Review of Service Relationship with Unaccredited College
Reviews and investigations into a relationship between the Calgary Police Service and an unaccredited California-based college that offers mental healthcare training were completed in 2022 and 2023.
The results of a workplace investigation were presented to the Calgary Police Commission during an in-camera briefing on Jan. 25, 2023, and the results of an independent review of the wellness and mental health supports at the Service were presented to our Commission at an in-camera meeting on June 28, 2023.
What led to the reviews
The relationship initially came to our Commission’s attention following a media report questioning both the college’s legitimacy and the Service’s relationship with it. The Service had already initiated an internal review of its relationship with the college and the early results were presented to our Commission at an in-camera special meeting held to discuss the matter on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022. The Service was asked by commissioners to report back on the results of its internal investigations into the relationship, the quality of mental health supports available to employees, and how training and education requests are reviewed.
The discussions between our Commission and Service were all held privately during in-camera meetings because they included confidential employee information that, by law, cannot be shared publicly. While all the findings of the internal investigations cannot be released due to privacy laws, our Commission is sharing key findings to be as transparent as possible with the public.
In the initial internal review of the matter, which was done by employees of the Service, it was found that:
- The Service launched a review of their relationship with the college on August 31, 2022, and all dealings with the college were suspended at that time.
- The relationship with the college was initiated in early 2021, when a proposal was brought forward to have four employees complete degrees with tuition support from the Service. Prior to the Service suspending its relationship with the college, two employees had enrolled in degree programs and it had been announced that a third was going to receive an honorary degree.
- Three employees also completed a Police Mental Health Certificate from the college and a two-day course on Critical Incident Stress Debrief was provided to approximately 16 employees.
- The Service has paid approximately $30,000 total for training and education from the college. All training has now been terminated and the Service does not have any outstanding contracts.
- The Service’s policy on subsidizing post-secondary education requires that internal learning and development specialists review all requests for tuition support and that the education occur at accredited post-secondary institutions. The employee must create a learning plan that explains the rationale for taking the education, what courses are included, and how the education aligns with the Service’s business needs. The employee’s commander or manager must first approve the plan and then final approval is made by the Service’s Learning & Development Unit in consultation with a learning governance committee.
- Training that is not part of a formal post-secondary education program can be approved by supervisors, provided there are no internal courses that could meet the need, that the training meets a business need, that the knowledge can be shared, and that the training is cost-effective. Some of the training provided by the college was approved through this process.
- The Service’s standard for who can provide clinical mental healthcare to employees is that practitioners must have at least a master’s degree in a clinical field and have certification from or registration with a recognized Canadian professional body that independently reviews qualifications. The qualifications of all internal practitioners that currently provide mental health treatment were reviewed by the Service this month and meet that standard.
- The majority of cases where employees require clinical mental healthcare are actually referred to external professionals chosen in consultation with the employee. They must meet the same standards as internal practitioners and also must have proper professional liability insurance.
Following the initial review, the matter was investigated for any criminal wrongdoing:
- In September 2022, the Service notified the province’s Director of Law Enforcement of the findings of the initial review. The province determined that the matter did not meet the requirements for it to be referred to the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team or another agency.
- An investigation was conducted by a Detective in the Service into whether anything criminal occurred in the course of the college’s relationship with the Service’s employees. The investigation was independently reviewed by the RCMP to ensure it was done properly.
- Criminal charges were not supported by the evidence. Details of the investigation cannot be released as no charges were laid, but if there had there been sufficient evidence of fraud or any other criminal acts committed against the Service, charges would have been pursued.
- The Service does not have the ability to investigate any dealings by the college with other organizations that fall outside the Service’s jurisdiction.
Following the criminal investigation, an independent law firm was hired by the Service to conduct a third-party workplace investigation:
- The workplace investigation found that proper policies and processes were not followed during the relationship with the college. While details on individual employee matters cannot be released publicly, due to privacy laws, the Service is taking the results of the investigation seriously and is ensuring employee accountability.
- All payments to the college were documented, tracked and accounted for throughout the relationship, however, the payments did not follow the proper process for providing tuition support to employees. Had the proper process been followed, the college would have been properly screened.
- The workplace investigation also recommended several policy and process changes, which have been adopted by the Service, including:
- Enhancing scrutiny of degrees and other qualification requirements.
- Clarifying and creating additional policy requirements around acceptable training and the approval process, to ensure quality and consistency across the Service.
- Ensuring processes exist to support the consistent application of policies around training and finance.
- Ensuring policies, procedures and training around the use of corporate credit cards for training expenses are clear and sufficient.
- Considering structural changes to the Wellness and Resiliency Division, such as establishing an expert advisory committee to review third-party mental health educational programming for consistency with current best practices and to advise of any risks posed by the training.
Review of wellness and mental health supports
As a final step, an independent expert with knowledge of Canadian best practices in mental healthcare for first responders was contracted by the Service to review whether any of the course material taught by the college had been put into practice. Our Commission also asked the Service to expand the scope of that independent review to include ensuring that the care being provided is religiously neutral, given the connections some faculty members of the college had with police chaplaincy programs.
The review occurred between January and May 2023.
It found that the methods trained by the college were not integrated in any meaningful way into the wellness and mental health supports of the Service, except for one non-clinical area where a need for better training was identified. Mental healthcare services provided to employees were found to align with best practices and to be supported by appropriately trained, credentialed and regulated individuals.
While the overall findings were positive, the incident itself was found to have caused significant hardship for some employees. Nine additional recommendations were made to improve the wellness supports and prevent similar incidents in the future. The recommendations include the need for:
- Wellness and mental health supports to be overseen by an Alberta-regulated mental health professional
- Better policies around access to clinical mental health information
- Improvements to how services are delivered
- Changes to the chaplaincy program
NOTE: Employees that participated in this review did so with an expectation of confidentiality. Some details in the report have been withheld under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act because the information would allow other employees of the Service to identify who participated and who provided various input. The redactions in Appendix C withhold a list of course materials and assignments from the college that were provided by specific members, as well as some personal communications.
Our Commission is satisfied that the investigations and reviews appropriately addressed what occurred. We fully accept the recommendations of both the workplace investigation and the latest review, and we expect the Service to implement them. We will closely monitor the progress on this work.
We are also sorry for our role in not preventing this from happening. The incident has had a significant impact on both members working in the wellness and resiliency area and those needing mental healthcare whose trust in the supports available has been shaken. Our Commission has a responsibility to ensure the proper policies are in place to provide Calgarians with effective policing and we will be working over the summer to make sure any gaps in our policy direction to the Service that contributed to this incident are closed.