A report on the relationship between the police and the local Somali community was presented to the Edmonton Police Commission (EPC) on October 20, 2016, and revealed some positive perceptions of police activities and an optimistic outlook for the future.
The findings of the report were generally quite affirmative for the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) and highlight a culture that emphasizes the importance of community policing and relationship building in diverse communities.
While the study identified some areas of tension and improvements that could be made in service delivery, it also documented examples of successful community outreach, along with the desire for young Somali-Canadians and police officers to build better relationships.
Surprisingly, police officers were identified as the least likely source of discrimination identified by the sample of young Somali Canadians. When asked about the most common sources of discrimination, school staff, co-workers, employers, and members of the general public were commonly identified much more often than were police officers.
The one-year independent study that looked at the cities of Edmonton and Toronto was undertaken by Dr. Sandra Bucerius, Associate Professor for Sociology and Criminology at the University of Alberta, and Dr. Sara Thompson, Associate Professor for Criminology at Ryerson University.
The report focused on:
- A qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews and surveys with Somali-Canadians and police officers.
- An examination of strategies that police and their relevant community partners deploy to communicate with and build relationships with the Somali community.
The report found:
- Knowledge of the Somali community – Across the EPS, members had a good general knowledge of the Somali community in Edmonton.
- General emphasis on policing – The majority of EPS officers agreed that the police service had a very strong community engagement / policing orientation.
- General thoughts on building relationships with community members – The majority of participants emphasized that cultivating strong and trusting relationships with community members is a prerequisite for good police work. More specifically, listening to and learning from community members and adapting policing strategies to their needs.
- The role of training – All officers stressed the importance of training to understand community engagement and develop a community mindset to execute their duties.
- Relationship with the Somali community in Edmonton – Most interviewed identified the investigation of the Papyrus Lounge homicide on January 1, 2011, as a turning point for how police engage with diverse communities. They acknowledge that there were deliberate efforts afterwards to improve the relationship. Although there are still tensions and misunderstandings that arise between the community and police, police officers are more culturally aware now than before.
- Approach to policing radicalization – Two thirds of police members were aware of radicalization, and identified building strong relationships and behaviour change as primary tools for policing.
The report’s recommendations include:
- More interactions and outreach with young people of Somali culture.
- Leveraging technology and knowledge to create cultural app tools for officers.
- More cultural-specific training days and takeaway messages for officers.
While the study was done in 2015, some of the recommendations have already been implemented.
The EPS Equity, Diversity and Human Rights Section currently provides bias awareness, effective communication, and cultural safety training to all police officers to help them better interact with the growing diversity of Edmonton’s citizens and visitors. This training continues to evolve based on the needs of the community and police.
The Section is also involved in numerous police / community partnerships, including ones to proactively identify risks and intervene prior to incidents occurring.
As well, the EPS continues to create opportunities to build understanding and trust with the local Somali community through:
- Operating a community-policing model and beat officers who are familiar with specific communities.
- Utilizing the EPS Equity, Diversity and Human Rights Section to educate officers and community members about each other.
- Assisting with the integration of newcomers and helping them understand the roles and responsibilities of police in Canada.
- Coordinating meetings between the Chief’s Advisory Council and community and youth to share information and explore opportunities for partnerships.
- Offering police and youth engagement initiatives for ethnocultural youth to bring groups together to better understand each other.
- Assisting in mentoring students one-on-on and helping them feel safe through the School Resource Officer Program.
- Providing a Citizen Police Academy to involve residents in crime prevention.
- Scheduling recruiting sessions at community events for youth interested in becoming police officers.
- Participating in community festivals and sporting events.
Overall, members of the EPC, EPS, and the Somali community are encouraged by the report’s findings and supportive of the ongoing efforts to work together to foster a climate of mutual respect, safety and security.
“You build relationships with communities how you build relationships with any other person. You sit down, you talk, you listen to each other, you don’t go to people and tell them what’s best for them, you ask people what they need,” says Dr. Sandra Bucerius.
Chief Rod Knecht adds, “There are challenges throughout the city, but I think we’ve made some real strides with this community, and with many communities in Edmonton. We have a group of police officers that are interested and engaged and want to see it work, and we have a community who want to be engaged. It’s very encouraging to see young people say ‘we want to work more closely with the police,’ you could not ask for anything better than that.”
The Somali Experience in Alberta Report
EPS Equity, Diversity and Human Rights Section
EPS Chief’s Advisory Council