Lethbridge police chief responds to misconduct allegations, pleads for patience
LETHBRIDGE -- Lethbridge Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh is acknowledging the seriousness of new allegations against officers with the LPS, and said he is committed to taking all the right steps to hold officers accountable, if there was wrongdoing.
He is also asking the public to be patient, while the investigation is being carried out.
During a news conference Wednesday, Mehdizadeh said the investigations are unfolding, and the evidence will come out.
“My commitment is we will hold people, when the evidence is gathered, accountable.”
The news conference comes a day after an online meeting, involving Mehdizadeh, Lethbridge Police Commission Chair Rob vanSpronsen and Kaycee Madu, Alberta’s Justice Minister and Solicitor General.
The chief confirmed that during the meeting, Madu indicated that the Alberta government may have to step in if LPS doesn’t shape up.
“Yes, those comments were made,” said Mehdizadeh. “But the justice minister was also very mindful of the fact that we have new players in the game right now.”
The new allegations relate to potential misconduct by five police officers and a civilian employee of LPS, who used the police database to search information on Lethbridge West MLA Shannon Phillips in 2018.
Documents obtained by Phillips through a Freedom of Information request show there were no reasons given for those searches.
Two officers were demoted last July after admitting to using their positions as LPS members for personal and political reasons.
In 2017, Phillips was photographed by the two on-duty police officers, one of whom who posted about her online. The officers were off-road enthusiasts and the then-environment minister had proposed the phase-out of off-highway vehicle (OHV) use on designated trails in Castle Provincial Park, west of Lethbridge.
Mehdizadeh said the past incidents do not reflect on what the Lethbridge Police Service is doing today.
He took over as chief of police in August 2020, and said he has been spending a lot of time to ensure these issues are going to the right processes, with the right level of accountability.
“When we move forward with them it’s going to be to the satisfaction of the public and also respectful of everyone's rights, including those officers alleged to have made these mistakes.”
Police Commission Chair Rob vanSpronsen said he got the sense that Minister Madu was also quite upset over how a lack of public trust in the Lethbridge Police Service reflects on police services across Alberta.
“The message he gave was he’s upset over that, and would like to see us work toward restoring public trust.”
vanSpronsen said section 30 of the Alberta Police Act allows the Minister to intervene if he feels it is necessary. A request would first have to be made to Lethbridge city council. If council doesn’t comply, the minister could appoint police officers or request the provincial police service (RCMP) to provide policing on an interim basis.
PROVINCE OF ALBERTA POLICE ACT
30(1) When, in the opinion of the Minister, a municipality that is responsible for providing and maintaining policing services is not
(a) providing or maintaining adequate and effective policing services, or
(b) complying with this Act or the regulations,
the Minister may notify the council of that fact and request the council to take the action the Minister considers necessary to correct the situation.
vanSpronsen acknowledged that building public trust will take time and work.
“Like anything it takes just a couple of incidents to destroy public trust, and it takes a lot of time, patience, energy and commitment to restoring that trust.”
According to vanSpronsen, the police commission has already had discussions with city council about the concerns.
Mehdizadeh said the allegations do damage public trust in the organization, but urged people not to make judgement on the whole institution, based on the actions of a few people.
“Let’s focus on the wrongdoings of those people and hold those people accountable.”
The police chief said he wanted to clarify, that he doesn’t have the power to fire officers.
He said if individuals are found guilty of wrongdoing it will be up to a review hearing to determine the appropriate punishment, which could range from a warning to dismissal.
Of the five officers under investigation by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, one has since left the force, and one is under suspension for another matter that is currently under review. The others remain on duty.
Mehdizahdeh's full statement, released earlier on Wednesday, is below:
The Lethbridge Police Service acknowledges the matters being investigated in relation to MLA Shannon Phillips are extremely serious in nature. We are confident the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) will provide a very thorough and unbiased investigation and we will ensure every request made by those investigators is fully accommodated.
As a Police Service we are privileged with access to certain information about our citizens. Every citizen deserves the right to privacy when it comes to that information. It is our duty to protect that information and their privacy, and only access the systems in place through the lawful execution of our duties, and when required to do so.
Since the ASIRT investigation is ongoing, the Lethbridge Police Service needs to be respectful of the process and as such, will not comment at this time on any specifics of the concerns brought forward by Ms. Phillips. If there is evidence of wrongdoing once the investigation has concluded and we have all the facts, Lethbridge Police ask the citizens we serve to provide us the opportunity to take corrective actions and hold those responsible accountable. Until then, we ask them for their patience as we allow the processes in place to unfold.
In the meantime, the Lethbridge Police Service does want to acknowledge the severity of such allegations, and to reinforce our commitment to hold accountable anyone found guilty of such misconduct. As a Service, we are dedicated to honourable, bias-free policing – that is a long-established goal of this organization. We already have established policies to support and reinforce that standard, and the vast majority of our officers and civilian staff are committed to following and supporting it.
Therefore, it is especially troubling for us whenever it is alleged that those principles have not been honoured and followed by any member of our staff. Such actions reflect badly on the Service as a whole, and damage our relationship with the community we serve. The best that we can do going forward is to affirm our commitment as a Service to honourable policing, and to accountability for anyone who fails to meet those standards.