Prince Albert Chief of Police Jon Bergen says he understands there is room for improvement when it comes to relations with Indigenous people, but he’s asking for patience as the department wades into the 1,200-page Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls National Inquiry report released on Monday.
Bergen made the comments after local activists and families expressed concerns that not enough was being done by local police to help confront the high number of Indigenous women and girls who are kidnapped, assaulted or killed every year. Prince Albert’s police chief acknowledge that there are hurdles that need to be overcome, but said they won’t make any concrete changes until they have a better grasp on the inquiry commission’s findings.
“I know that there’s a good percentage of the population that trusts us, but there’s also a number of people who don’t trust government or police,” Bergen said during an interview on Tuesday. “That’s something that we’re continuously working to improve. It takes a lot more than just words to build on that trust. It requires authentic relationships, and that takes time.”
The MMIWG report included more than 230 recommendations, 37 of which were aimed at police departments, courts, law societies and bar associations. One of those recommendations was a call for law enforcement agencies to improve communications with victims and their families.
Those comments came up again in interviews with local activists, victims and families, including the chair of the Prince Albert Grand Council’s women’s commission. They suggested police aren’t taking the issue seriously enough, especially when it comes to missing person searches.
Bergen said he understands there are concerns about the speed at which Prince Albert police conduct those searches, however he defended the process, saying it may start slow, but that’s because police want to make sure they’re conducting a thorough search.
“Sometimes it’s just a random search that’s going in many directions, but for the most part, it’s a coordinated search where we know where we’ve been and we know where we need to search next,” he explained. “It’s with structure, and that doesn’t move as quickly as just an uncoordinated response. That frantic search might just take you where you think you might need to go, but the problem with that is, in general terms, you don’t know where you’ve searched, or made sure that you’ve covered the appropriate ground and the appropriate area.”
Police department funding has been a hotly debated topic during city council meetings, but Bergen declined to say whether more funding would help solve the problem. He said more resources are always appreciated, but he understands if the city can’t afford to spend much more.
“With the positions we do have, we make the most out of every one of them,” he said. “We can always do with more resources, but I understand it’s difficult for the community to invest more in policing when policing is expensive for the community.”