Calgary, Edmonton police chiefs acknowledge systemic racism but insist they're fighting it

The police chiefs of Alberta's two largest forces say they acknowledge the existence of systemic racism in policing but insist work to stamp is out is underway, and that they're dedicated to doing more.

Mark Neufeld says he's trying to 'reconcile' racism with progress

Chief Mark Neufeld of the Calgary Police Service says he used to think systemic racism was not a problem in his force. Today, he is not so sure. (Mike Symington/CBC)

The police chiefs of Alberta's two largest forces say they acknowledge the existence of systemic racism in policing, but insist work to stamp is out is underway, and that they're dedicated to doing more.

Calgary Police Service Chief Mark Neufeld and Edmonton Police Service Chief Dale McFee appeared on the CBC call-in show, Alberta at Noon, for an hour on Friday to discuss racism in policing.

Neufeld said he's learned a lot in recent weeks.

Just a few days ago, he said he was "not so sure" if there was systemic racism in his police force.

Neufeld said he's been thinking about systemic racism in policing since the protests broke out across the United States and Canada, after George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, was murdered during an arrest.

"I guess I've been struggling with that since the protests," Neufeld said. "I've heard some difficult stories that concern me, frankly."

In Alberta this week, multiple people have come forward about their own experiences with police. Thousands have marched to demand change, and Albertans have watched as videos surface that illustrate police actions. In one such video, a police officer tackles and punches Chief Allan Adam in the head during an arrest.

Top officer tries to 'reconcile' racism with progress

Neufeld said that while he's hearing of those events, he is also noticing "people in our organization that are committed to preventing racism and discrimination.

"The acknowledgement that systemic racism exists in policing is important," the Calgary police chief said. "But saying so almost seems to ignore the progress that we've made and dismiss the good work that's been done by so many people that worked hard to try to address it."

McFee, who is Metis, said he has spent years trying to address systemic discrimination in policing, in part by consulting with other forces around the world.

"Do I think the Edmonton Police Service is racist in its belief and is it something that's held by the majority people? Absolutely not. I am 100 per cent confident in that," he said. "Do I think systemic racism has played a role and there is some unconscious bias? Absolutely."

Police chief Dale Mcfee says street checks in Edmonton require further review. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Neufeld said the last few weeks have been a learning experience for him, and that he has tried to speak to people in and outside the Calgary Police Service to "better understand how to reconcile what I suppose are really sort of two truths."

"And the first is that, yes, as Dale just mentioned straight up, there is systemic or structural racism in policing in Canada and including here in Calgary," he said. "The second, though, is that even as it continues to exist, our people don't want that to be the case and they have made progress."

Defunding 'counterproductive,' chief says

The two chiefs said they have ideas for solutions but want to see those come after the community has had time to grieve. They said they're focusing on listening right now.

McFee said that he wants to ensure police train and recruit in a way that reduces systemic racism, and that they can make full structural issues that don't push the problem to a different organization.

McFee's police force is facing a petition calling for it to be defunded, as city councillors are considering in Minnepolois. Both chiefs said they oppose defunding the police.

However, they said they hoped to see changes that would reduce the role of police in certain situations. Both talked about how policing was not doing well at balancing law enforcement and public health.

They said that until such a balance can be found in conjunction with other organizations, they felt police services should remain funded as is.

"I feel that it would be counterproductive to just simply move away from something without knowing exactly what we're moving toward," Neufeld said.

The two said they felt police are too often intervening in mental health calls that would be better managed by health professionals.

McFee said he wants to see the Police Act changed to allow for the independent review of more broad-based complaints. Earlier this week, he promised a new reconciliation effort to fix the process.

He also called for diverse people from many backgrounds to work together on solutions.

"We need a different look at this," he said. "If we don't focus on structure, we're going to miss the biggest piece here."

With files from Alberta@Noon


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