New Alberta group creates database of police misconduct incidents

A new group is making it easier for Albertans to look up incidents of police misconduct by publishing a searchable and downloadable database online.

Volunteers with the Alberta Police Misconduct Database Association published the portal on Tuesday.

Dating back to 1993, it includes more than 400 incidents involving about 500 police officers.

Volunteers have been collecting information from news stories, disciplinary hearings, court documents and freedom of information requests for the past two years.

“We really wanted this to be a tool for accountability,” said Edmonton paralegal Devyn Ens, who is leading the project.

Ens said lawyers have been sharing information about police misconduct incidents among themselves informally for decades but wanted to make the information easier for others to find.

Database users can filter their searches by year, police force, incident type and outcomes.

The database is not comprehensive and the dominance of Edmonton Police Service officers — they are linked to more than three quarters of the incidents — reflects the group’s ties to Edmonton. 

Volunteers will continue to add to the database, which Ens acknowledged has gaps.

“We have tried to make the data that we do have as thorough as possible, but we know there are so many more incidents out there that haven’t been reported or don’t have the documents to back them up,” she said.

Caitlin Dick, an Edmonton criminal defence lawyer, called the database “extremely necessary and useful.”

She said police officers are among the few people legally permitted to use force, so when they step over the line, the public should know about it.

She also said the database could be useful to victims of police misconduct who can’t afford lawyers or find ones willing to take on their cases without charging for the work.

The database allows users to search by officer and compare the outcomes of similar cases.

“Something like this has a lot of potential to assist people in doing their own complaints,” Dick said. 

EPS spokesperson Cheryl Sheppard said in an emailed statement that the police service welcomes any new mechanisms that promote understanding and awareness.

Sheppard said countless checks and balances involving the province, the city and the courts ensure the police accountability and discipline system is fair, balanced and responsive.

“While police accountability is critical, it is important to put [it] into context as well,” she said.

According to EPS records, less than one per cent of all police calls last year resulted in a complaint being made. 

CBC News asked the Alberta Association of Police Governance and the Edmonton Police Association to comment on the database but neither group made someone available for an interview.

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