May 21st, 2024

HERALD NEWSMAKER OF THE YEAR – LPS hopeful of brighter new year after controversial 2021

By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on December 30, 2021.


The year 2021 was particularly tough for the Lethbridge Police Service as they faced many controversies throughout the year.
The ups and downs for the service over the year and the varying degrees of success the LPS has experienced in trying to overcome these challenges has prompted their selection as the Lethbridge Herald’s Newsmaker of the Year for 2021.
“There were some events that have really put a lot of negative publicity on this organization,” said Lethbridge Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh, “but a lot of these events range from 2016 to 2018, and any recent allegations are being tied to the historic events… As a result we have many investigations.”
Mehdizadeh told the Canadian Press he was fully aware of the problems before he took the top job in July 2020.
“I knew the challenges in this department and in this city, and a lot of these events that are bringing a lot of bad press to this department,” said Mehdizadeh “I didn’t come to this with blind eyes.”
In February, allegations of sexual assault and abuse of power were made against retired Lethbridge Police Service Inspector Bill Kaye, who at the time worked as a victims advocate with the city’s Domestic Violence Action Team and sat as a board member with the Chinook Sexual Assault Centre. This incident was brought up later in the year as part of a whistleblower investigation.
In March the LPS was under national scrutiny after an ASIRT investigation revealed five LPS officers accessed Lethbridge West MLA Shannon Phillips personal records eight times over an 11-month period for no apparent police purpose.
Shortly after that incident, later in March, Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu ordered the Lethbridge Police Service to clean up its act or risk being dissolved. He demanded an action plan to address everything from recruiting to oversight to changing the department’s internal culture.
“They came back to me with an action plan that was acceptable and I approved.”
Madu said he would wait to see what a public inquiry by the Alberta Law Enforcement Review Board turns up before he decides how successful the changes have been.
Madu noted that he doesn’t blame the current chief.
“Let me be blunt … I think it stems from the previous leadership there,” said Madu. “I am very sympathetic to the current chief…He was brought in during the midst of these problems. None of these problems are part of his watch. This is a problem that he inherited,” said Madu.
The force was criticized in May 2020 for the violent takedown of a citizen wearing a “Star Wars” storm trooper costume and brandishing a toy laser blaster. But in July of 2021 the file was closed after an independent investigation by the Medicine Hat Police Service provided no evidence of any professional misconduct by the officers in this case.
“We included recordings of the two 911 calls (in our media release) phoned in by citizens as we wanted the public to understand and reflect on what information was provided to our police officers. The type of call they responded to, and ultimately why they approached the scene in the manner they did,” said Mehdizadeh in July.
In December, sanctions were taken against a number of officers as a result of the circulation of inappropriate images, reportedly including pictures of senior staff pasted onto the bodies of characters from the animated “Toy Story” movies.
Const. David Easter and Const. Matt Rilkoff were demoted within rank for one year effective Dec. 1. Const. Keon Woronuk and Const. Derek Riddell resigned and Sgt. Jason Moulton, who previously pleaded guilty to two counts of discreditable conduct, two counts of neglect of duty, one count of insubordination and not guilty to one further count of discreditable conduct, is scheduled to resume his proceedings on Jan. 10.
“I don’t have the authority to make arbitrary decisions to get rid of people or fire people. There are legal processes that we have to adhere to, that we have to be respectful of and compliant to move forward,” said Mehdizadeh.
The president of the Lethbridge Police Association said the problems that became public were years in the making.
“It’s been miserable for us for more than the past year. I think what most people don’t understand is what they’re seeing now is predicated on things that came before. Nothing happens in a vacuum,” said Jay McMillan.
McMillan explained that many of their own internal issues were born of an era where there was different leadership in place, or a lack of leadership. He said it created a culture that was not healthy and probably not able to withstand any external pressures.
McMillan said most of the controversies don’t reflect the service now. He supports the changes outlined in the provincial action plan.
“You’re able to look in the mirror as an organization or an individual and identify some things you can do a little bit better,” said McMillan.
He added that a lot of the things in that action plan were things that were set up to take place already, so it was not in response to the public attention.
“It wasn’t in response to the justice minister … the organization had already realized there were some changes that needed to be made,” said McMillan.
– with files from the Canadian Press

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pursuit diver

I have being frustrated with many of the issues I have seen brought forward, like many in this city, but I have hope that this new Chief will do what is needed to make the necessary changes to regain the confidence of this city’s residents. No police force will ever please everyone!
There has been a forensic look at LPS and the issues are being dealt with and I am satisfied and praise the new Chief for knowingly walking into a mess that would discredit LPS and it’s leadership. How many would take on the job? I already see positive change and hope that the LPS members will be able to move on, putting behind them the few issues that brought shame to LPS. Many forget that these men and women are people, people that are not perfect, make mistakes, make bad decisions because all people make mistakes. The difference is the training and leadership, not just how they were brought. Once in while there will be a few that cross the line, as in any job or profession, whether doctors, lawyers, judges, pilots, military, professional drivers, etc., but sooner or later those people are held accountable.
Great leadership will bring this force back where it should be and it is not fair to hold all the members accountable or in judgement. There are many hardworking members that serve this community and never get a thank you, but instead are called names or falsely accused.
They are people that do a job many do not want, in most cases seeing the worst of society, things that many people would not sleep well if they witnessed or were aware of. Many people think that all the bad stuff that happens is in the news! I would be willing to bet only about 2% of the bad things happening in this city police deal with gets in the news. 10-12 years high on drugs, even getting abused, traffic accidents that can be horrific, violence against them, human trafficking, suicides, and even worse. They have to deal with and go home to their families and try to not let it bother them.
There were idiots that were screaming ‘defund’ police not too long ago (many of which call police as soon as someone looks at them wrong), but it would be complete chaos if there were no police. Gangs were take over, there were be lawlessness never seen, no one would be safe and without police, fire and EMS would not be able to safely respond. Even with police people commit crimes right in front of police. We all need to show them we appreciate their service, they and their families give up a lot for them to be LPS members. Often families of members have seen verbal abuse from others and in many cases they restrict some of their activities and places they go. What a sad world we live in when people that willingly give back to the community, by serving it, protecting all us little idiots from ourselves and others, are not shown the respect and gratitude they have earned and deserve.
These men and woman have a tough job, one that is shift work to make it even harder and we should be thanking everyday and supporting them. LPS has been examined, the changes made or are being made and we need to applaud them and especially show our gratitude and appreciation to our Chief for knowingly taking on a tough job! I for one am confident and that says a lot considering how vocal I am about things in this city!!

Happy New Year! I see great things coming to this city for 2022!
Let’s stand together and stop actions that destroy and separate this city!