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‘It's a Cover Up, and It’s Very Self-Serving’

The Calgary Police Service’s investigation into a scandal involving a shady PTSD expert is being panned by officers and criminologists.

Charles Rusnell 2 Mar 2023TheTyee.ca

Charles Rusnell is an independent investigative reporter based in Edmonton.

The Calgary Police Service and the Calgary Police Commission failed to thoroughly investigate — and then covered up — an embarrassing scandal in which the police service hired a California man with fabricated education credentials to conduct PTSD debriefing training that one police psychologist called potentially harmful “nonsensical psychobabble.”

That is the assessment of four former and current Calgary police and RCMP officers, two criminologists and a whistleblower. At the request of The Tyee, they assessed an “incident review” issued by the Calgary Police Commission earlier this month. The incident review revealed that the results of an investigation into the relationship between the Calgary Police and alleged con man “Dr.” Robert L. Perkins were presented to the commission during an in-camera briefing in late January, but provided scant details about the substance of the investigation, citing the need to protect employee confidentiality. 

While the release discloses that the Calgary Police Service failed to follow educational training approval policies, it held no one publicly accountable and provided no explanation about how the police service came to use the services of an uncredentialled “expert” from an uncredentialled college.

“It's just a whitewash, it’s a cover up, and it’s very self-serving,” said a former officer with direct knowledge of the scandal, who quit the service last year out of frustration. The officer spoke with The Tyee on condition of anonymity because it could affect his current employment.

“I found the release from the commission fairly insulting, and especially to the membership,” he added.

“There is no accountability, there is no ownership, there is no admission of guilt on the part of any particular individual, and there is no apology.”

Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld has acknowledged that police should not investigate police. But in this case he assigned the fraud investigation to a Calgary Police Service detective. 

The Tyee has learned the detective subsequently failed to interview a key witness, a whistleblower who had warned the service it was being duped eight months before it was publicly revealed in a Global News article co-bylined by me and Jennie Russell. During that eight months, the police service continued to associate with Perkins, even inviting him to Calgary to address its members. 

A Calgary city councillor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she fears retribution from the police service, told The Tyee she warned police commission chair Shawn Cornett about Perkins’ ties to the police service and told her the service’s wellness program needed to be reviewed more than three weeks before Global News first revealed the connection.

The Sept. 8, 2022 Global News article revealed the police service had hired Perkins, who sometimes used an alias, had fabricated much of his work experience and his academic credentials and ran a bogus chaplaincy training business on the side. 

Perkins provided supposed PTSD debriefing training through his unaccredited College of Certified Psychophysiologists. The college operated from postal boxes in an Anaheim, California strip mall and a store on Kingsway Avenue in Vancouver. 

Former FBI agent Alan Ezell, an expert in “degree mills,” said the college had all the markings of a degree mill and that degrees from the college were not worth the paper they were printed on.

Perkins did not respond to an interview request but previously issued a statement that did not address specific questions about his experience and education. 

In January 2023, The Tyee further revealed Tacoma, Washington-based clinical and police psychologist Neil Kirkpatrick had provided a detailed warning to Stacey Ferland, the service’s director of wellness and resiliency, in February 2022, that Perkins was a “fraudulent trainer” and his teachings were potentially harmful “nonsensical psychobabble.”  

Ferland, who has resigned, does not seem to have acted on the information. Instead, she completed a PhD from the college, a fact trumpeted by Perkins on social media. Perkins also provided online training to 16 Calgary Police Service staff, although the commission didn’t disclose who arranged, or approved, that training.  

Information raising concerns about Perkins and his college is easily found online within minutes. But it appears Calgary Police Service, independent of Ferland, did not conduct any due diligence. The commission’s release provides no explanation of how this happened. 

When Neufeld became Calgary’s police chief in June 2019, he took over a service wracked for years by a succession of scandals, including proven cases of gross excessive force and ongoing allegations of internal harassment and bullying.

At his swearing-in ceremony, Neufeld told reporters the police service would be transparent and accountable.

“If we’re going to have trust and confidence from the public, if they’re going to invest that in us, I think we’re going to have to be open enough to say, ‘Hey, here is our business, sort of warts and all, and here is what we’re working on,’” the Calgary Herald’s Sammy Hudes reported Neufeld as saying.

Neufeld declined repeated interview requests from The Tyee in August 2022, in January 2023 and in recent weeks. In a Feb. 15 emailed interview request, The Tyee pointed out that Neufeld had publicly supported Bill 6, the Alberta government’s proposed overhaul of the Police Act. In particular, Neufeld supported a provision that would end the practice of police investigating themselves.

“We heard loud and clear from people that they felt uncomfortable with the police investigating police,” Neufeld told the Calgary Herald in December 2022. 

The police commission incident review said that after Global News broke the story about Perkins, the Calgary Police Service consulted with the province’s director of law enforcement, who determined that neither the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, also referred to as ASIRT, nor an outside police service needed to be called in to investigate. ASIRT mostly investigates events where serious injury or death may have been caused by police. 

In the past, the police service has called on police services from Edmonton or Lethbridge to conduct investigations in cases where there may be a perception of conflict of interest. In this case, Neufeld instead assigned the investigation to a Calgary detective with the proviso that it would be reviewed by the RCMP.

Police psychologist Neil Kirkpatrick, the whistleblower, told The Tyee he wasn’t contacted by the Calgary Police Service investigator or the lawyer conducting the external review. 

The Tyee spoke with four current and former RCMP and Calgary police investigators, all with decades of experience. All said interviewing Kirkpatrick would have been among the first steps of any investigation they undertook.

“That is Investigation 101,” said a former Mountie, who asked not to be named because he sometimes does contract work for the City of Calgary. 

“If you really want to cover up something, you direct an internal investigation,” he said. 

“You see this over and over again. If you really want transparency and accountability, you go to an outside investigator and let the chips fall where they may.”

RCMP spokesperson Fraser Logan confirmed on Feb. 17 that the RCMP had reviewed the investigation.

“But I can’t tell you who in the RCMP yet and what our assessment was, information I imagine you would want,” Logan said in an email. He has not provided that information.

In an emailed statement, Calgary Police Service spokesperson Michael Nunn did not directly address the issue of why Kirkpatrick was not interviewed. 

Nunn said the service “conducted the investigation thoroughly using a variety of methods including reviewing documentation and necessary interviews. Based on this investigation, and following the RCMP review, it was determined that there was no basis for Crown consultation.”

Nunn said “investigators determined that based on the documentation and interviews conducted, there would be no merit in interviewing the chief.”

Police commission chair Shawn Cornett also declined repeated interview requests from The Tyee. In an emailed statement, commission spokesperson Corwin Odland confirmed Cornett met with a city councillor on Aug. 17. But he said the college, Perkins, and specific service employees were not raised “so we did not have any specifics.”

Odland said the commission learned of the specifics when Global News published its Sept. 8 story, after which a “a formal special meeting was called by the commission to ensure there was an investigation into both the relationship with the college and the overall quality of wellness supports.”

In the commission’s incident review, Cornett said “the RCMP review of the criminal investigation and third-party workplace investigation have given us confidence that [the service’s relationship with the College of Certified Psychophysiologists was properly investigated].” And she said the commission was “satisfied that the service has done everything it can to hold those involved accountable.”

“The focus now will be on restoring the trust of employees in the wellness supports available to them. No member of the police service should have to wonder about the quality of support they will receive if they reach out for help, and this incident has unfortunately raised some doubts that need to be immediately addressed,” the statement continued.

Temitope Oriola is a University of Alberta professor of criminology and sociology and served as a special advisor for the province’s Police Act review. 

“I do not know Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld well but I have been following the [Calgary Police Service] and similar organizations with record-level uses of force across Canada,” he said in an email. 

“Chief Neufield's promise of accountability rings hollow given how this matter has been handled. This is how organizations lose their credibility and legitimacy.”

Oriola also criticized the scandal’s handling by the commission and its chair, Shawn Cornett. 

“The information released by the Calgary Police Commission is grossly inadequate and attempts to sidestep responsibility for a constellation of obvious organizational blunders,” he said. 

“The statement by the CPC feeds into broader concerns over how some civilian-led oversight entities largely function as the public relations unit of police organizations they ought to hold accountable.” 

The commission, Oriola said, should have at least requested that the police service ask an outside force to conduct the criminal investigation.

The Tyee also contacted Mount Royal University criminologist Kelly Sundberg for comment; by coincidence, he had direct knowledge of how the Calgary Police Service decides which academics get access to the police service. He said a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from the university had approached the police service during the same time it had hired the alleged California con man. 

“We had an internal grant to conduct a small study of the educational needs of Calgary police officers and how they felt about the opportunities in their training and in their service, both professional development and otherwise,” Sundberg said. 

Sundberg said that over the course of a year, they had numerous meetings with Calgary police, but got nowhere. 

“I asked my colleague, ‘How many exchanges did we have with them during this period?’ We had over 400 email exchanges,” Sundberg said.

Calgary Police Service spent $30,000 on training from Perkins and his unaccredited college during the same period. 

Neufeld has written that the Calgary Police Service has “strong support and wellness services” for officers, and the Calgary Police Commission has said the service “has one of, if not the most, comprehensive wellness and resiliency programs in Canadian law enforcement.”

Kirkpatrick said this incident belies that claim.

Police officers go through rigorous pre-employment vetting, including polygraphs, psychological evaluations and background checks, he said. But police services like Calgary — one of Canada’s largest — often hire people to train or treat officers with little or no vetting.

As The Tyee first reported, there are also questions about the academic credentials of Stacey Ferland, who was the service’s director of wellness and resiliency.

“More and more attention has been paid appropriately to the impact that a career in law enforcement has on officers’ well-being and the frequency of exposure to traumatic incidents. However, too often, police organizations, at the highest level, pay a lot of lip service to wellness programs and approach it as a box to be checked,” Kirkpatrick said. 

“It’s performative,” he said. “They certainly claim they care about their employees but this shows, obviously, that they don’t. 

“If even a fraction of the attention and care that goes into hiring an officer were put into hiring Ferland, or evaluating Perkins and the training he was providing, none of this ever would have happened.”

If you have any information for this story, or information for another story, please contact Charles Rusnell in confidence via email.  [Tyee]

Read more: Rights + Justice, Alberta

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