New police web series causing controversy

A new web series produced by the Edmonton Police Service is raising concerns for Edmonton defence lawyer.
The Edmonton Police Service released the premiere episode of their new web series The Squad on Friday. (CBC)

A new web series produced by the Edmonton Police Service is already causing controversy.

More than 2,500 people watched the first episode of "The Squad" in the first day after it was posted online on Friday.

In the series’ first episode, the camera follows several Edmonton police officers as they conduct a nighttime search of the river valley trying to locate a screaming man, who is eventually arrested.

The series is intended to demystify some of the more routine tasks handled by the EPS squad and help with recruitment, said Michael James of the EPS Digital Media Unit.

"The idea was to have a balance — we want to show what our members do on a day-to-day basis but we also want it to be entertaining," he said.

But Edmonton defence lawyer Tom Engel said he was disturbed by the apparent abuse of police power he believes the episode shows — including threats of violence made against the person the police officers are trying to find.

"I think it gives the impression that [the police] are trying to avoid — that they abuse their authority," he said, adding that the EPS might end up attracting the wrong kind of people to apply to the force.

Engel is also concerned that the series violates the subject’s privacy by publishing the video online.

"There's charter breaches, there's rights to privacy breaches, there's EPS policy breaches. I mean — it's unbelievable." 

"Why is the EPS trying to put out highly personal information about this individual... on youtube?" asked Engel. "Someone is probably going to watch that and know who that guy is."

"They need to have good reasons to publish that kind of information."

EPS Deputy Chief Brian Simpson says that viewers don’t need to be worried.

"We’ve run it through our legal in terms of it respecting privacy... and we’re very considerate of the legal [issues] we have to deal with," he said, adding that the EPS will only be airing footage shot in public spaces.

"Our goal here is to educate... I know we’ll get public input from it, and we’ll be very sensitive to it."

The first season of "The Squad" will include 15 episodes, with each running between two and three minutes in length. New episodes will be released every Friday.