'Disappointed': Justice minister wants modified Lethbridge police improvement plan
EDMONTON -- Alberta's justice minister says he's disappointed with what he calls substantive deficiencies in a plan from the Lethbridge Police Service to fix problems that led to a warning that the force could be disbanded.
Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh delivered the plan to Justice Minister Kaycee Madu in mid-April after the minister warned there were serious problems and change needed to happen immediately.
He said any plan had to address everything from recruiting to oversight, would need benchmarks and contain a timeline. He said it would have to be made public and, if not, the force could be dissolved.
The plan includes improvements in ethics and accountability and management of conduct files, annual ethics training and a review of the police service's social media policy.
It also involves developing better leadership in current and future police members and restrictions on access to database searches.
Madu said in a May 13 letter - sent to Mehdizadeh, the Lethbridge Police Commission and the city's mayor - that the plan is not good enough.
"I acknowledge this is a not an easy task and I appreciate the effort and consideration that went into the plan as submitted. It is therefore with regret that I must advise I was disappointed with the plan," writes Madu in the letter.
"While it addresses some of my concerns surrounding recruitment, training, oversight, discipline and transparency, a detailed review by myself and department staff identified a number of significant and substantive deficiencies."
Last year, two officers were temporarily demoted after a review determined NDP legislature member Shannon Phillips, while environment minister in 2017, was surveilled and photographed at a diner. The officers were apparently concerned about changes Phillips was making to off-highway vehicle use at a nearby wilderness areas.
Separately, five officers and one civilian are currently being investigated for allegations of conducting improper database searches on Phillips while she was in cabinet in 2018.
Madu said he wants clarification on the problems the service is trying to address, what the Lethbridge police force intends to accomplish, and specific outcomes that will be achieved.
The minister wants information on recruitment of new officers and for the service to address its internal culture.
"Many of the concerns with the LPS relate to the culture of the service, as reflected in the values, beliefs, and behaviours of employees. It is necessary to address the workplace culture and employee engagement to better assess the employees' commitment to the organization and how they carry out their work," Madu wrote.
The updated plan needs to be submitted by June 25, he wrote, and must include details on the completion of outstanding misconduct investigations and disciplinary actions, as well as address access to the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC).
Madu also sent a letter to the Law Enforcement Review Board asking for a public inquiry into access and use of information held in Lethbridge police databases; the maintenance, policies, and procedures respecting records management; and access to and use of CPIC.
The Lethbridge Police Commission confirmed it received the request for additional information on the plan.
"The Lethbridge Police Commission is in the process of working with the Lethbridge Police Service to provide that information, which included requests of the commission which hadn't been asked for previously," it said in a statement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2021.