Scathing report raises questions about EPS professionalism

An internal Edmonton Police Service report from 2006 reveals serious, systemic problems with police training, investigations, court testimony and ethics.

Police Commission, Alberta Justice and EPS fought for six years to keep report secret

EPS Chief Rod Knecht says changes made since the 2006 report have improved police investigations, accountability and ethics. (File Photo)

An internal report on the Edmonton city police, obtained by CBC News, reveals serious systemic problems with police training, investigations, court testimony and ethics.

"This report is six years old, but there is pretty clear evidence that some of these problems are continuing," said D’Arcy DePoe, president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association which recently obtained the report after a six-year legal battle.

"We see factual findings by judges that police officers continue to come to court and lie," DePoe said. "Police officers continue to come to court without adequate notes or records.  Police officers come to court unprepared to testify."

Police officials declined an interview request, but in an emailed statement, Chief Rod Knecht said much has changed since the report was issued in 2006.

Knecht said a new information management system, implemented in 2010, has improved police reports and investigations. And Knecht said leadership and ethics courses have improved accountability. 

He said the relationship between the police, police commission and the Crown has changed significantly since the report was commissioned in 2005.

The Edmonton police department produced the report, designed to increase public trust, following a series of scandals involving the force. One, the notorious Overtime scandal, involved officers targeting a journalist and the head of the police commission in a failed drunk-driving surveillance operation. The commission fired the police chief for his handling of the case.

Prosecutors critical of police conduct

The most controversial section of the report is based on consultations with Crown prosecutors, some of whom participated in ride-alongs with police officers. The report states two Crown prosecutors witnessed "criminal assaults" by officers.

There is no indication the assaults were reported or that any other action was taken. Instead, the report recommends choosing officers who are less likely to break the law.

 "Members who are tasked with taking individuals on ride-alongs need to be carefully selected and provided clear direction with regard to their conduct while on the ride-along," states the report, which was produced by 10 senior officers and constables, the head of department's professional standards and the complaints director.

The consultation with Crown prosecutors also yielded the troubling observation that "many officers do not understand, at a conceptual level, the role of the Crown in the justice system."

Investigations described as "sub-standard"

"The Crown prosecutors unanimously advised that the quality of the investigations being conducted by patrol officers is often sub-standard," the report stated, adding that officers often neglected to interview witnesses, such as emergency medical service personnel, and often produced poor reports.

Crown prosecutors were also scathing in their assessment of the attitude of officers toward court proceedings. They said officers often weren’t prepared to testify.

"Many officers seem more interested in socializing in court than assisting the Crown prosecutor with witness management or reviewing their case files in preparation for testifying," it said.

Retired University of Alberta criminologist Keith Spencer said some of these problems still exist, and he blames poor previous leadership within the police service.

 "I think the Edmonton Police Service has had a leadership issue," he said, referring to the fact that the police department has had several chiefs in recent years. "There hasn’t been a standard set and established of expectations in performance, but I believe the current police chief is dealing with that right now."

Commissioners had limited trust in ethics of officers

Edmonton Police Commission members were also surveyed for the report. They clearly had concerns with both ethics and accountability.

Only 11 per cent of commission members believed officers received ample ethics training while only 44 per cent believed police officers displayed a strong commitment to ethical behaviour. Only 33 per cent believed officers are held accountable for their actions while 55 per cent agreed that unethical behavior is tolerated by the force.

Those opinions of police commissioners were also shared by rank-and-file officers. An internal survey of officers found lack of discipline and accountability were major issues.

"The majority of the membership believe in stricter discipline and are disappointed that those who break the rules repeatedly are rarely dealt with appropriately," the report states. "They are asking for appropriate, consistent, and timely discipline."

Spencer said the police department became so focused on "team building" for so many years it became "dysfunctional," with officers unwilling to report unethical behavior because they felt more accountable to their squad than to ther superiors or the public.

"Again, it all stems from leadership," he said. "If the expectations at the top are that we want a clean force, you get it, but if you have never set those expectations, never drawn a line, and if it isn’t seen to be done, then it taints the entire police service."

Six-year fight to block report's release

The April 2006 report has only surfaced now because the police, the commission, and Alberta Justice lost a concerted legal challenge to block the release of its most damning parts. That challenge included exhausting all levels of appeal within the provincial Freedom of Information process.

The Edmonton Police Commission did not respond an interview request. Alberta Justice declined an interview request because it said the report was "dated."

 "They fought its release for all this time and now they say, ‘Well, it’s outdated,’" DePoe said.  "Well, it isn’t outdated. Explain to us why the problems that we are identifying—that are in the report—why they continue?"

 DePoe said the fact some of these problems have not been addressed undermines the entire justice system.

"Simply put, it engenders disrespect for the police, and for the administration of justice generally, if you don’t do anything about these problems in particular," he said.

But Spencer said Knecht is addressing these issues.

"Culture building takes a long time," Spencer said. "And I give full credit to the current chief for understanding that. I think he’s making some positive strides here but I think you need to be vigilant in this business."