Background

On June 16, 2004, the Edmonton Police Commission held a public hearing on the issue of whether there ought to be some form of civilian oversight of police investigation into citizen complaints of inappropriate police conduct. The John Howard Society of Alberta was invited to present the Society's perspective on this issue and, in the short time available between being so invited and the public hearing date, put together a brief presentation highlighting some of the issues around this contentious topic.

The Society noted that, although this was a public hearing arising out of the situation in the City of Edmonton, it was appropriate for the Society, as a provincial body, to present the Society's views on the matter; for while the vast majority of communities in Alberta have their police services provided by the RCMP, and therefore have recourse to a civilian body to receive and investigate complaints concerning (RCMP) police conduct, the vast majority of the population of the province live in communities with municipal police forces (primarily Calgary and Edmonton) where no such civilian authority exists.

The Society concluded its presentation with the comment that, "Although there does not appear to be any convincing evidence to indicate that civilian oversight of complaints against the police is any more (or less) effective than internal police investigations of complaints, it is clear that there is considerable public distrust of the police investigating themselves. In our view, this undermines confidence in, and respect for, the police in general and in turn, we believe that a consequence of this is that our communities are less safe than they would be if there was greater confidence in, and respect for the police."

The process of researching this issue to prepare for the presentation to the public hearing however, led to the conclusion that it would be appropriate at this time to prepare a more comprehensive examination of this issue. What follows is that examination.