Edmonton councillors say more transparency needed after police commission refuses audit plan

Questions and concerns are being raised as to why the Edmonton police commission did not co-operate in providing information for an audit and program service review plan. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Questions and concerns are being raised as to why the Edmonton police commission did not co-operate in providing information for an audit and program service review plan. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Edmonton police commission's decision to not co-operate in providing information for an audit and program service review plan has some city councillors calling for more transparency.

The audit matter was discussed during a council meeting on Wednesday as the Edmonton Police Commission presented the 2024 operating reserve deficit for the Edmonton Police Service.

Council passed a motion 11-1 to allow the reserve to be replenished by expenditures from 2024 to 2026.

EPS reported a net deficit of $1.414 million, which carried over from the 2023 fiscal year.

Considering a surplus of $312,000 in the operating reserve, chair John McDougall said the commission is confident in EPS' ability to repay the deficit over the next three years per city policy.

"This deficit is very small, and we feel it is manageable without any need for program or resource adjustments," he said.

Councillors discussed the potential for an audit and review at the meeting, with some asking for more details, but the commission had already informed council by email that no audit was needed.

When asked by CBC for reasons why the commission declined the audit plan, communications advisor John Statton provided email correspondence that was sent to council on Friday.

"The commission holds primary oversight of the audit process for the police service and information from this process ensures we are able to deliver on our governance responsibilities under the Police Act in a professional, apolitical way," the commission said.

The commission asserts that "a public-facing audit program will diminish overall effectiveness."

The Edmonton police commission is tasked with four overarching roles: overseeing EPS, responding to public concerns about policing, helping develop the annual policing plan and budget, and working with community partners.

With Edmonton property owners being charged 8.9 per cent more in taxes this year, some councillors are asking for increased scrutiny of how entities like EPS are spending funding.

Coun. Michael Janz, the only councillor to object to the motion, raised concerns about what he says is a lack of transparency.

"It's still the principle of good governance, fiduciary duty, and being able to have confidence for the public and for council that ... $1 spent [is] results achieved," Janz said during the council meeting.

For University of Alberta criminology Prof. Temitope Oriola, the commission's refusal to provide information for an audit plan is baffling.

"The request that has been put forward regarding accountability and an audit is one that I think is fairly routine and unspectacular," Oriola said in an interview with CBC.

"It is one that any public-serving entity has to be prepared to do."

The commission said in its email that it has an independent internal auditor who meets with the commission independent of the police service.

Oriola said this role is contradictory.

"When you have something that's independent, then it's rarely internal to you. It has to be by a third party that is aloof, that is professional, that can offer its take without any kind of encumbrance," he said.

'Is this adequate?'

In an interview with CBC, Janz also expressed further concern over the lack of detail regarding officers' salaries.

"Do we have an excess of overtime? Do we have a bloated middle management or upper management? Do we have too many people making too much money at the top that are taking resources from the frontline police officers?" Janz asked.

"That's where I think we need to have a conversation about ... is this adequate?"

READ | Edmonton Police Commission provides compensation figures for 2021

While the motion to replenish the EPS operating reserve passed overwhelmingly, multiple councillors during the Wednesday meeting echoed Janz's request for greater detail from the commission and the force.

Coun. Karen Tang said more significant issues were at play with transparency and accountability.

"I'm not looking to review your financial statement. I know the commission is well capable of that. But I am looking for some analysis," Tang said.

"To say that ... 'trust us, we're doing stuff,' I find just very thin, and I think I'm looking for more substance."

Coun. Andrew Knack said while there needs to be a more significant conversation on police spending and an audit plan, there was a better forum than Wednesday's meeting.

"I'll just preface it by saying $1.1 million is minimal to an organization that has a $500 million budget. It is material to the average everyday person. It's not necessarily material in this conversation before us," Knack said.

"It is actually our biggest budget item, and we should be a little more thorough on it. And so, in hindsight, I wish I had been doing that more than just at the budget deliberations."

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said at the meeting that significant work was done to finalize a three-year funding formula with EPS, and he hopes that work is clearly outlined in the annual report.

"Now you have that funding available to you. I think with that there is expectation from Edmontonians that they start seeing results."