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Drop in 2022 Calgary police satisfaction not surprising, says Chief Mark Neufeld

Part 2 of 2, in our year-end interview with Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld.

Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld said the drop in Calgarians’ satisfaction with the Calgary Police Service (CPS) didn’t come as a surprise.

He said much of it was quite factual, particularly around citizens’ feeling safe in their own community.

“If you looked at some of the crime numbers in the community, you could understand why that would be the case,” Neufeld said, during LWC’s year-end interview.

This is part two of a two-part series looking back at Calgary policing in 2022. Part one examined capacity issues the Chief said CPS faced, plus where they’re at in their organization’s transformation.

In this story, Chief Neufeld addresses recent citizen satisfaction numbers, Police Act changes, the relationship with the Calgary Police Commission and what to expect in 2023.

In September, the Calgary Police Commission released a new survey on citizen satisfaction with the Calgary police. While the topline 85 per cent satisfaction still looks respectable, it’s down from a peak of 97 per cent in 2013, and lower than the previous 14 year low of 89 per cent (2008).

Confidence in the Calgary police to deliver the service needed to make the city safe hit a 12-year low at 86 per cent. Trust in CPS dropped eight per cent from 2020. Respondents viewed CPS professionalism at 79 per cent, down 12 per cent from 2015. Feeling of competency dropped 15 per cent in the same timeframe.

“The good news is we’re quite connected with Calgary and so what was in the survey wasn’t a big surprise to us,” Chief Neufeld said.

Optimism they’re on the right track

Three areas that saw between 15 and 23 per cent drops in the last over the past seven years involved the handling of people in crisis, demonstrating care and compassion and responding fairly to all segments of the Calgary community.

Neufeld said, philosophically, that’s what their transformation is about.

“I just think it comes down to the organization operating better and interacting with the diverse communities here in Calgary better,” he said.

He pointed to the recent acknowledgement of the Calgary Police Service role in a bath house raid 20 years ago as an example of how they’re trying to change how they handle these situations.

“What matters is the fact that we’re willing to have these conversations and when we did, we realize that that event 20 years ago is something that’s still an impediment to good relationships with that community,” he said.

Some of the frustration Calgarians’ have is around call response. It dovetails with CPS employees concern over workload and staffing, which Chief Neufeld said was addressed in the recent city budget.

Neufeld noted that of the survey respondents, less than half had any sort of contact with CPS over the past year.  To that end, we asked if the media influenced Calgarians’ views on the Calgary police. Chief Neufeld said that those perspectives are being shaped by others’ views—be it in the news or in places like social media.

He also said stubbornly low morale among officers could also be manifested in their dealing with the public. Something that could also be contributing to public perception.

“If people aren’t feeling supported and morale is down and stuff like that, that that tends to show up in the way that they show up,” he said.

Changes to the Police Act

Chief Neufeld said that they’d been advocating for changes to the Police Act for two governments—or eight years. 

Among the changes brought in, the province will create an independent oversight body to handle police complaints. They’ll also be able to appoint provincial members to local police commissions.

He said he’s proud of the work CPS internally to investigate complaints.

“The community has been quite clear that they don’t have a level of comfort with what’s perceived to be the police investigating the police,” Chief Neufeld said.

The complaint body, which they advocated for, serves two purposes, Neufeld said. First, it does address that community concern over investigations. The other thing it does is modernize how complaints are handled—from a workplace perspective.

He said the Act itself is antiquated and comes across as being militaristic, with a court-martial feel to the disciplinary process. Often, the complaints are more performance related, he said.

“Those things end up having to be turned into disciplinary issues, instead of performance management issues like they would be for any other employee, just by virtue of the fact that you’re sworn police officer,” he said.

“We didn’t think that was very good and it wasn’t contributing to good outcomes.”

Neufeld also said that it made sense for the province to have representation on police commissions, as they do provide a substantial amount of grant funding.

Speaking of the police commission…

In 2022, there have been a few instances where the CPS and the Calgary Police Commission—the civilian oversight body—didn’t see eye to eye.

The Thin Blue Line issue with officers took headlines this year. That was ultimately resolved—but not without tensions rising. There was also division between the CPC and CPS over the handling of the Beltline protests. Further, the killing of Latjor Tuel sparked questions from the police commission about de-escalation.

Chief Neufeld said he has a good relationship with the Calgary Police Commission. He said it’s improved a lot, too.

“The irony of the Thin Blue Line issue was that was probably a catalytic event that actually brought us all to the table to realize we need to go back to in-person meetings,” he said.

He said when those re-started, the commissioners also started coming to police events, including recruit grads and other community activities.

“I think that really helped us turn a corner,” he said.

It was also a time when individual commissioners were commenting publicly on social media that didn’t reflect what the commission was saying as a whole. They committed to fixing that aspect on their end, Neufeld said.

With that came the resignation of two Calgary city councillors from the commission. Ward 8’s Courtney Walcott resigned, saying his work there was done. He believed he could be a better advocate for police reform on the outside.  Likewise, Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, who resigned because of an ongoing police matter, also said he could do more from outside the commission.

“I would just say that, obviously, the councillors that are on the commission, that have been on there over the years, have all brought different things – all valid and valuable things – to the commission, and so we’ve appreciated their contributions and wish them well,” the Chief said.

2023: Calgary and crime

Chief Neufeld said one of the things he believes Calgarians will notice in 2023 is quicker response time (just this week Class 244 graduated 20 officers).

The target for priority one calls is within seven minutes, 80 per cent of the time.

“I can tell you right now, we’re not meeting that,” Chief Neufeld said.

More resources also allows CPS to do more proactive policing, he said. That will put officers in problem areas, specific to district, to help prevent the crime before it happens.

In terms of crime patterns, Chief Neufeld said they’ll continue to address gun crime overall. Each district has its own unique crime trends, and they change based on a variety of factors, he said.

One thing they’re keeping a watchful eye on is carjackings. Theft of vehicles isn’t the same anymore – especially with newer vehicles. You can’t just take a screwdriver and use it to steal a vehicle. A thief needs the technology attached to a key, Neufeld said. 

Overall, Neufeld said they want to improve the quality of service they provide to citizens.

“I think that every interaction with the public is an opportunity to sort of build our brand in a positive way or to it tear down,” he said.

“My expectation obviously is that we provide great service to Calgarians, and I think, again, Calgarians can expect to continue to see that too.”