The Police Act establishes two separate provincial entities to oversee police: the Director of Law
Enforcement and the Alberta Law Enforcement Review Board (ALERB). The Assistant Deputy Minister for the Public Security Division of Justice and Solicitor General is the Director of Law Enforcement.
The Director of Law Enforcement's main responsibilities are:
- Monitoring police services to ensure that adequate and effective policing is maintained;
- Monitoring the handling of complaints by police services;
- Directing police services on the process for investigations of serious incidents involving police officers;
- Developing and promoting crime prevention programs;
- Developing and promoting training and performance standards and ensuring that police services meet the standards;
- Assisting in the coordination of policing services; and
- Assisting and advising municipal governments and commissions.
The Act allows the Minister to intervene in a municipality where, in the opinion of the Minister, the policing is not adequate or is not in compliance with the Police Act. To date, this has not taken place under the current Act.
The Alberta Law Enforcement Review Board's primary role is to hear appeals from individuals who have filed complaints about the actions of a police officer and who are not satisfied with the disposition of their complaint. The Board's role is to conduct an independent and impartial review of the decisions made by police services about complaints. The Board also hears appeals by police officers resulting from any disciplinary findings, or action taken against them, arising from a complaint.
In addition, the Board may, on its own motion, conduct inquiries respecting complaints and, at the request of the minister, conduct inquiries in respect of any matter respecting policing. To date, the main focus of the Board has been in the area of appeals. Because the RCMP is governed by federal legislation, ALERB's role is restricted to the area of municipal policing. The Board's jurisdiction covers municipal police services, including officers employed with First Nations police services in Alberta. It also covers peace officers whose appointments have been cancelled under the Peace Officer Act.
The Provincial Police Service Agreement defines the role of the province in overseeing the RCMP as the provincial police in Alberta. The federal government is responsible for directly supervising or managing the RCMP under the RCMP Act, while, under the agreement, the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, in cooperation with the RCMP "K" Division Commanding Officer, establishes a yearly business plan that sets out provincial policing objectives, priorities and goals. The mandate of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP is to:
- receive complaints from the public about the conduct of RCMP members;
- conduct reviews when complainants are not satisfied with the RCMP's handling of their complaints;
- initiate complaints and investigations into RCMP conduct when it is in the public interest to do so;
- review specified activities; and
- report findings and make recommendations.
Municipal and civilian oversight
Justice and Solicitor General sets the standards for effective policing across Alberta, while police commissions and policing committees oversee policing in the province’s municipalities. Members of a police commission or policing committee are usually citizens from the local community. They can include city employees and/or town council members.
The rules for police commissions and policing committees are defined in the Police Act. As per the Act, a municipality which has established a municipal police service must establish a police commission. A municipality that has a contract for the RCMP to provide municipal policing may establish a policing committee as defined in the Police Act.
Municipalities receiving policing under the provincial policing contract may be members of an RCMP Community Advisory Committee formed by the officer in charge of an RCMP Detachment. However, these committees do not hold official status under the Alberta Police Act.
Police commissions provide oversight of municipal police services. The membership of each commission is selected by the municipal council, enabling the appointment of people with a wide range of skills and expertise who know their community. The commission may issue instructions only to the chief of police, not to any other police officer, and those instructions must not infringe on the chief s responsibility for the day-to-day administration of the police service.
Each police commission must:
- Produce a yearly budget and plan that specifies the level of police service and desired policing programs (includes input from the chief of police);
- Submit the yearly budget and plan to the city/town council;
- Allocate budget funds provided by the council;
- Establish policies for efficient and effective policing;
- Instruct the chief of police, as needed, about policing policies;
- Ensure that the police service has enough staff to perform its duties;
- Appoint a chief of police (subject to the council’s approval); and
- Appoint a public complaint director to receive complaints against police.
The Police Act allows a municipality that has contracted the RCMP as their municipal police service to establish a policing committee to oversee the Municipal Police Service Agreement, and to represent the interests of the council to the police officer in charge. If a committee is established, its roles and responsibilities are similar to those of police commissions within the confines of the Municipal Police Service Agreement. However, policing committees are not mandatory.
Civilian oversight in the context of a contract for RCMP municipal policing services is much more complex than in the case of a stand-alone municipal police service. The RCMP is bound by federal legislation and policies, and also provides provincial policing service under the federal/provincial contract. In the context of those requirements and responsibilities, policing committees face significant constraints on their oversight activities, compared to police commissions.
Each policing committee must:
- Oversee the administration of the Municipal Police Service Agreement;
- Assist in selecting the officer in charge for the police service*;
- Communicate the Council’s interests to the officer in charge;
- Develop a yearly plan that outlines policing priorities and strategies (includes input from the officer in charge);
- Consult with the officer in charge about how to implement the yearly plan;
- Communicate the public’s interests and concerns to the officer in charge;
- Help the officer in charge resolve public complaints; and
- Appoint a public complaint director to receive complaints against police.
Justice and Solicitor General has developed a RCMP Policing Committee Handbook to assist committee members in meeting their responsibilities to the community.
*The policy followed by RCMP K Division regarding policing committee involvement in selecting the officer in charge is:
- If the detachment commander’s rank is Staff Sergeant or above, the policing committee is provided with opportunity to sit on the selection committee and have direct involvement in the process.
- If the detachment commander’s rank is Sergeant or below, the policing committee may provide its desired criteria and this may be taken into consideration in final selection process.
- If the appointment involves a lateral transfer, the RCMP will endeavor to consult with the policing committee. However, in certain circumstances, the Commanding Officer has the right to appoint the officer if in the best interests of the community and/or the RCMP.
Comparing Police Commissions and Policing Committees
Both police commissions and policing committees:
- Are established by municipal council;
- Represent council to the police service and vice versa;
- Consult with the chief of police/officer in charge on yearly plans and priorities;
- Give direction to the chief of police/officer in charge on implementing the yearly plan;
- Appoint a Public Complaint Director; and
Neither police commissions nor policing committees get involved in the daily operations of police services. This is the responsibility of police chiefs or RCMP detachment commanders.
There are significant differences between police commissions and policing committees, as outlined in the following table:
|Police Commission||Policing Committee|
|Allocate budgeted funds provided by council.||
Oversee the Municipal Police Service Agreement.
Prepare a budget and yearly plans for the police service.
Ensure sufficient persons employed for the police service.
|No involvement with the police service budget.|
Establish policies for the police service for efficient and effective policing.
Issue instructions, as necessary, to the chief of police in respect of the policies.
In consultation with the officer in charge, develop a yearly plan of priorities and strategies for municipal policing.
Issue instructions to the Officer in Charge
(OIC) on implementation and operation of yearly plan.
Represent the interest of the council to the OIC.
Represent the interests and concerns of the public to the OIC.
Designate a person as a public complaint director to receive complaints from the public, act as liaison, review the complaint investigation, offer alternative dispute resolution processes and provide reports and statistics on all complaints received.
Handle complaints against the chief of police as legislated.
Review the chief’s handling of all complaints made against the police service in respect of its policies and services.
May conduct an inquiry into any matter respecting the service or the actions of a police officer.
|Designate a person as a public complaint director to receive complaints from the public, act as liaison, review the complaint investigation, offer alternative dispute resolution processes and provide reports and statistics on all complaints received.|
Hire a chief of police as ratified by council.
|Assist in selection of officer in charge.|
|Oversee the performance of the chief of police.||No involvement with performance of the OIC|
From a policy perspective, commissions and committees are designed to be as similar as possible so that there is equitable access in all communities with municipal policing. The major objectives of commissions and committees are arm’s length oversight, localizing the complaint process, and increasing the accountability of police services to the public.
RCMP Community Advisory Committees
Municipalities receiving policing under the Provincial Police Service Agreement may be members of an RCMP community advisory committee formed by the officer in charge of an RCMP Detachment. The terms of reference for the committee and its membership are determined by the officer in charge, who also appoints the members. The purpose of these committees is to advise the officer in charge on the policing concerns and problems of the community, and to serve as a communication vehicle back to the community.
Community advisory committees do not hold official status under the Police Act with respect to oversight responsibilities and do not receive notification of serious or sensitive incidents under that Act.
The Law Enforcement and Oversight Branch of Justice and Solicitor General works with its stakeholders to develop Alberta’s policing standards.
Police services are required to have standards for:
- Organizational management, including planning, financial management and internal audits;
- Personnel administration, including recruitment and selection, training, performance evaluation and professional standards;
- Operations services, including crime prevention, criminal investigation, traffic safety, pursuits, disaster planning and use of force; and
- Support services, including victim/witness assistance, high-risk incidents, people in custody, records, media relations and facilities and equipment.
The Provincial Policing Standards Manual can be downloaded here.
Police commissions and policing committees are the civilian groups that oversee policing in the province’s municipalities. The Alberta government has standards for police commissions and policing committees. These standards deal with:
- Roles and responsibilities for the municipality, the oversight group, and the public complaint director;
- Training and development for each board member in the oversight group; and
- Organizational management, including policies and procedures, business plans, reports, fiscal management, records management and media relations
The Policing Oversight Standards can be downloaded here
Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT)
ASIRT investigates policing incidents or complaints involving serious injury or death, and matters of a serious or sensitive nature. While ASIRT is an agency within Justice and Solicitor General, it operates at arm's length from police agencies. All ASIRT investigations and decisions are independent of the government.
All ASIRT investigations are assigned by the Director of Law Enforcement (DLE). ASIRT can be assigned one of the following roles:
- The DLE can direct the head of ASIRT to conduct an investigation into the incident or complaint.
- The DLE may request or direct a police service other than the one involved in the incident or complaint to conduct an investigation. The DLE may at any time direct the head of ASIRT to take over the ongoing investigation.
- The DLE may request or direct that ASIRT provide an ASIRT investigator to assist and advise the police service investigating the incident or complaint.
Complaints and appeals
Civilians who are not satisfied with municipal or First Nations police service, or the conduct of a police officer, have the right to complain about it. A complaint about the police may be filed up to one year after the incident took place.
The police will review the complaint and may offer informal resolution and/or formally investigate as required. If the complaint is formally investigated, the chief of police will send a disposition letter.
Complaints about the RCMP can be filed with the:
- Local RCMP detachment
- Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General's Provincial Public Complaint Director
- Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP
Complaints about Alberta sheriffs can be filed with the Professional Standards Unit.
Complaints about peace officers can be filed with the head of the organization that employs the peace officer.
Police Officer Discipline Process
Municipal police officers are subject to a discipline process under the Police Act. An individual can, in certain circumstances, complain about the conduct of a police officer. The Police Act provides that the chief of police is responsible for the investigation and disposition of complaints concerning officer misconduct or policies and services. Complaints about a chief of police are dealt with by the police commission for that police service.
Once a complaint investigation is completed, the chief may order a disciplinary hearing before a presiding officer, who will hear evidence and decide whether the officer is guilty of misconduct. Such a hearing is a kind of trial, to determine if the officer is guilty of the misconduct alleged. If an officer is found guilty, the presiding officer will impose a penalty, which can range from demotion or suspension to dismissal.
The chief may decide not to send a complaint to a disciplinary hearing if she/he concludes, based on the complaint investigation material, that there is no reasonable prospect of establishing the facts necessary to obtain a conviction at a disciplinary hearing. A complainant may appeal dismissal on this basis to the Alberta Law Enforcement Board. The chief also may dismiss a complaint if he/she concludes that the conduct complained about is not of a serious nature. The decision of chief to dismiss a complaint because it is not of a serious nature is a final decision. Once a decision has been made by the chief or presiding officer, the affected individual is advised of the decision in writing and is told about the right to appeal. To appeal a decision, a notice of appeal must be filed with the Board within 30 days of being advised of the decision.
The Alberta Law Enforcement Review Board hears appeals from individuals who have filed complaints about the actions of a police officer and who are not satisfied with the disposition of their complaint. The Board does not hear appeals about complaints against a police policy or service. The police commission is responsible for those appeals. The Board conducts an independent and impartial review of the decisions made by police services about complaints. The Board also hears appeals by police officers resulting from any disciplinary findings, or action taken against them, arising from a complaint. In addition, the Board may, on its own motion, conduct inquiries respecting complaints.
Board members are appointed by Order in Council for a term of up to three years and are eligible for re-appointment. They are paid on a per diem basis, in accordance with a published fee schedule set by Cabinet, and reimbursed for expenses reasonably incurred while conducting Board business. The Board Chair is also appointed by Order in Council. The maximum length of time a member can serve on the Board is 12 consecutive years.
The Board's jurisdiction covers municipal police services, including officers employed with First
Nations police services in Alberta. It also covers peace officers whose appointments have been cancelled under the Peace Officer Act.
The following individuals can appeal to the Board:
- Complainants – Citizens may appeal the decision of the chief of police about a complaint that they have made about a police officer's conduct.
- Police Officers – Police officers may appeal the findings or the penalty imposed against them arising from a complaint or from a disciplinary hearing.
- Peace Officers – Peace officers may appeal the cancellation of her or his appointment, or an employer may appeal the cancellation of its authorization.
The Board also has jurisdiction over peace officers who have had their appointment as a peace officer cancelled. Peace officers are also subject to a complaint process under the Peace Officer Act. A peace officer whose appointment is cancelled may, within 30 days of being advised of the cancellation, appeal the decision to the Board. The Board does not have jurisdiction to hear appeals arising from complaints made under Section 14 of the Peace Officer Act. The Director of Law Enforcement within Justice and Solicitor General is responsible for handling those matters.
The Board has no jurisdiction for criminal or other law enforcement matters. The Board has no jurisdiction over complaints about police policy or service, only police conduct complaints. The Board does not, for example, have anything to do with the laying of charges, or withdrawal of charges laid by police, or appeals from convictions for federal or provincial offences. Nor does the Board have any authority to award monetary damages in relation to police conduct.
- The Police Act does not apply to members of the RCMP. Complaints regarding the RCMP should be directed to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP