Just 35 days ago, Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht told media he was “very interested” in extending his contract.
During a break at a police commission meeting, Knecht confirmed that discussions were ongoing about “the tweaking of the contract and an extension.”
The chief was a no show at May’s police commission meeting last week.
Now the commission has formally announced it will launch a national search for a new chief “immediately.”
No one has so far publicly said why Knecht went from being “very interested” in keeping his job to leaving the Edmonton Police Service when his current contract expires on Oct. 31, 2018.
Some of those questions may be answered Friday, when Knecht will face the media for a so-called “coffee with the chief” session.
On Friday afternoon, police commission chair Tim O’Brien is expected to be available to answer media questions.
Justin Krikler, executive director of the Edmonton Police Commission, refused to answer when CBC News asked when the decision was made not to renew Knecht’s contract.
‘They owe the public an explanation’
Edmonton defence lawyer Tom Engel said he’s baffled that the chief’s contract wasn’t renewed.
Engel, who chairs the policing committee for the Criminal Trial Lawyer’s Association, described his relationship with Knecht as “excellent.”
“I don’t understand why they would want to change horses at this point,” Engel said. “I would say that it certainly appears to me to be an unjustified rejection of chief Knecht. I think it’s disrespectful and it does not recognize all of the great work he’s done.”
Engel speculated that Knecht was pushed out by the commission.
“I think they owe the public an explanation about why they decided not to extend the contract when he clearly wanted to carry on,” Engel said. “This is in effect a termination.”
Coun. Scott McKeen, who sits on the police commission, angrily denied the suggestion.
“No, that is so wrong,” McKeen said. “But I guess that is what one would expect from Tom Engel. He’s always able to spin things into a weird and wild conspiracy theory.”
McKeen said the decision to leave on Oct. 31 was Knecht’s choice, made due to “scheduling issues.”
He declined to explain what he meant by that.
“We were trying to work out the best time he could leave on a high note, and I think he will leave on a very high note,” McKeen said.
The councillor praised Knecht’s track record as chief.
“The worst thing that could happen out of this is someone seeing this as some sort of black mark on his record,” McKeen said. “Not at all. He’s been fantastic.”
But the former chair of the police commission weighed in Thursday through Facebook.
“I am disappointed with the commission for not renewing chief Knecht’s contract,” Shami Sandhu wrote. “I stand behind him and his exemplary service to our community. This smells of political interference.”
Edmonton could be without a police chief for months
McKeen said the police commission thinks it could take up to a year “to do a really good search for a new chief.” Since Knecht only has five months left on the job, it could leave Edmonton without a chief for seven months or longer.
McKeen said the commission is not concerned.
“I have total confidence in the deputy chiefs and the senior officers of the Edmonton Police Service,” McKeen said.
Knecht, a 35-year veteran of the RCMP, was hired as Edmonton police chief in 2011.