EPS Chief McFee should focus on policing, not politics

Why do we allow police chiefs to steer political decisions then sweep up the winnings?

EPS Chief McFee should focus on policing, not politics
From Mayor Amarjeet Sohi: “My Thoughts on the Proposed EPS Funding Formula,” Oct 6, 2022.

Something’s been bothering me for a few months.

Given the record-high budget increases provided to the Edmonton Police Service by Mayor Sohi and Edmonton City Council, it was perplexing to see a glum Chief Dale McFee in his year-end interviews.

On the surface, it seemed this was just a performative dance — a public negotiation tactic, but mounting evidence points to a different source of discontent: the upcoming provincial election and the spectacular way hardline conservatism is imploding in Alberta.

Chief McFee, reliable UCP validator

Progress Alberta broke a story that on August 14, 2020, Chief McFee attended the first annual United Conservative Party Derby, a political fundraiser where MLAs dress up in T-Rex costumes and race one another on a horse track near Lacombe. I wouldn’t normally criticize any event with a pre-Holocene theme (more of a Cambrian Explosion guy myself), but… well, let Tom Engel explain:

Putting aside the question of who paid for the tickets or the size of donation, it is wildly inappropriate for any top public servant to attend a partisan political fundraiser, let alone a police chief.

This is only one of many examples where EPS Chief McFee has gambled his integrity on the conservative movement in Alberta.

On January 18, 2022, McFee retweeted a video from an author in Oregon who claimed that progressive political policies were contributing to rising crime. McFee was also a guest on Danielle Smith’s podcast on February 4th, 2022.

The convoy? Multiple criticisms were levied at McFee for his soft approach, more aligned with that of Premier Kenney, toward the convoy harassing Downtown Edmonton week after endless week.

Drug poisoning? Like the UCP, Chief McFee said he would commission yet another pointless report on the issue that killed over 2000 Albertans. He routinely uses stigmatizing language in his public communications on substance use.

Public safety? At the December 2022 announcement of the UCP task force to study “social issues, addictions, and homelessness” in Edmonton, McFee joined UCP ministers and UCP-aligned city councillors Cartmell and Hamilton, who made an end-run around city council in order to be included. That press conference gave clear indications of plans to force unhoused people into abstinence from drugs without any plans to meet housing or other basic needs.

Houselessness? Chief McFee downplays the critical role of housing in stark contrast to multiple mayors, council, governments, advocates, experts: “Now, housing is a part of it. But there’s a lot of parts that are missing here.” According to McFee, too many people focus on housing without considering other factors, such as substance use. As we’ve discussed, this ignores that very few people lose housing because of drugs. But it fits the UCP’s ideological aversion to providing housing.

While the UCP leadership may have a reliable validator in Chief McFee, his constant and obvious political games risk eroding public trust in the impartiality and political independence of the police, as if this needed any help.

Democracy depends on separation of the political, judicial, executive and law enforcement systems. With such brazen inappropriate political conduct by a police chief, the fact that McFee has not been sanctioned or removed is deeply concerning. Most perplexing is that the power to hire or fire the chief lies not with the provincial government or city council, but with the police commission.

Historically generous police budgets

McFee continues to drum up fear about the insufficiency of the budget increases: "We may be the only jurisdiction in North America… still on the defund-the-police movement and I don't get it."

His political investments have paid off. Progress Alberta reported a $34.5 million year-over-year increase from 2022 to 2023 that again secured a funding formula – the envy of literally every other municipal police force in this country. Edmonton taxpayers pay the most per-capita for police versus any comparable jurisdiction.

Not only have the EPS secured incredibly generous budget increases — Chief McFee does well for himself as one of the highest-paid bureaucrats in Edmonton, and the highest paid police chief in Alberta at $340,000. This is more than the Edmonton City Manager, the Edmonton Senior Leadership Team, the Fire Chief or a deputy minister at the Government of Alberta. One reason that EPS may be agnostic on Edmonton property taxes was revealed by Postmedia: fewer than half of EPS officers live in Edmonton or pay Edmonton taxes.

EPS war room

We are already seeing a flood of new messaging this year. In Fall 2022, Chief McFee hired Patricia Misutka as Executive Director of Corporate Communications for EPS. Misutka was a high-powered staffer with Premier Jim Prentice and Director of Communications for Mayor Stephen Mandel. To supplement his nineteen communications staff, he also spent $70,500 on Berlin Communications, co-owned by former Edmonton councillor Michael Walters.

For Chief McFee to suggest to the media that the most well-resourced police department with the highest-paid chief, well compensated management and officers is hard done by, he should be reminded that untold numbers of the unhoused folks his officers are routinely assaulting (CONTENT WARNING) have also experienced Shigella infections and unprecedented frostbite amputations in recent months.

This isn’t about funding. It’s about political power and absorbing public assets.

With a provincial election looming, Edmonton Police Commission must take a stand:

  • Publicly direct Chief McFee to leave the politics to the politicians.
  • Protect the political independence of the Chief by designating the Chair of the Police Commission (like school boards or AHS) as public spokesperson.
  • Communicate a clear policy on partisan engagement by senior EPS staff.

Of course, if Chief McFee plans to seek political office, we would all support his democratic right to do so — as soon as he takes a leave of absence or retires.

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