Edmonton's 23rd police chief lays out vision at swearing-in ceremony

At Friday's swearing-in ceremony, Dale McFee said his vision includes reducing Edmonton's crime rate and holding criminals accountable while finding solutions for the city's vulnerable that "might not be a jail cell."

Dale McFee was lauded as a visionary leader committed to community engagement and data-driven policing

Police Chief Dale McFee says his vision for Edmonton includes reducing the crime rate. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

In his swearing-in ceremony Friday, the new Edmonton police chief had a big ask for Edmontonians.

"Our crime rate has been far too high for far too long. We need to take this personally," Dale McFee said. 

"I don't mean taking law into our own hands. But what I do mean is you're our eyes and ears of the community. We need to hear from you. Enough is enough. Police cannot solve these issues alone."

McFee laid out his vision for Edmonton as he officially took on the role as the city's 23rd police chief. 

Enough is enough. Police cannot solve these issues alone- Dale McFee, Edmonton police chief

He spoke of moving away from an approach of being either hard or soft on crime to one that is "smart on community safety."

"We will do both at the same time with relentless, non-wavering commitment," he told the crowd at city hall as his mother, wife and three daughters watched on. Police officers, politicians and Indigenous chiefs from Saskatchewan were among those who attended the ceremony.

McFee said one of his goals is to reduce the crime rate by "jailing the people we are afraid of and not the ones we are mad at."

"Translation: those involved in gangs, organized crime violence in our city against our citizens — we will be relentless to hold you accountable," he said. "We will be equally relentless in leading solutions to help the vulnerable within our city that make up the majority of our calls for service and where the best path forward might not be a jail cell."

For McFee, it's a return to Alberta decades after being recruited from St. Albert at 16 to play for the Prince Albert Raiders hockey team. He went on to leave his mark in Saskatchewan.

Most recently McFee, 53, served as Saskatchewan's deputy minister of corrections and policing.

Previously, he spent nine years as chief of the Prince Albert Police Service, where he increased Indigenous representation on the force to 38 per cent. It's also where McFee pioneered a crime-fighting model known as the Hub, now being used by 140 locations across North America.

McFee was the president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and has received the Governor General's Order of Merit of the Police Forces. He also has a strong business background and once owned A&W franchises.
Two chiefs: Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand presents Chief Dale McFee with an eagle feather. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

On Friday, Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand presented McFee, who is Métis, with a blessed eagle feather to symbolize the work he has done with First Nations people.  

"I could stand here for hours and talk about the accomplishments of Dale McFee," said Arcand. "What Edmonton is receiving today is a man of passion, a man that wants to sacrifice and make change for the betterment of all people.

"We're going to greatly miss him but today Edmonton is the [winner]."

Mayor Don Iveson said in McFee's previous roles he has continuously demonstrated unwavering dedication to areas such as innovation, community engagement and data-driven policing. 

"It is no small task to recruit a chief worthy of leading this service and worthy of this city and yet that's by all accounts, from every conversation I've had, including every conversation I've had with Chief McFee, that has been accomplished here," said Iveson.  "I am truly looking forward to working with him to make our city a safer and healthier home for all Edmontonians and our guests."
Dale McFee was sworn in as Edmonton's 23rd police chief on Friday. 1:01

After the ceremony, McFee spoke to reporters about his priorities which he said will be determined by the data.

"The data will tell us where we need to go," said McFee, who emphasized potential partnerships, for instance, with the University of Alberta, would play a key role. 

Street check evaluation

Early on, McFee said he will launch an independent review of EPS policy on naming homicide victims that balances the right-to-know of the citizens and the privacy of families.

"I think we need to bring somebody in to do a real quick review, talk to some of the stakeholders, understand the vested interests that everybody has and try to make a decision," said McFee.

When asked about arbitrary street checks, McFee pointed to the value of stops when police are searching for a suspect in a crime such as a violent home invasion.

"Checks, positive and negative, are part of police work," said McFee. "How you do it and how you record it has to be professional, has to be respectful, and we need to make sure we're focussed on that, so we'll evaluate."

Last June, under McFee's leadership as deputy minister, the Saskatchewan Police Commission unveiled a new policy that said checks could not be random or target racialized minorities. They had to be voluntary and couldn't be based on a person's location in a high-crime area.

But McFee stressed Friday that it was a tool that can't be taken from front line officers, saying, "We need to guard it and make sure it's done properly and there's (accountability)."

'Uniquely equipped'

Community safety experts who have long worked with McFee lauded him as a visionary leader.

"He's uniquely equipped and I'd say unparalleled in Canada in terms of the experiences and the knowledge base that he comes into this role in. You just don't see this in Canada," said Cal Corley, CEO of the Saskatchewan-based Community Safety Knowledge Alliance.

"But more than just being a visionary leader, [McFee] is one that has a proven track record of being able to execute on strategy," said Corley, who has worked closely with McFee over the past decade.

Corley pointed to McFee's time as deputy minister spent in correctional facilities or on the street with parole officers "as an indication of a guy who goes deep, who wants to understand" and develops a relationship with his people.

We're talking about a police leader who we will be reading about 100 years from now- Chad Nilson , scholar

Chad Nilson, a scholar at the University of Saskatchewan's Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science and Justice Studies, has worked closely with McFee on the Hub model. 

He said McFee has pushed policing on an international level to places few thought it could go.

"We're talking about having everyone from chiefs down to frontline officers and new recruits thinking differently about the role of police in society and the way in which the community as a whole can take ownership over safety and well-being," said Nilson.

He said McFee is a "tremendous win for the citizens of Edmonton" but his next chapter also presents a great opportunity for the rest of Canada.

"We're talking about a police leader who we will be reading about 100 years from now," Nilson said.

About the Author

Andrea Huncar

Reporter

Andrea Huncar reports on human rights, immigrant and Indigenous issues, youth at-risk, the justice system and extremism. Contact her in confidence at andrea.huncar@cbc.ca