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City crime rate drops 7.2% while violent crime severity rises 7.3%: annual police data

Overall, Edmonton’s crime rate was down year over year in 2023 while the severity of crimes — both violent and in general — increased, according to statistics released today by police.

The Edmonton Police Service’s year-end crime analysis found crime overall fell 7.2 per cent last year compared to 2022, while violent crime severity was up 7.3 per cent and total crime severity rose 4.6 per cent.

EPS Chief Dale McFee said at a media conference held Thursday to present and discuss the statistics that “there’s still much work to be accomplished, especially when it comes to the amount of violence prevalent on our streets.”

“Our members are spending excessive amounts of time managing chaos in our community driven by social disorder, open-air drug use and encampments, but as always, our approach will remain and still is one of empathy and accountability,” McFee told reporters.

McFee said in a statement before the conference that police benefited in 2023 from stable funding, allowing EPS to “apply additional focus and planning flexibility as it deploys its resources.”

City council in August last year approved a funding formula for EPS after a previous one was suspended in 2020, when questions about police accountability were being asked worldwide in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

Policing represents the city’s largest annual expense, about 30 per cent of the annual budget.

In 2023, EPS received about $415 million from the city. In November, the department was on pace to receive $452 million for 2024.

McFee said in Thursday’s statement the stable funding, “in turn,” has led to “clear improvements in areas where EPS has been able to focus including, downtown, Chinatown and throughout our LRT and Transit system. Where police resources are applied, the results are encouraging, and gains are being made.”

When asked if his position is that crime rates go down when funding rises, McFee said the statistics are showing police “got the right resources.”

“I don’t think it’s always as it goes up, it comes down — I think it’s about how we use those resources, but you also have to have enough resources,” he said.

“What I can clearly articulate is stable funding, the ability to plan and not changing mid-year and through different points of the year, makes a huge difference to make the appropriate investments to do smart, not just enforcement, but smart prevention intervention, and also allows us to be partners at the table with the right people that we have in relation to the navigation centre and many more.”

The navigation support centre, which was opened in central Edmonton by the Alberta government in mid-January in the wake of homeless camp dismantling efforts by police and the city, connects clients with several services, including housing and financial support, health care, addictions support, help with identification cards and Indigenous cultural support.

The province announced in March the centre would be open permanently.

McFee said other key initiatives — including community support services such as Safer Public Spaces, the expanded Human-centred Liaison and Partnership Program (HELP) and the Police and Crisis Response Team (PACT) — are helping police make “significant strides” connecting people to services.

“What I’ve seen now is with that stabilization, the ability to get back to planning appropriately, making smart investments, it makes a difference,” McFee said.

“I’m not saying it’s just a blank cheque, and I want to be clear what I’m saying is it’s about smart investment, and it’s about delivering adequate and effective policing, which is the responsibility of the province, and it’s funded by the city.”

Along with a 16-per-cent increase in gun crimes, another weapon — so-called caustic sprays, including bear or pepper spray — saw a significant jump in use last year, by 14 per cent.

Overall, police statistics found the number of crimes involving common weapons rose nine per cent.

The city is now looking at a bylaw that would ban pepper spray in public places. Police say caustic sprays have become a go-to weapon for robberies at liquor stores.

The EPS year-end crime statistics report also found the average crime severity at LRT stations and transit centres dropped 11.3 per cent between 2022 and 2023, while calls to them increased by 18.8 per cent. 

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