Lethbridge police chief asks public to be patient as work continues to address corruption allegations
Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh said the service is working to address the justice minister's concerns
Lethbridge's chief of police says he is asking the public for patience as work continues to investigate and address allegations of police misconduct within the force.
"I just want the public to be patient, so we can go through these processes and provide a meaningful, process-based approach in dealing with this," Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh told the southern Alberta city's virtual town hall meeting on Tuesday.
"Not everybody needs to give a pound of flesh but we do need to hold people accountable."
Mehdizadeh said "media attention" was one of the core issues the service faced this year. Lethbridge Police Service has made headlines over several scandals and corruption allegations including multiple allegations that officers have accessed internal policing database systems for personal use.
Justice Minister Kaycee Madu had asked the service to develop an action plan outlining how it will shape up or the service could be disbanded.
Madu said, however, in letters obtained by CBC to the chief, commission chair and Law Enforcement Review Board, that he's disappointed in an early version of the plan — which he said contains significant and substantive deficiencies — and ordered multiple changes.
Mehdizadeh disputed those concerns at the meeting, saying the document assured the minister the service is on the right track and said the changes the minister asked for were really just deeper dives into information that had already been requested.
Allegations are 'not good,' says chief
The misconduct allegations include officers spying on a local MLA in 2017 and LPS staff accessing the MLA's personal information; officers allegedly creating and disseminating what have been described as "toxic" memes targeting the MLA and senior police officials; and a retired LPS inspector having a sexual relationship with a client — a domestic violence survivor — who said the relationship was not consensual.
That last case is also under scrutiny for allegations of improper use of police databases and mishandling of evidence.
The chief said the service is investigating allegations of improper database searches. He said a mandatory field has been added to the search database to ask users why they are searching, and that quarterly audits will be done to ensure the system is only used for authorized police activities.
"I just want the public to be patient, so we can go through these processes and provide a meaningful, process-based approach in dealing with this," he said.
"The allegations are not good and we are working to make sure investigators have all they need to do a proper, unbiased investigation and get to the bottom of it."
Police commission chair Rob vanSpronsen also said the commission endeavours to provide transparency to the public and is actively involved in helping to provide direction to the service.
"At the end of the day, we basically talk with [the chief] and let him know our sense of what needs to be done," he said.
The chief said other actions are underway, such as bystander intervention training, reviewing social media use, looking at hiring practices and reviewing the service's core values.
"Regardless of what we read in the media, every day we are encouraged by the kindness of our citizens," Mehdizadeh said.
He said crime is down in the city overall, and that the majority of citizens report feeling safe.
"What we're here for is to provide respectful, bias-free policing … and for the most part we do."
The police service's updated action plan must be delivered to the justice minister by June 25.