The two Edmonton city councillors who served on the city’s police commission when it approved the purchase of a $500,000 new armoured vehicle are defending the decision that Mayor Don Iveson has called “remarkably tone-deaf”.
Councillor Scott McKeen said he doesn’t remember a discussion about the armoured vehicle that was held in-camera in July 2017 or exactly what was said when the purchase was approved behind closed doors in February 2018.
The new Cambli Black Wolf will replace the 1978 vintage “Grizzly” that was donated to the Edmonton Police Service in 2007 by the Department of National Defence.
Edmonton police will continue to use the Ballistic Armoured Tactical Transport vehicle that was purchased new in 2013 from Michigan-based The Armored Group for $315,000.
“I’m not enough of an expert to tell you that this purchase was the wrong thing to do,” McKeen said. “I have to accept that Chief McFee and Rod Knecht before him were giving us their best advice with rationale for it that looked at public safety and officer safety.”
McKeen admitted that the delivery next month of the Cambli Black Wolf “looks tone deaf”.
“I think the mayor, like all of us, is suffering from secondary PTSD,” McKeen said. “The phone calls and emails we’re getting from everybody right now are very high pitched. People are angry, people are scared, people are frustrated and we’re facing a barrage of that all the time.”
‘Emotions were running really high at the time’
Councillor Sarah Hamilton was on the police commission in early 2018 when the purchase was approved. She said public sentiment was different at that point.
The city was still reeling from an attack in Sept. 2017, when Adulahi Sharif stabbed a police officer at Commonwealth Stadium then used a U-Haul van to injure four pedestrians in downtown Edmonton.
“A lot of emotions were running really high as it related to properly funding the police,” Hamilton said. “A lot of the messaging of the police service after that was about how the equipment and talent that they had at that time allowed them to safely apprehend the young man.”
Sharif was taken into custody after the Edmonton police tactical team used a specialized vehicle to intentionally make contact with the U-Haul and push it over to its side.
Hamilton also pointed to the death of Const. Daniel Woodall in 2015 and the armoured vehicle that was used to safely extract his body.
Her biggest problem with the purchase is the lack of transparency.
“Decisions made behind closed doors are not serving either the interests of the commission or the interests of the public nor the interests of the service,” she said. “I think transparency would have helped this.”
Hamilton admitted the release of the information this week took her by surprise.
“I think it’s fair to say that this story caught everybody off guard,” she said. “I think fundamentally the question for us as a commission, as a council, is why and how did that happen?”
Hamilton thinks the arrival in September of the new armoured vehicle might have been more palatable if the purchase was publicly announced after a contract was signed.
Police commission chair Micki Ruth told CBC News she has no good explanation for the secrecy surrounding the purchase.
“It’s public money and so we’ll be reviewing this,” Ruth said.
The police chief was hired after the armoured vehicle purchase was approved, but he also believes it’s important to be transparent about spending taxpayer money.
“This should not be hidden in any way, shape or form,” Chief Dale McFee said.
Councillor Hamilton said she plans to make the issue of transparency a top priority at the next police commission meeting on Sept. 17.