News / Calgary

Alberta police watchdog investigations rise, 2015 on pace to be ASIRT's busiest year

Alberta’s police watchdog is seeing its busiest year since inception in 2008.

The number of investigations being undertaken by the Alberta Serious Incident Response team (ASIRT) is set to hit an all time high in 2015.

At a press conference in Edmonton in earlier this year, the executive director of ASIRT, Susan Hughson, said they’ve already investigated 25 incidents in 2015, a number on pace to surpass 41 investigations recorded in the previous year and any year on record. The five-year average is about 32.

“It’s not normal,” said Hughson.

“I can’t really comment on why we have so many investigations because it could be a situation where there’s more reporting.” She noted they're also investigating more “sensitive” cases, like breech of trust, drug-use and corruption.

Edmonton lawyer Thomas Engel feels ASIRT has a police-favored bias, noting many officers working for ASIRT are former police themselves.

Chair of the Alberta Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association policing committee, Engel feels ASIRT needs to have more civilian oversight and said in his opinion some work undertaken by the police watchdog has been “sloppy” and “negligent.”

Statistics posted online show 14 of 195 cases have resulted in criminal charges, less than seven per cent of total investigations, however it's a number that could change pending ongoing cases from 2012 and 2013.

Howard Burns, president of the Calgary Police Association, which represents roughly 2,100 frontline officers in Calgary, said high a conviction rate would be troublesome.

“I would be terribly concerned if ASIRT was charging police officers on a regular basis,” he said. “That would be an indication that we have some serious problems.”

“I would expect that most of the time the officers haven’t done anything wrong,” he said. “I’m not saying that it’s always going to be the case, but it should be the rare occasion when an officer is charged with something.”

Autonomous from any police agency, ASIRT is responsible for investigating any police involved activity, however, they collaborate with Crown Prosecutors when determining whether or not to lay charges.

More on Metronews.ca