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EPS Statement on DNA Phenotyping

For Immediate Release: 06-Oct-2022 @ 10:00 AM
MRU #: 22R099

My name is Enyinnah Okere and as Chief Operating Officer for the Community Safety and Well-being Bureau of EPS, I am responsible for overseeing our sexual assault section - it was my team that put out a release two days ago about the unsolved sexual assault of a young woman in 2019.

This was a horrific sexual assault, one that very nearly caused the death of the young woman who was left unconscious and almost fully unclothed on a minus 27-degree morning in March.  

It is the type of case from which a victim may never fully recover, made worse by the fact that after two years, she has not received justice. The violent nature of the assault, the fact that the victim lost consciousness, and that the suspect was wearing bulky winter clothes and a face mask, meant that we had very little to work with - only that the suspect was Black and about 5'4 with a black toque, pants, and sweater or hoodie and that he had an accent. In addition, we had no witnesses, no tips, no CCTV and, after two years, no leads.

To move this stalled case forward, our team members sought the advice of colleagues in other jurisdictions who had previously used DNA phenotyping and saw potential for it here. They commissioned a profile which we released on Tuesday.

I have nothing but respect for my team for being willing to try every conceivable tactic to bring this case to a satisfactory conclusion - the victim deserves nothing less.  I want to thank our people who do everything they can to pursue this work with rigor.  They are relentless and I will not ask them to be anything less.

But we were not and are not oblivious to the legitimate questions raised about the suitability of this type of technology. The potential that a visual profile can provide far too broad a characterization from within a racialized community and in this case, Edmonton's Black community, was not something I adequately considered. There is an important need to balance the potential investigative value of a practice with the all too real risks and unintended consequences to marginalized communities.

In our release, we did try to qualify the benefits and limits of the technique we used here. We felt we were clear on its limit. We indicated we saw it as a last resort.  And we thank the media who attended our briefing for producing careful and balanced stories that similarly noted the intent of this work and the very fair criticisms that need to be considered.

Any time we use a new technology - especially one that does raise concerns about profiling of a marginalized group - we cannot be careful enough in how we validate these efforts and fully, transparently consider the risks.  

We have heard legitimate external criticism and we have done our own gut checks internally to determine whether we got the balance right – and, as a leader, I don't think I did.

While the tension I felt over this was very real, I prioritized the investigation – which in this case involved the pursuit of justice for the victim, herself a member of a racialized community, over the potential harm to the Black community. This was not an acceptable trade-off and I apologize for this.

For this reason, EPS will be taking the following steps today.

We are going to remove the visuals provided with this release from our web site and will remove our social media images altogether, effective this morning.

We will be reviewing our internal processes to better ensure the appropriate, robust and stress-tested tools are in place to better inform our decisions on such matters going forward.

And we will continue to prioritize and explore every conceivable and appropriate means to find justice for the victim in this case - she deserves our continued efforts and focus, and we will not give up on our efforts for her.

Thank you,

Enyinnah Okere
Chief Operating Officer
Community Safety and Well-being Bureau
Edmonton Police Service

 

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"Dedicated to Protect, Proud to Serve"