EDMONTON (CITYNEWS) – An Edmonton lawyer is calling for civilian oversight to make police officers more responsible for their actions while on the job.
Avnish Nanda believes cities would benefit from a non-police oversight body to review civilian complaints against officers.
“So many people who have negative interactions with the police don’t even file a complaint,” said Nanda. “Because they don’t believe the process will lead to anything meaningful.”
The civilian oversight body would also ensure police officers subject to a complaint are removed from street duty until the investigation is over, which is not always the case.
“Often, police officers are not removed from the street, not removed from active duty, and in some cases, given the opportunity to engage in the same actions again,” he said.
In 2015, an Edmonton constable was accused of repeatedly punching a man during an arrest. Witnesses claimed the man was handcuffed in the back of the police cruiser. While still on active duty, the constable allegedly tried to intimidate a witness two weeks before she was set to testify against him in a disciplinary hearing.
“That is the reason why we need to take the officers off the street,” said Nanda. “That is extremely troubling.”
Last year, an officer drove his knee into an Indigenous man’s back during an arrest that was caught on video. It appears the officer then drops his other knee onto the man’s neck.
During the 10-month investigation following the incident, the officer continued to patrol the streets. It wasn’t until this week that he was charged with assault and suspended without pay.
Criminal defence lawyer Tom Engel says the suspension of the officer without pay is unprecedented in Edmonton.
“Over the years, I see all these cases where there’s been no suspension, and no suspension without pay” he said. “I detect a very clear shift.”
Under the Police Act, there must be an investigation and a disciplinary hearing. That can sometimes take years. Engel says, historically, it’s very difficult to terminate a police officer in Canada.
“In the States, chiefs of police are firing officers immediately. That can’t happen under our system of governance here (in Canada).”