Calgary

Calls for changes to police investigations gain more attention

Recent protests have put the treatment of Black, Indigenous and people of colour by police officers into the spotlight and one major issue that's received scrutiny is police investigating complaints against officers — sometimes within their own service.
Recent protests have brought police investigations under the microscope. (CBC)

Recent protests have put the treatment of Black, Indigenous and people of colour by police officers into the spotlight and one major issue that's received scrutiny is police investigating complaints against officers — sometimes within their own service.

Adam Massiah, CEO of the United Black People's Allyship, has called for an independent group to be formed to look into these types of investigations.

"Claims from the civilians, especially Black individuals and minorities, [who] feel like they have been either assaulted or experienced some type of police brutality, for them to have a source where they can actually go and file these complaints and know something will get done," said Massiah.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team is an independent, civilian body created to investigate incidents involving police that lead to serious injury, death or serious allegations of police misconduct. When incidences don't meet that threshold, police officers are left to investigate.

'The optics are very poor'

Criminal defence and civil rights lawyer Tom Engel said he's been advocating for more independence when it comes to investigations into complaints against officers.

"We need to take the investigation of complaints against police out of the hands of the police services because they're investigating the conduct of their own members. And there are problems with actual bias or negligent investigations. And even if they are not biased they have the appearance of being biased. So the optics are very poor," said Engel.

President of the Alberta Federation of Police Associations, Curtis Hoople, said they've been working with the government for years to make changes to the Police Act that could help eliminate bias in investigations against officers.

In a discussion paper by AFPA, it outlines a number of suggestions to the government that would modernize the Police Act, including what's described as perceived bias when officers take on complaint cases.

But there are questions as to what that group would look like.

"I do agree it would be nice to have an independent unit that would take all our complaints.

"But again, still not knowing what that independent unit looks like, because you would still want people with police backgrounds or police knowledge, whether it's lawyers or whether it's retired members or whether it's, you know, people that are heavily involved in, let's say, police commission work and now they're ready to serve on a kind of independent oversight in relation to our public our public complaints," said Hoople.

Massiah said the Allyship is working with the Black Law Students' Association. They want a group led by civilians who have no connection to police whatsoever.

He said while the RCMP's civilain body has a similar structure, "they're not really able to actually make decisions when it comes down to guilty or innocent verdicts."

"We're doing the research to figure out if there's a possibility for a civilian body to actually have some sort of legal pull," said Massiah.  

Changes to the Police Act are being considered by the government.

Jason van Rassel, with Alberta Justice and the Solicitor General, said in a statement that the government is expediting its work to modernize the Police Act to ensure police remain accountable to communities they serve.

"The review will meaningfully engage chiefs of police, Indigenous communities, minority community leaders, and other stakeholders. The outcome of these accelerated discussions will help determine how to best address the concerns of Albertans and effect meaningful change to ensure they feel safe and feel confident justice will be done," he said. 

It's unclear when changes will be made.

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