Dozens of police officers in Alberta's two major cities have retired or resigned while under investigation for misconduct since 2012, according to statistics obtained through freedom of information.
A total of 50 members of the Calgary Police Service and 38 members of the Edmonton Police Service chose to leave their jobs before internal disciplinary processes involving allegations against them were complete.
Deciding to voluntarily leave ends the disciplinary processes and there is nothing in legislation to prevent officers from working in law enforcement elsewhere.
"It is definitely an accountability loophole," says University of Alberta criminologist Temitope Oriola.
CBC News submitted identical freedom of information requests with the Calgary and Edmonton police services. The information requested was a list of officers who retired while under investigation, as well as the date of their retirement and the nature of misconduct alleged against them.
Calgary police refused to provide a list, claiming that all information requested was exempt from disclosure due to personal privacy concerns. However, CPS said that the number of officers in the list was 50. That number covers the period from January 2012 to November 2022.
Edmonton police provided a list with personally identifying details redacted. The list, which covers the period from January 2012 to February 2023, included a list of allegations faced by officers at the time of their retirement, based on the section of the regulations governing police conduct.
Those regulations include nine categories of misconduct for police officers, such as breach of confidence, improper use of firearms and insubordination. Each category has multiple subsections of more specific prohibited conduct.
In the list of allegations against Edmonton police officers who retired while under investigation, the category of discreditable conduct appeared most frequently, representing more than a third of the overall total.
The vast majority of those were allegations of "doing anything prejudicial to discipline or likely to bring discredit on the reputation of the police service."
Discreditable conduct allegations also included contravening an act of Parliament, and using oppressive or tyrannical conduct toward a subordinate.
The second-most frequent category was deceit, relating to allegations of willfully or negligently making false statements.
The details and context of each allegation are not known.
The allegations in the EPS list were part of the internal disciplinary process and not criminal in nature. It's not known if any of the misconduct of the officers was criminally investigated, but such investigations would be able to continue despite an officer's retirement.
The statistics are "sobering in many ways but also not particularly surprising," says Oriola.
"The idea of officers resigning or retiring when they're under investigation has been around for a while and it's one that I think that, unless we put in place checks and balances, will continue."
'You have to close this escape hatch'
Last year, the Police Act received its first major update since it was passed in 1988.
The amendment to the legislation, developed after consultations with stakeholders and experts, introduced several changes, such as an independent commission to manage complaints and conduct disciplinary proceedings.
It also requires police services to develop community safety plans, diversity and inclusion plans, and their own policing priorities.
One area that it did not address was the question of police retiring or resigning while under investigation.
Tom Engel, a prominent defense attorney and chair of the Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association's policing committee, was among those hoping for more to address what he says was a central issue in the review.
"I participated in the process that led to the reforms to the Police Act in December of last year," says Engel. "This was front and centre. You have to close this escape hatch."
Ian Sanderson, chair of the Alberta Association of Police Governance and a former RCMP member, doesn't see it as an escape hatch. He says that the ultimate discipline that could be meted out would be dismissal, and leaving under a cloud of investigation might make it harder to find other work in policing.
"I guess I see that the system is working, although I do understand that for some people that they may not like the idea that it just dies on the vine once that person leaves the employ of of the police service," he says.
Tom Engel participated in the consultations for the Police Act update, but says important recommendations were ignored. (CBC)
Engel disputes that, pointing to the example of a former Calgary police officer who left while facing formal complaints, only to become the police chief in Camrose.
"And it's so easy to close that loophole. You just legislate it. You put in a clause in the Police Act that says that this disciplinary process will carry on until its conclusion, regardless of whether the subject of the discipline or the investigation remains a police officer," says Engel, noting that this was a recommendation put forward to the provincial government.
"I think [public safety minister Mike Ellis] should explain why he didn't accept that."
Responses from officials
A spokesperson for the ministry of public safety provided a statement that said that efforts to "reform and reimagine policing in Alberta" were ongoing.
The statement did not address direct questions about why the issue of police retiring while under investigation was not addressed in the Police Act update, or whether the government believes it is a problem.
However, it said that the government continues to look at other reforms, including "non-legislative changes that can be made by revising policing standards and guidelines."
An EPS spokesperson provided a statement that highlighted the "extensive enhanced security clearance checks" conducted by all police organizations, which it said ensured that "any information regarding an ongoing investigation or any other misconduct" would be disclosed.
"It should also be noted that the choice to retire or resign early for any reason is extremely consequential, as it represents a loss of income, health benefits, and potentially incomplete pension benefits as well as the conclusion of a meaningful career," EPS said in a statement.
In its own statement, CPS said it "appreciates the legitimate concerns about accountability and transparency that can arise when an officer retires during the course of a misconduct investigation," pointing to the loss of legal jurisdiction for professional standards investigations in such circumstances.
Neither EPS nor CPS addressed questions about whether they believed the ability of police to end misconduct investigations by leaving their jobs was a problem, or whether it damaged the public's view of police accountability. Both police services noted that any criminal matters against officers would continue regardless of employment status.
Calls for professionalization
Oriola was also part of the Police Act review. He advocated for the creation of a professional college to regulate and license police officers, similar to the Law Society of Alberta, which can prevent its members from resigning while they are the subject of a complaint.
Oriola also called for a higher educational requirement for police officers.
"Policing remains an occupation. It has not necessarily become professionalized," he says. "And there is still a tendency to think of policing as a set of manual skills that can be acquired with Grade 12 level education plus six months and two weeks of training, which is exactly what we have right now."
Temitope Oriola, a criminologist at the University of Alberta, has been vocal in calling for the "professionalization" of policing. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)
Oriola says there is research demonstrating that cops with college degrees are significantly less likely to use force or face misconduct complaints.
Neither of those recommendations was implemented in the Police Act amendment.
"The idea of officers resigning or retiring while they're under investigation has been around for a while," says Oriola. "And it's one that I think, unless we put in place checks and balances, will continue."