Replacing a top deputy to be one of Knecht's final acts as Edmonton police chief

CBC News has learned outgoing police chief Rod Knecht has decided not to renew the contract of deputy chief Brian Simpson. Knecht has already begun the process of choosing a replacement.

Rod Knecht has decided not to renew deputy chief Brian Simpson’s contract

Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht (left), Deputy Chief Brian Simpson (right). (CBC )

Edmonton's police chief has one foot out the door, but he has decided to replace one of the service's deputy chiefs before he leaves.

CBC News has learned Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht recently decided to not renew the contract of his hand-picked deputy chief, Brian Simpson, and will take a lead in choosing the replacement.

Simpson's current contract ends on Oct. 26, 2018. Knecht's contract ends five days later, on Oct. 31. 

"It was the chief's decision," Justin Krikler, executive director of the Edmonton Police Commission, said in a telephone interview.

"The commission was made aware the chief would be desirous of searching for a new deputy chief as Deputy Simpson's contract was coming to an end on Oct. 26, 2018."

A year after taking the job as chief of the Edmonton Police Service, Knecht hired Simpson away from the RCMP in May 2012 for a five-year contract. At the time, Simpson had been serving in Ottawa as the RCMP's director general for operational preparedness.

Since then, Simpson's contract has been renewed twice.

The first time, on April 30, 2017, it was extended for one year to April 30, 2018.

Then in May — following a three-day period where he was left in limbo without a contract — Simpson was given a six-month extension. 

Edmonton Deputy Police Chief Brian Simpson speaking in 2015 about threats made against West Edmonton Mall. (Ian Jackson/The Canadian Press)

An EPS spokesperson said the delay in the contract extension occurred because Knecht was out of town at the time, and unavailable to sign the document that both parties had agreed to.

Simpson "was wearing a business suit during those days," Krikler said. CBC has also confirmed Simpson did not wear his sidearm during those days.

In an email, police spokesperson Carolin Maran said the process for selecting the next deputy chief is already underway, "with an invitation to all senior officers within EPS to express their interest in the position."

She would not say whether the end of Simpson's EPS career was his choice or Knecht's.

Both Knecht and Simpson declined comment.

'I think it's dangerous'

Former city councillor and police commissioner Robert Noce can't understand why a police chief with one foot out the door would decide to handpick a new deputy chief who will work under his successor.

Former Edmonton city councillor and police commissioner Robert Noce. (Miller Thomson)

"I think it's dangerous for not only the current chief to do so," Noce said, "but I think it would be very dangerous for the new person to take on that role until such time as the commission has selected a new chief."

Noce suggested a different tactic.

"The more prudent approach would be to find someone and put them in an acting position so that individual is not prejudiced by a new chief deciding that they don't want that person."

He noted that if the new deputy chief is not a good fit with the incoming police chief, it's possible taxpayers could be on the hook for a contract buyout.

Given the circumstances, Noce thought any prospective candidate for deputy chief would be wise to get legal advice before agreeing to take the job.

"Anyone looking into fulfilling that position, knowing full well that the new chief may not want that individual, would be very smart to engage a lawyer to ensure that their contract provides for a significant payout in the event that something like that should happen," Noce said.

"In order to protect themselves."

The police commission executive director said he's confident Knecht will do what's best for the police service, rather than focus on continuing his legacy.

Edmonton Police Commission Executive Director Justin Krikler. (Linkedin)

"My take on it is Chief Knecht wants what's best for the organization," Krikler said.

"The commission understands whoever becomes the next chief might have an opinion on those people who are in the deputy positions. But the commission understands the chief is going to be selecting the possible candidate for the job."

According to the current policy handbook, the police commission "delegates the hiring [of deputy chiefs] responsibility to the chief of police, with the understanding that the chief will invite the commission to nominate a member to any interview panel held within the hiring process".

Police commissioner Laurie Hawn will serve on the interview panel.


Janice Johnston

Court and crime reporter

Janice Johnston is an investigative journalist with CBC Edmonton who has covered Alberta courts and crime for more than three decades. She won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award in 2016 for her coverage of the trial of a 13-year-old Alberta boy who was acquitted of killing his abusive father. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca.