Edmonton police union says task force report ‘attacks integrity’ of city officers

A recently released report by a task force put together by the City of Edmonton to address concerns about racism and safety in Alberta’s capital has come under fire from the president of the union that represents the city’s police officers.

In a letter to members of the city’s community safety and well-being task force, Sgt. Michael Elliott of the Edmonton Police Association writes that he believes the Edmonton Police Service was unfairly portrayed in the report.

“(The report is) insulting and demeaning to every police officer who dedicates themselves to serve the City of Edmonton and its citizens,” reads the letter, which is dated April 8.

“The task force attacks the integrity of our officers without evidence or facts and makes recommendations based on flawed and biased U.S.-style stereotypes and biases about police.”

City council called for the task force’s creation after dozens of Edmontonians expressed concerns during public hearings last year about racism and policing.

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Among the recommendations in the task force’s report released late last month are:

  • Police should have its funding frozen to make those numbers more similar to other comparably-sized cities
  • Bring in more thorough anti-racism training for police officers
  • Create a professional college to help regulate policing in Edmonton
  • Create an integrated emergency dispatch system that improves the ability of dispatchers to be able to distinguish calls that require a police response from calls that don’t

Read more: Task force calls for Edmonton police funding freeze, more anti-racism training for officers

The report, which acknowledged that EPS has been taking steps to provide more anti-racism training and to create a more diverse police force in terms of personnel, also raised concerns about seniority provisions in police officers’ collective bargaining agreement, which it says leaves recently-hired minorities more likely to lose their jobs in the event of layoffs.

In his letter, Elliott argues that the police force is comprised of “a diverse group of people from (a) variety of races, cultural backgrounds and sexual orientations” and that anyone with the “ability, integrity and desire” to become a police officer is welcome to join.

“(The task force’s) recommendations would destroy key rights in our collective agreement,” he writes. “The task force wants to rip out requirements that EPS use objective criteria to hire, promote and retain police officers.

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“Promotions and advancement under our collective agreement are based on competence, merit, training and a member’s time spent serving our communities.

“The whole point of these provisions is to allow people to advance based on an objective assessment of merit and experience, and not be passed over based on subjective biases or stereotypes.”

Read more: Edmonton experiencing recent spike in violent crimes: police

In his letter, Elliott accused the task force of wanting EPS to hire and promote officers based on factors like skin colour and sexual orientation.

“Would the task force then also dismiss longer-serving police officers based on skin colour if layoffs ever become necessary?” he asks.

“If so, then the task force is just using racism to promote its own version of anti-racism.”

Read more: Edmonton city council votes to look at implementing recommendations from report on racism, diversity, safety

Speaking to reporters at a news conference on Friday, Elliott noted that EPS’ recruitment strategies have evolved over the years, removing what he suggested were antiquated ideas of what is required to be a police officer. He said this evolution is a good thing.

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“We want a true reflection of the community within our service,” he said.

Elliott’s letter also takes issue with the task force calling for a funding freeze, arguing the report does not acknowledge that violent crime and gun seizures are on the rise in Edmonton.

WATCH BELOW: Some Global News videos about Edmonton’s community safety and well-being task force

Elliott told reporters Friday that he believes morale among EPS members is the lowest it’s been in years, and that stress has been compounded by instances of police officers having been called racist — among other things.

“It’s been an extremely difficult year,” he said. “COVID(-19) is affecting everyone, including us. (People) are stressed and at higher levels of stress. We see that everyday.

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“We do know that calls of service have gone down, but if you look at the violence within those calls, they’re way up.”

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Earlier this week, city council voted in favour of having city administrators work with the task force to come up with ideas for potentially implementing recommendations in its report.

Council’s vote called for administration to put together a report within 90 days and then report to a city committee, outlining “quickly actionable items” within the city’s control that could be implemented.

“As far as I’m concerned, the task force’s mandate is concluded now,” Elliott said. “They did their job. They presented their report to city council.

“Now discussions have to occur between city council with the police commission… with the stakeholders and the EPS to find out which is the best method forward.

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“I’m willing to sit down with council and others to work on a solution.”

Read more: Gun violence on the rise, Edmonton police tell commission

You can view Elliott’s letter in its entirety below:

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