Medicine Hat News

Lethbridge Police Service submits action plan in time

- Lethbridge Herald tkalinowsk­i@lethbridge­ TIM KALINOWSKI

The Lethbridge Police Service has met Justice Minister Kaycee Madu’s deadline, and has submitted an action plan on how to move forward in a way which is more open, transparen­t and accountabl­e.

According to a letter to the community from Chief of Police Shahin Mehdizadeh, the action plan was submitted Tuesday to Minister Madu, who had previously imposed a deadline of April 15 for such a plan or he would consider disbanding the police force.

“We have all seen the negative publicity the Lethbridge Police Service has received as of late,” states Mehdizadeh in his letter to the community published on the LPS website. “As a result, some citizens may be questionin­g the ethics and integrity of the men and women who serve you every day.

“As I reflect back on the circumstan­ces that have brought me to write this letter today, let me say this: I want to make a commitment to every citizen that we are on the right path moving forward. In order to move forward, we need to look at the mistakes made by some of our employees in the past which reflect negatively on the whole department. We will address those concerns through proper process, and ensure those responsibl­e are held accountabl­e with a legal, balanced approach. We are awaiting outcomes of some investigat­ions that will come in due course. I ask for some patience as we navigate through these legal processes, learn from them and make positive changes so we can continue to provide this community with the service you deserve.”

Highlights of the action plan include reforms in the areas of ethics and accountabi­lity, improved leadership developmen­t, enhanced employee wellness and mental health education, improved database access policies, and a more robust and open internal and external communicat­ion strategy.

Last year, two officers were temporaril­y demoted after a review determined NDP legislatur­e member Shannon Phillips, while environmen­t minister in 2017, was surveilled and photograph­ed at a diner. The officers involved were concerned about changes Phillips was making regarding off-highway vehicle use at a nearby wilderness areas.

Separately, five officers and one civilian are now being investigat­ed for allegation­s of conducting improper database searches on Phillips while she was in cabinet in 2018.

“We will strive every day to keep your trust,” says Mehdizadeh at one point in his letter. “My commitment is that we will make changes to ensure we have an accountabl­e, resilient, healthy and vibrant organizati­on to serve you. I hold myself accountabl­e to every employee and every citizen in our community and I expect every employee to do the same.”

Last month, five police employees were suspended with pay as part of an investigat­ion into the circulatio­n of inappropri­ate images, reportedly including pictures of senior police staff pasted onto the bodies of characters from the animated “Toy Story” movies.

Last year, the force was criticized for the violent takedown of a citizen wearing a “Star Wars” storm trooper costume and brandishin­g a toy laser blaster.

The year before that, images went viral of an officer euthanizin­g a deer by running over the wailing animal numerous times with a police truck.

Both Mayor Chris Spearman and Lethbridge police commission chair Robert van Spronsen welcomed the chief’s message, and expressed faith in the action plan.

“My hope for the not-so-distant future is efficient and timely outcomes to any outstandin­g investigat­ions so they can be dealt with as necessary, and from there, a chance to move forward with a clean slate,” says Spearman in a statement. “Chief Mehdizadeh holds himself to the highest of standards and is ready to take a big leap forward in making change where change is due.”

“On behalf of the Lethbridge Police Commission,” adds van Spronsen in a statement of his own, “I wanted to thank Chief Mehdizadeh for his cooperatio­n and collaborat­ion and swift action in compiling the plan that was sent to the Minister’s Office (Tuesday). The compilatio­n of this plan was an excellent exercise to undertake and there were many parties who worked together to complete it prior to the deadline.

“My support to LPS and Chief Mehdizadeh is unwavering and the action plan presented to the Minister is the culminatio­n of the hard work of many for the past five years,” he concludes.

The Lethbridge Police Associatio­n also expressed support for the direction Mehdizadeh has defined going forward.

“The Lethbridge Police Associatio­n sees the (chief’s) letter not simply as a response to negative publicity that our organizati­on has faced the past number of months but as a declaratio­n of the continued commitment our Police Service and its members have to the citizens of Lethbridge and an evolving law enforcemen­t profession,” says LPA president Jay McMillan.

-- with files from The Canadian Press

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