More people have died in shootings involving police officers in Edmonton this year than in any other place in Canada, according to statistics collected by CBC News.
Four men have been shot and killed in encounters with the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) this year, including an innocent 59-year-old bystander in an apartment.
The series of shootings comes a year after a city-appointed task force recommended to seek ways to prevent unnecessary use of force by the police.
“I think the evidence is there that they didn’t really take this report seriously,” said Rob Houle, who served on the Community Safety and Wellbeing Task Force and has spoken publicly about his own painful experience with the Edmonton police.
Critics say the number of shootings raises questions about officers’ ability to defuse situations, but police department experts say it’s too early to draw conclusions about the incidents, which have yet to be done. being investigated by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT).
How Edmonton compares to other cities
CBC Edmonton reviewed press releases from the RCMP, municipal police departments and police oversight bodies in Canada between January 1 and April 22, tracking fatal shootings involving officers.
Deaths in Edmonton account for 30% of the total in Canada this year, with most major cities, including Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa and Winnipeg, reporting no fatal police shootings.
With the exception of Surrey, British Columbia, no other city has seen multiple fatal police shootings in 2022.
“It’s undeniable that we have an excessive use of force problem in Edmonton,” said Temitope Oriola, professor of criminology at the University of Alberta.
Alberta has had the deadliest officer-involved shootings – 5 – of any province or territory. Three occurred in British Columbia, three in Ontario, one in Saskatchewan and one in Quebec.
According to statistics from CBC Edmonton and those from CBC Deadly Force Databasefollowing deadly encounters between police and Canadians between 2000 and 2017, Edmonton’s total this year is already at a 22-year high.
Neither Edmonton Police nor ASIRT are naming those who died in officer-involved shootings.
Demographically, most of those killed in clashes with police in Alberta over the past six years have been men.
The Deadly Force database showed that black and Indigenous people were overrepresented among fatalities.
In all three incidents involving officers in Edmonton this year, ASIRT said a “confrontation” occurred and at least one weapon (or an imitation weapon) was found at the scene.
“They can sometimes occur in clusters”
Doug King, professor of legal studies at Mount Royal University, said it was too early to draw conclusions about the shootings involving officers in Edmonton.
“They can sometimes occur in clusters and you won’t see anything for the rest of the year,” he said.
Still, he said EPS and the Edmonton Police Commission could benefit from an external review of use-of-force policies and training procedures.
In 2017, the Calgary Police Service commissioned an independent use of force review after six of 14 officer-involved shootings resulted in death over a two-year period. A retired Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench made 65 recommendationswhich CPS said it would try to implement.
King said such a review could also take into account crime levels in the community. He said the high homicide rate in Edmonton last year could speak to the dynamics faced by police on the streets.
According to recent EPS reports Annual Report, crime in Edmonton is down 17%, but last month EPS warned that gun violence was on the rise. Officers seized 1,633 firearms last year, up more than 500 from the previous year.
How police are trained to use force
Under the Criminal Code, police officers have the power to use force in the performance of their duties, provided they act on reasonable grounds and use only the force necessary.
“Generally speaking, the only time a police officer in this country is trained or, in certain circumstances, allowed by law to fire and discharge a firearm is to protect life, you- themselves or others, where there is no other more reasonable option available to them,” said Steve Summerville, use of force expert and former Toronto Police Service officer.
Summerville said police officers in Canada revise their use-of-force decision-making abilities every year, and the EPS has a well-respected training program that emphasizes de-escalation.
EPS’s Reasonable Officer Response (ROR) framework asks officers to consider environmental and behavioral factors, but sometimes, Summerville said, officers only have seconds to decide whether to discharge a firearm.
“Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of hindsight and you don’t have the luxury of being able to consider all of these components,” he said.
EPS reviewed training last year
In a written statement, spokesperson Cheryl Voordenhout said the EPS training section began evaluating and reviewing its ROR framework and use of force training curriculum in December 2020.
Depending on the circumstances, she said, the EPS often initiates its own operational reviews of shooting incidents involving officers, “to determine what could have been done differently, identifying key learnings and adjusting policy and procedures if necessary”.
She said all immediate families associated with the three fatal officer-involved shootings this year have been offered support services and all officers involved must complete a reintegration program before returning to work.
Spurred by the 2020 murder of George Floyd, the non-profit organization Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton has begun compiling a archive police-involved deaths, discrimination, sexual violence and brutality. The site was launched in November.
The first phase of the archive includes incidents reported by the media, but board member Kenzie Gordon, who leads the project, said her organization, which advocates for defunding the police, hopes to allow community submissions to the future.
She said Edmontonians deserve to know more about officer-involved deaths, but also about other types of encounters with police.
“We really can’t understand the scale of the problem without having the data,” she said.