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Sask. inquiry outlines 'serious issues' with Prince Albert police


The province released the recommendations from an external review of the Prince Albert police on Tuesday, highlighting issues that have brought the struggling force under scrutiny in the last several years.

In November, the Ministry of Policing tapped former Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht to conduct an inquiry into the force, amid a number of formal public complaints about police conduct and signs of internal conflict between the leadership and staff.

Knecht identified a lack of procedures, capacity for criminal analysis and strategic planning, and recommended changes that promote “shifting from reactive policing practices to intelligence-driven policing.”

The police force needs more detectives in its criminal investigation division to address serious crimes other than murder, according to the recommendations released by the province.

To minimize conflict between the executive and officers, Knecht recommended the police union hire a full time staff member with knowledge of the Police Act, collective bargaining and internal police policy, with a “willingness to build relationships.”

This move could address the “number of serious issues within the [force] regarding discipline, grievances, relationships within senior management … and overall organizational impairment,” the report says.

Tensions between the executive and rank-and-file were evident in May when former Chief Jonathan Bergen resigned following the release of a scathing report by the Public Complaints Commission.

The report found that two officers in Prince Albert failed to adequately protect an infant boy who died last year and should face discipline.

A video posted to Twitter thanking Bergen for his service was taken down, with the director of communications claiming “persistent harassment” from within the organization. That statement was later retracted, and the communications director resigned shortly after.

Given the internal struggles, Knecht says the next chief should be appointed from outside the organization by an independent panel.

In a statement emailed on Tuesday afternoon, interim Chief Patrick Nogier said the Prince Albert Police Service knows that implementing the recommendations is not optional.

“We are fully aware that the recommendations will have a significant impact on our operations and financial management. However, we are steadfast in our determination to rise to the challenge.”

Another source of conflict Knecht identified in his recommendations is an overuse of non-disclosure agreements. He said it undermined trust and transparency between management and staff.

Knecht recommended the executive hold regular formal meetings with the police union every two months, with agendas distributed and minutes taken, approved by both parties and sent out to the membership to build transparency and trust.

He was also critical of a requirement of Saskatchewan’s Police Act to have the mayor sit on the board of police commissioners.

“Due to the perception of political influence in policing, the position of mayor should not be on a police commission / board,” as is the case in Alberta.

At the time of Knecht’s appointment, Minister Christine Tell told CTV News police in Prince Albert were struggling to meet expectations.

“They’ve been struggling, as we have witnessed over the last year or so and there’s been concerns, complaints, coming in from the public. They’re not feeling as safe as they should, and every citizen should feel safe in their communities,” she said.

Only a list of recommendations was released from Knecht’s report. It’s unclear what else may have been included in the report as the terms of the contract were withheld from CTV News in an access to information request.

What’s clear from the recommendations is the number of areas in which the Prince Albert police force has fallen behind.

There’s no strategic planning in place for the force, nor for the board of commissioners, the report says. It also says the Prince Albert police need a professional development plan in the next six months to “enhance skill sets and morale, while reducing risk.”

The service should let people file police reports online and “aggressively market this option” to reduce the impact of calls on patrol, the report says. The standard for many police forces across the country is for patrol officers to hand out cards on how to report online, Knecht says.

It seems the recommendations of independent coroner’s inquests into in-custody deaths are not shared across the police service, and Knecht identified several “high-risk” areas that would benefit from regular audits, including the handling of prisoners, patrol, and interpersonal violence.

“This needs to be tracked by the executive … and reported to the [board of commissioners] for monitoring.”

Members of the board of police commissioners should be required to read the province’s Police Commission’s Handbook to better understand their roles, Knecht says.

Knecht also recommends the provincial government get representation on the board, given the significant amount of funding it contributes.

In a news release, Minister Tell said the government is working with the board, the interim Chief and the police union to implement the recommendations and “move forward so the people of Prince Albert can be confident in the service’s ability to keep them and their community safe.” 

In a statement to CTV News, the union representing Prince Albert police officers said the recommendations "are a way to move forward in a lengthy process that has not been easy for any of our members."

"Some of the recommendations have been tackled already by Chief Nogier and others are currently being looked at," Prince Albert Police Association President Nolan Carter said.

"Although budget will restrict certain recommendations the hope from the Association is that the City of Prince Albert, the police board, and the Ministry will step up and continue to acknowledge and support not only the Prince Albert Police Service but in turn the city itself."

-With files from Stacey Hein Top Stories

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