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EPS implements new policy on naming of homicide victims

A comprehensive review and subsequent report titled “Revealing the Names of Homicide Victims: Understanding the Issues”, was launched in early 2019 and completed by the Community Safety Knowledge Alliance (CSKA) in April, at the request of EPS Chief Dale McFee.

In 2017, EPS adopted a framework proposed and ratified by the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police regarding the naming of homicide victims,” explained EPS Chief Dale McFee. “That approach stipulated that we would not release the names of homicide victims unless there was an investigative need.

“It’s no secret that approach drew some criticism from media, and I felt strongly that we needed to have a fresh set of eyes examine the situation,” explained Chief McFee. “I think the independent research and findings undertaken by the CSKA has accomplished that.

Based on their final report, EPS has determined the names of homicide victims will be released, in most cases, following autopsy providing that:

  • the release of the deceased’s name does not compromise an investigation
  • identity of the deceased is confirmed
  • next of kin have been notified, whenever possible

“Overall, a majority of the stakeholders interviewed supported the practice of releasing the names of homicide victims,” explained Chief McFee. “The need for policy and consistent practice, however, was high on their list.”

“Ultimately, our main concerns are to ensure we are properly interpreting and following FOIPP, while satisfying the need for sensitivity and respect to victims’ families. Obtaining the perspectives of key stakeholders reaffirmed that there are reasonable arguments on both sides of this subject. However, I’m confident we’ve done our best to objectively examine the issue.”

As part of their research, which commenced in early 2019, the CSKA invited representatives from victim advocacy groups and victim-serving agencies from across the country to comment on this issue; 20 organizations provided their input in semi-structured interviews. A consortium of media also participated in this process.

Additionally, a survey was sent out to 37 municipal police agencies serving populations over 100,000 residents (including agencies in nine English- speaking provinces and the two largest agencies in Quebec) to collect information about their practices; 28 of these agencies provided their input.

Analysis of the survey results revealed that:                                                                                                                                                                                    

  • More than one-third (36%) of the responding police services release the names of all homicide victims. More than one-half (54%) release the names depending on circumstances. Only 7% always withhold victim’s names.

  • Most agencies indicated that the integrity of the investigation was the most important factor relating to the decision to release any information, but several indicated they also considered privacy concerns and respecting the wishes of the victim’s family members in relation to releasing a victim’s name.

  • More than three-quarters (77%) of the responding services indicated that the officers overseeing investigations made the decision to release victims’ names.

  • More than one-half (54%) of responding agencies said that the victims’ families should be able to advise police about releasing names.

The full report can be read here.