’clock in the morning, who do you call? You call the police. And every uniform will answer that call. They don’t think twice.”

Hayden stressed he is “proud of each and every member of the Edmonton Police Service and I’ll stand by them every day of my life.”

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He also said he is seeing a positive change in the way grieving is addressed. Police services, family services, are telling members: “If you’re hurting, let us know and we’ll help you. This business of internalizing isn’t working anymore.’

“I think it’s much more healthy for every member involved — whether retired or active — that they be open in their emotions, and it’s OK to cry. And if you’re in uniform and you shed a tear, that’s OK.”

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