Edmonton to tackle first of 14 task-force tips to improve policing by mid-summer

Edmonton may begin acting on a task force’s recommendations by mid-summer to improve the relationship between police and the public, city councillors agreed at a meeting Tuesday.

Council holds off on freezing police budget as suggested

Several anti-racism protests held around Edmonton in 2020 led to city council calling a public hearing into policing. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Edmonton may act as early as mid-summer on some task-force recommendations aimed at improving the relationship between police and the public, city councillors agreed Tuesday at a meeting. 

Council spent hours discussing 14 recommendations from the community safety and well-being task force, appointed last October following a public hearing into policing. 

An independent dispatch centre, better standards for shelters, a college for police training, and a freeze on police funding are a few of the task force recommendations. 

Mayor Don Iveson said the city will figure out which ones it can act on directly. 

"Some of it can move fast, which is good, some of it is going to take a little bit more time," Iveson said after council passed a two-part motion. 

The motion directs administration to review the recommendations and work with the police commission to develop a joint strategy to "enhance community safety, well-being, inclusion and anti-racism." 

Administration will report to council's community and public services committee within 90 days outlining what areas the city could implement quickly. 

City managers will write an in-depth report for council by early 2022 on what changes need more time. 

No funding freeze

The task force also recommended the city freeze the police budget at the 2021 level and redirect some money to other social areas.

But Tuesday's motion directed the administration to analyze the funding formula, including looking at ways to tie funding to performance. 

Council is asking for potential changes to policy by early 2022, after the next council is elected. 

Iveson, who's not running in the fall election, said future funding will ultimately be up to the next council. 

Annette Trimbee, task force chair and president of MacEwan University, pointed out a few areas on which the city would have to work with the province, such as the college for police and improving shelter standards. 

"I think in terms of understanding the complexity of the ecosystem funding and governance, I mean, that's an ongoing conversation," Trimbee said. 

Coun. Michael Walters said the province needs to respond to the recommendations before council makes decisions or changes. 

"We need to untangle a lot of this larger funding in the ecosystem and how it's better utilized," Walters said. 

No magic bullet

Trimbee suggested the city could move ahead right away with changes to training for a more diverse and aware workforce. 

Marni Panas, a task force member, called on council to delve into all recommendations as a package.

"There's not any magic bullet — it's all these things working together that will shift culture over time," Panas said. 

The task force wants the police commission to include more people who have experienced racism and discriminatory behaviour related to authorities over the years. 

"There's a lot of barriers for people with lived experience to be on the police commission, yet it's the police commission EPS are most accountable to," Panas said.

Rob Houle, another task force member, urged council to treat all recommendations as a whole and reconsider the funding policy. 

"There's a great opportunity to reach, reframe, and restructure the conversation around policing," Houle said. "There's a chance for council to reconfigure how policing is funded, moving forward past the current funding formula that exists." 

Houle was one of 142 people who spoke during a public hearing into policing last summer in Edmonton, sharing his story about being targeted by police.