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ASIRT on track for busiest year on record


Alberta's police watchdog is on pace for its busiest year ever, while it also works through a backlog of investigations from up to six years earlier.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) says along with a spike in incidents they need to investigate in 2024 there are a few things helping them finalize cases more quickly.

CTV News has learned ASIRT is on track for a record number of investigations started and a record number of investigations completed in 2024.

“We are the most productive we've been thus far in the year in terms of concluding investigations but at the same juncture we've taken in more investigations at this time of the year than we ever had before,” said ASIRT director Mike Ewenson.

He said those numbers are based on the current pace, but things can vary month to month.

“We've had months where the phone hasn't rung at all and then we've had weekends where we've gotten two or three calls involving officer-involved shootings.”

The independent group investigates allegations of misconduct, serious injury, or death at the hands of police officers who are both on and off-duty.

As of May 1, ASIRT had taken on 27 investigations with five resulting in charges.

Over the past nine years, the total number of annual investigations has been as low as 52 and as high of 83.

Most of the cases ASIRT deals with are use of force.

According to data gathered by the Canadian Press, Alberta leads the country for police shootings, with 21 last year, the highest per capita in canada.

“It poses a lot of difficulties,’ said Ewenson.

“We deal with next of kin with the family of somebody who's been injured or killed, and we also deal with the officers who went to work that day, not intending on firing the weapon.”

He said aside from the human trauma element ASIRT investigators have to absorb and deal with, logistics also make things tricky.

“With a police shooting investigators have to respond immediately to anywhere in Alberta or the Yukon,” Ewenson said, detailing ASIRT's understanding with the territory, since Yukon does not have its own police watchdog.

“You've got to go right away, so it can be exhausting.”

An officer examines damage to a truck used by a suspect, wanted for a stabbing, who was shot by police in west Edmonton March 1, 2024. (Sean McClune/CTV News Edmonton)

Along with an influx of investigations, the agency is also bogged down by a backlog, from as far back as 2018.

“Having to wait five or six years and having someone say we’re cleaning up the backlog is small comfort,” said Doug King, criminal Justice professor at Mount Royal University.

“There’s a public trust issue to get these problems solved fairly quickly.”

Efficiency measures already in place aim to change that.

ASIRT’s director says a funding boost allowing more staff, administrative changes and evidence provided by police cameras have helped turn-over cases more quickly.

He said ASIRT got a 36 per cent funding boost in 2022 after requests for help from the province.

That allowed for more staff, including five more investigators. ASIRT now has 27 investigators.

“That's really sped up our investigative conclusions,’ said Ewenson.

“Justice does not come easily or cheap in any way and governments have to provide funding for it, bottom line,” said King.

“ASIRT has really stepped up over the last couple of years and I trace it back to former minister (Tyler) Shandro hearing the complaints that it is just taking forever."

Instead of needing the director to sign-off on all cases the assistant director can now do this as well.

ASIRT director Michael Ewenson says the agency opened 27 new investigations as of May 1 while working on a backlog of cases that date back as far as 2018.

“The old administrative structure of one person having to sign-off on everything was really a bottleneck,” said King.

And finally, the wider use of body-worn cameras by police services can contribute to quicker investigations in some cases.

ASIRT has even started including screenshots from videos in their reports to help explain its decisions to the public.

“A picture can mean a thousand words and it’s our hope that when the public looks at our report they have confidence in our findings.”

In the first third of 2024, ASIRT took on 27 cases and closed 32 investigations.

“I'm proud to say we're still running in the positive, we have concluded more investigations this year than we've started.”

Ewenson said even with body-worn cameras cases might require a lot of additional investigation including interviews with officers and witnesses.

After 30 hours barricaded in a Calgary home, firing shots into the neighbourhood packed with officers, 45-year-old Patrick Kimmel was ultimately shot to death by police.

“My family is still dealing with this,” said Kimmel’s widow Michele Siebold.

“It has been a nightmare. We're trying to keep normalcy, I have two kids.”

Siebold said she was told it could be up to two years before the ASIRT investigation is closed.

Patrick Robert Kimmel, 45, was shot to death on Friday, March 15, 2024, following a 30-hour standoff with Calgary police. (Supplied)

“Where did these shots come from, what actually went on… We might know in a couple of weeks we might know in a couple years, right," she said.

Ewenson says he knows its hard for the families of victims, but there is a process ASIRT needs to follow.

“We never want to be rushed behind the scenes because we can't afford to make mistakes in terms of reports, the confidence that the public has in us, and the policing community comes down to getting it right.”

He said since the budget increase ASIRT has consistently concluded more files than it brought in each year.

“The backlog is being dealt with. Not fast enough for a lot of people, but our heart is in the right place.” Top Stories

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