Edmonton cop who stole cash three separate times can’t be fired rules judge. Likely owed more than $500,000 in back pay

An Edmonton cop who stole cash in three separate incidents, including once from a murder crime scene, gets to keep his job, according to a recent ruling by an Alberta Court of Appeal judge and may be owed more than a half-million in back pay.

In 2018, Const. David Ahlstrom pleaded guilty to three counts of theft and three counts of breach of trust for incidents that took place in 2016 and 2017. He received 18 months of probation plus $400 in victim fine surcharges. 

The first incident involved Ahlstrom leaving his post where he was securing a homicide scene, entering the home of a brutal killing and pocketing an envelope with $300 cash in it. Ahlstrom admitted to the theft, but a subsequent undercover sting by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), which investigates allegations of police misconduct, saw Ahlstrom steal more cash, gift cards and cigarettes in two additional incidents. 

Ahlstrom was eventually fired from his job after an internal review finished in 2022. However, he had his job reinstated by the Law Enforcement Review Board (LERB), an independent police appeals body, with his punishment downgraded to a two-year reduction in rank

The LERB panel cited Ahlstrom’s post-traumatic stress disorder and deep depression as mitigating factors in their decision. 

Undated photo of David Ahlstrom via Facebook. 

The Sept. 12 decision from Court of Appeal Justice Jolaine Antonio was in response to an application from the chief’s office to overturn the LERB decision to reinstate Ahlstrom.

While Justice Antonio found significant problems with how the LERB came to its decision, it turned down the EPS’s appeal because it did not meet the test of raising a “significant question of law.”

One of the members of that LERB panel was David McKenzie, who was appointed to the LERB by the United Conservative Party (UCP) government in 2021. McKenzie is a long-time conservative activist who is a regular donor to the UCP, donated to Jason Kenney’s 2017 PC leadership campaign and is currently seeking the federal Conservative nomination for Calgary Signal Hill. 

Ian Runkle, an Edmonton based criminal defence lawyer and legal commentator, expressed astonishment at the sequence of events that led to Const. Ahlstrom keeping his job.. 

“If I stole so much as $10 from a client, they’d disbar me,” said Runkle. “If the public can’t trust the police to not commit crimes against them, what use are the police? If I suffer a break-and-enter, I want to know the police who will be investigating it won’t be helping themselves.

“I don’t see how he can even be sent to arrest somebody,” said Runkle. “I would absolutely go to town on [Ahlstrom] if he was on the stand. He has no credibility.”

Runkle questions whether Ahlstrom’s colleagues will even want to work with him. “I was sent this story by four different cops. Police officers don’t want to have to work with this guy,”said Runkle.

The initial theft involved a violent home invasion in October 2016, in which a man and woman had been tied up and beaten by the suspects, who demanded money and drugs. The man was shot in the basement and died; it was later found that the attackers went to the wrong house. 

Ahlstrom was tasked with guarding the back door and ensuring no one went in. According to an agreed statement of facts, he went inside, searched the main and upstairs floors, including dressers and bedside tables, and took an envelope containing $300 off the kitchen table.

The next day Ahlstrom told his supervisor that he had found the money, forgot to submit it as an exhibit and filed another report. Because he had entered the crime scene, he had to return to the home and show the homicide investigators where he had walked so they could understand what had been disturbed.

ASIRT investigated and found that they couldn’t definitively conclude that he had taken the money with the intent to keep it. As a result, ASIRT conducted two more “integrity tests” to investigate further. 

The first test took place in 2017 and saw a woman approach Ahlstron with a pink duffle bag she claimed to have found on public transit. Ahlstrom assured her he would try to find out who owned the bag, but instead took $25 in cash and two $50 prepaid Visa cards from the bag; he didn’t report it. 

Later in 2017, Ahlstrom was asked to help search a stolen vehicle, during which he stole $88 and two packs of cigarettes from the vehicle. 

“You can’t get to $88 without the toonies in there. He’s literally grabbing up the change in this car,” said Runkle. 

Ahlstrom joined the EPS in 2009. He has been suspended without pay since August 2017.

Dan Jones is a criminology professor at Norquest College and a 25 year veteran of the EPS. He remembers the Ahlstrom case. One big remaining thread is the matter of back pay. In Jones’ experience after being reinstated in this fashion Ahlstrom would be owed back pay for the six years he was suspended without pay.

According to Jones based on the annual salary of a five-year constable it’s very likely that Ahlstrom is owed north of $500,000. According to the last collective agreement with publicly available salary tables, the annual salary of a five-year constable is $106,262. This doesn’t take into account the most recent collective agreement which saw the Edmonton Police Association win a seven per cent increase in salary for its members over the life of the contract.