Task force on policing and racism in Edmonton releases findings

Edmonton city council is being advised to redirect hundreds of millions in police funding to community programs and make the public complaints process more transparent.

A task force -- assembled as the result of a public hearing that heard 142 Edmontonians share their perspectives on racism and policing in the city -- released its findings in a 59-page report Wednesday.

The Community Safety and Well-Being Task Force was formed in November and is made up of Edmontonians from diverse backgrounds who have experienced discrimination in the past.

In the report, the task force makes 14 recommendations to help make Edmonton safer and improve public trust in the Edmonton Police Service. 

Among those recommendations, a communal dispatch centre for police, fire, EMS and crisis diversion teams. 

"When you talk about having the police as a tool, and not the tool, but multiple tools that you know dispatch can, can choose," task force member Brian Curry told members of the media during a Wednesday afternoon news conference.

The task force report says recruitment and training programs should be enhanced to encourage diverse, anti-racist, inclusive organizational structures.

More transparency and independence to the public complaints process was also included among the 14 recommendations.

Another ask: a freeze on increases in funding for the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) over the next five years.

The report suggests the estimated $260 million that freeze would save, be funneled back into 24/7 expansion of key community social programs.

"We found Edmonton’s community safety ecosystem desperately needs to be modernized," the report states, adding the city spends more money each year doing the same old things.

"This is frustrating people and harming public trust in key institutions," reads the report. “Out-of-date beliefs take root in organizations and systems, influencing the way things are done. This gets baked in.”

In the report, the task force identified a number of performance metrics, and proposes tying a portion of police funding to specific performance in one of its 14 recommendations.

'WE WILL STILL BE THE ADVOCATES': TASK FORCE MEMBER

During the news conference on Wednesday afternoon, task force member, Erin Davis emphasized the importance of sending the most appropriate responders to calls.

"I think it's important to understand that we saw a gap in terms of the calls coming in and who was responding to those calls," said Davis. "We want to make sure the right people are showing up at the right time."

Davis said she hopes all 14 of the task force's recommendations are implemented, but also acknowledged that the task force itself still has work to do.

"We will still be the advocates and the voice for our recommendations and hopefully in partnership and collaboration we can make sure that all 14 move forward," she said.

EDMONTON POLICE REACTION

In a written statement to CTV News Edmonton, EPS said it was not entirely satisfied with the task force's work.

"We are disappointed the task force has focused almost exclusively on policing and enforcement when asked to examine the entirety of the social safety ecosystem. 

"Though some recommendations align with the direction EPS has taken through Vision 2020, and they will certainly help grow community safety and well-being work already underway at the Service, we have significant concerns about the accuracy of the report. Many recommendations are not evidence-based or founded in research, and some have used selective comparisons.

"We look forward to speaking with City Council about the Task Force’s report and how this conversation can be expanded to include larger, systemic change throughout all service providers in the system." 

RESPONSE FROM POLICE COMMISSION

Edmonton Police Commission chair Micki Ruth, released a written statement Wednesday in response to the task force's newly released report. 

“This past year, the Commission has heard from a wide range of Edmontonians as they have spoken passionately about policing, funding, and the need for local reflection on how our city collectively provides the best possible service to protect all Edmontonians.  We understand the diversity of views and many were reflected in the Task Force’s findings," Ruth's statement read in part.

“We look forward to participating in a collaborative approach with City Council that aims at enhancing community safety, in particular by ensuring all aspects of our community work together to produce better outcomes for racialized and marginalized communities," her statement went on to say.

The task force will present its findings to city council on April 6.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson