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Edmonton police officer who posted photo of arrest to Instagram should be formally investigated

© suppliedEdmonton Police Service Const. Mike Roblin, left, posted a photo to Instagram of himself and another officer smiling with a shirtless man in handcuffs in between them, his face scribbled out. Roblin's Instagram account appeared to have been deleted on Monday, June 1, 2020.

The conduct of an Edmonton police officer who posted a photo of a man being arrested to social media should be formally investigated, critics say.

Const. Mike Roblin posted a photo to Instagram of two officers smiling with a shirtless man in handcuffs in between them, his face scribbled out.

“This fine young man was so thrilled with the service we provided he wanted to commemorate the moment with a picture. Just kidding, he was so high he thought he was on mars #summertimepolicing #dontdodrugskids,” read the caption accompanying the photo.

EPS spokeswoman Patrycja Mokrzan said the department is reviewing the photo and will keep anyone who has complained informed, but did not confirm if a complaint had been made.

Roblin’s Instagram account appeared to have been deleted Monday. However, the image was published with a CBC article about the photo.

Avnish Nanda, a civil rights lawyer based in Edmonton, said he couldn’t see any reason why there wouldn’t be a formal investigation done by the Edmonton Police Service Professional Standards Branch (PSB) rather than Roblin’s supervisors.

“It just boggles my mind why they wouldn’t,” said Nanda. “Just because they blacked out the man’s face, doesn’t mean that there isn’t issues raised about the professionalism of the officers’ conduct here.”

The chief of police ultimately decides whether to charge an officer under authority from the Police Act and send them to a formal PSB hearing. Officers and members of the public can appeal a chief’s decision to the arms-length Law Enforcement Review Board (LERB).

Nanda called the photo stigmatizing to those suffering from addictions or mental health issues, saying it tells those who use substances that they can’t turn to police for help.

Petra Schulz, co-founder of Moms Stop The Harm, an advocacy group aimed at overhauling Canadian drug policy, called the photo disturbing and said it shows that drug use issues should not be handled as a criminal matter but through public-health officials.

“I think the way police treat people is sadly a reflection of how society in general views people who use substances,” said Schulz. “I look at this young man and I see this is somebody’s son, you know, it could be somebody’s brother, he might even be somebody’s dad.”

Schulz said Chief Dale McFee needs to review the photo himself or an external review should be conducted.

“I had high hopes for this new chief that he would bring in a new wave into the police force. That he would be able to change that, that culture and this is an opportunity for Chief McFee to show that he’s not accepting of that kind of culture and behaviour,” she said.

Nanda said Alberta should implement an external review system where independent third parties can oversee officer discipline, similar to oversight bodies currently operating in Ontario and British Columbia.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) oversees investigations when police-involved injury or death occur. It also investigates allegations when serious or sensitive allegations of misconduct such as obstruction of justice or sexual assault have taken place.

Roblin has previously been disciplined after he assaulted another officer while off-duty and threatened another individual.

Schulz asked why the other officer in the picture or whoever took the photo did not step in and say something.

“You know, police brutality doesn’t only come in the physical, it also comes with words and actions like this,” said Schulz.

The photo surfaces at a time when allegations of police brutality have spurred protests across multiple cities in the United States and around the world. People have flooded streets, clashing with police officers after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was killed during an arrest in Minneapolis when a white officer knelt on his neck for several minutes.

An open letter signed by dozens of police chiefs across North America, including McFee, called the police action on Floyd was unnecessary and criminal.

Nanda said he hopes incidents such as the posted photo can help move discussions around police reform.

“We’ve seen in the States, as we’ve seen elsewhere, when we fail to engage in the proper processes to hold police officers accountable. In fact, we empower them to escalate their behaviour,” said Nanda.

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