Calgary police chief says the force has to adapt in the age of social media

'That's the biggest message I have for our organization: I will absolutely support people but that doesn't mean we can hide from accountability,' Chaffin says.

The ability to talk to the public after an incident is critical, Chaffin says

Calgary Police Chief Roger Chaffin said he wants greater freedom to communicate with the public when police incidents are under investigation. (Kate Adach/CBC)

Calgary Police Chief Roger Chaffin said the force has to adapt in an age of social media transparency, including being able to talk to the public when a police incident is under investigation.

"I just think in an era, with what we're seeing going on in North America right now, saying nothing does not inspire confidence," he said after a meeting of the Calgary Police Commission on Tuesday.

"It leads the public and the media to just kind of fill in the gaps, and often in a way that doesn't instill confidence in public safety and policing."

Use of force seen in videos

Chaffin was addressing concerns raised by the release of two videos during the Calgary Stampede which showed officers using force to arrest suspects. 

In one, a swarm of officers took down a man on the Stampede grounds after they said he tried to grab an officer's stun gun.

In another, a man was aggressively taken to the ground in front of a bar on 17th Avenue S.W. before being punched several times.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team is overseeing an investigation into the second incident, according to Chaffin.

ASIRT keeps CPS tight lipped

Chaffin said there are restrictions when ASIRT is called to investigate any incident, hampering his ability to communicate with the public.

"When police are involved in something, there's a presumption that anything we say will tend to corrupt the investigation," he said during the commission meeting. 

"There has to be an ability for the chief of police to speak to issues."

He said communication is one thing that needs to change, but it can't stop there. 

"We have to be able to adapt our training, our policies, our supports for members, but also expectations from communities have to be heard and reflected in policing."

Body camera context

Also high on the chief's to-do list is getting more body cameras on his officers, something he said could help add context when videos such as these show up on social media. 

"Every day we go out we don't have those cameras, we might miss an opportunity to add transparency to a situation," he said. 

Chaffin said he's heard concerns from officers that they will be investigated whenever an arrest is caught on tape.

"You can imagine just how difficult their decisions are now given the kind of rapid transparency that's occurring. And being able to keep their confidence high that when we train people, and we follow our policies, they are also going to be supported when these things hit the media the way they do," he said.

"That's the biggest message I have for our organization: I will absolutely support people but that doesn't mean we can hide from accountability."

With files from Kate Adach