The Edmonton Police Service is reviewing an incident in which an officer posted a photo of two officers posing with a shirtless and handcuffed man who was arrested while allegedly high on drugs.
“This fine young man was so thrilled with the service we provided him that he wanted to commemorate the moment with a picture,” stated the caption on the photo posted to EPS Const. Mike Roblin’s Instagram account on May 9.
“Just kidding, he was so high he thought he was on Mars,” read the caption, which included the hashtags #summertimepolicing and #dontdodrugskids.
Dr. Haquike Virani, a specialist in addiction and public health at the University of Alberta, said the posted photo of the posed prisoner was “heartbreaking, disappointing, repulsive, infuriating.”
“Disappointing because I do know some police officers who are sincerely trying to understand and help people who are struggling with substances [abuse], poverty or homelessness,” said Virani, who also has an inner-city clinic.
Virani said incidents like this will make it more difficult to reach out to “excluded populations.”
“This is not the type of thing that helps us earn their confidence and trust. And I worry that it will push those folks further out to the margins and not give us access to help,” he said.
Virani said if anyone in the medical profession did something similar there would be serious consequences. He said the officer who posted the photo had no concerns about publicly ridiculing a person with addiction issues.
“It makes me concerned about what happens when we’re not looking,” he said. “And that resonates with the stories that I hear from patients who have had encounters with police officers.”
Lawyer calls for formal investigation
Edmonton criminal defence lawyer Tom Engel called the photo and behaviour of the officers “despicable.”
“They seem to try to use the cover that they are warning kids not to use drugs,” said Engel, whose law firm specializes in police misconduct cases. He is also the chair of the policing committee of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association of Alberta. “But that is not really what is going on here.”
“They have sought to deliberately humiliate this person and to make a mockery of him.”
“This is just despicable behaviour by these two officers and it portrays a despicable attitude. It is something that the chief of police has to root out in the Edmonton Police Service.”
Engel said the officers in the photo, who have not been identified, would never dare post a photo of anyone “who they thought could stand up for themselves or have anybody who would stand up for them.”