The process used to train guards and matrons working in the Prince Albert Police Service cellblock will look a bit different in the future.
On Thursday, Police Chief Jon Bergen announced that police have started discussions with Parkland Ambulance to provide basic first aid and CPR training to guards and matrons. The change is one of many police are looking to implement following a provincial coroner’s inquest into the death of Ryan Kereluk.
Kereluk was found unresponsive in a Prince Albert police cell in 2018 and later pronounced dead at Victoria Hospital.
Bergen said he’d like to have a complete response ready within the next three months, but acknowledged there is still a lot of work to do before that happens.
“We’re doing everything as soon as we possibly can, but it just takes some time to put everything into place, like training,” Bergen explained. “We are building a training module. Once that’s ready, then we’ll have the staff rotate through that training program.
“We’re researching policies now and once we have a draft policy, we’ll bring it to the Board of Police Commissioners for approval and then implement it into the organization after. It just takes time to go through the process to have that done, but we are definitely working on everything now.”
In the past, all guards and matrons were trained internally. Long-time employees were expected to train new hires, according to testimony from guards and matrons during the Kereluk Inquest in December.
Bergen said they’ll start updating the training process as soon as possible with a program specifically designed for cellblock guards and matrons.
As with the old policy, guards and matrons will not be allowed to enter an inmate’s cell for their own safety, however Bergen said they should be able to identify inmates who are in medical distress. At that point, they would call the cell block sergeant with any concerns.
“The observation and medical response training, that’s going to become formal, where it’s done in partnership with Parkland Ambulance,” Bergen said. “The training for the job, that’s another piece that we’re reviewing to see if what they receive is entirely adequate. We will likely continue to train internally, but will expand on what they are receiving now so that training is more of a formal process than what is has been in the past.”
The recommendation to provide guards and matrons with first aid training was one of eight made by the coroner’s jury following five days of witness testimony. Bergen said they’re looking at implementing others too, but as with guard training, it will take time to implement.
The biggest involves upgrading audio surveillance equipment in police cells. Video surveillance equipment is already used in cells, but Bergen said audio equipment was not installed because it violates inmate privacy.
At the time, inmates were allowed to make calls to their lawyer or legal aid from a phone brought to their cell, which police could not legally record. Since then, police have added a private room for inmates to make phone calls, so audio equipment picking up those discussions is no longer a concern.
However, Bergen said they’re still reviewing legal opinions to make sure the new equipment doesn’t violate any laws. Police are currently reviewing legal opinions to make sure they’re not violating any laws.
“The prisoners have the right to privacy, even when they’re in custody,” Bergen said. “That’s part of the discussion. We’re researching any recent case law around what the expectation ought to be and how that looks.”
Bergen added that although extra audio equipment would be good to have in reviewing future incidents, it wouldn’t necessarily prevent future deaths.
Other recommendations, like concerns about guard professionalism and confusion about the proper chain of command, will be discussed at the annual police NCO meeting in February. Bergen said policies to address those recommendations are already in place. It’s just a matter of making sure guards and matrons are familiar with them.
“It’s a message that we’ll definitely refresh with all our staff,” he said.
Ryan Kereluk was found unresponsive in a police prison cell at 7:54 a.m. on May 18, 2018. He was pronounced dead at 8:53 a.m. in Victoria Hospital.
Kereluk was one of several people arrested when a Prince Albert police and RCMP Integrated Street Enforcement Team conducted a search of a residence located on Sixth Avenue West on the evening of May 16, 2018. According to testimony from two ISET officers, Kereluk was not involved in drug trafficking at the residence, but had outstanding warrants.
During the inquest into his death, multiple police officers and prison guards testified that Kereluk did not appear to be intoxicated, nor did he appear to be in medical distress. He did not ask for a doctor or ask to visit a hospital. His only medical request was for
Multiple medical experts testified that Kereluk was likely dead before he was transported to Victoria Hospital, with two coroners witnesses, including forensic pathologist Dr. Shaun Ladham, testifying that Kereluk was likely dead before police entered his cell.