Edmonton’s police chief spoke to the media on Monday about his concerns regarding crime levels in Alberta’s capital and elsewhere in the country after national statistics were released last week.
According to the Statistics Canada data, Edmonton maintained the sixth-highest police-reported total crime rate of all 35 major metropolitan areas in Canada, with the city’s total crime rate increasing by eight per cent between 2021 and 2022.
The Edmonton Police Service (EPS) said the Statistics Canada report highlights concerns consistent across the country, including an increase in the national crime rate, crime severity, violent crime rate and the severity of violent crime.
Last year, more than 15,000 Edmontonians were victimized in violent crimes and the stats from the first half of this year paint a bleak picture.
From January through June of 2023, almost 8,000 people in Edmonton have been victimized in a violent crime — up eight per cent from last year, which already saw an 18-per cent increase from the year before.
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The drivers of violent crime in the city are assaults, robberies and extortions, according to EPS.
Chief Dale McFee said specific attention needs to be paid to “conditions that are impacting violence in our community, which is increasing and remains a primary concern.”
Crystal meth use is a major concern, he said, and is playing a huge role in violence incidents in the city.
He said he’s tired of tripping over people downtown every day who are openly using drugs.
“Some of those drugs like meth make very normal people do unpredictable things.”
While federal prosecutors won’t send people to jail for simple drug possession, McFee is directing his officers to take action and connect drug users with supports.
“You’ll see us, in the next six weeks, change our policy on open-air drug use. The reality is it’s still against the law. They aren’t going to go to jail, but we’ve got illicit drugs that are on our streets that are killing people, that are creating violence. We have to do something differently,” he said.
Officials also want to consider a more long-term solution to all this crime — one that’s out of both the police and the city’s hands: bail reform. The chief says a large number of these violent crimes are being perpetrated by people out on release, with lengthy criminal histories.
McFee says that cannot be allowed to continue, adding: “We get what we tolerate. If there’s no accountability, then we shouldn’t expect anything but chaos.”
Edmonton’s police chief says city needs to address growing meth problem
McFee added there’s also a lot of crime happening in encampments, where criminals are taking advantage of vulnerable people — something he says needs to change.
“It’s not working right now and we need a drastic change and that’s what we’re prepared to do,” he said.
Coun. Anne Stevenson agrees, acknowledging the city is experiencing a delay in assessing the risk level of encampments due to the sheer number of them popping up.
This fall, the city will receive an encampment report covering the summer months, which Stevenson says will provide an opportunity to look at how the city can make changes to its approach going forward.
Stevenson says the perception of crime in our city may be “greater than the reality” and the city is taking action to make people feel more safe downtown by investing in more events in downtown to attract more people.
Investments are also being made in safety community initiatives with the city funding programs through the Downtown Business Association and downtown businesses.
“(Safety) is absolutely the number one thing that is on our radar and we’re focusing on improving with our partners” the councillor said.
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— with files from Sarah Ryan, Global News
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