Chinatown joint operations hub funded by council, as Edmonton says it waits for provincial support
City council approved a $15.2 million investment to fund a joint dispatch centre in Chinatown, with some hoping the province would help pick up the tab.
Called the Healthy Streets Operations Centre, it would be composed of four peace officer sergeants, 16 community peace officers, two community safety liaisons, and three firefighters or fire prevention officers for 2023 and 2024.
The Edmonton Police Service would provide 36 officers, including four sergeants. Partner social agencies and paramedics would also be part of the new dispatch hub.
For the remainder of 2022, the city and police have already adjusted deployment patterns and pulled from existing budgets to provide special coverage within the Chinatown, downtown, and Alberta Avenue areas.
According to Enyinnah Okere, EPS chief operations officer, that has meant reducing the number of officers patrolling other parts of the city.
"We've been pulling from other areas," Okere said. "If we are going to move forward in a way that is stable and predictable, then that's what we are asking for (now)."
"We need a place that multi-disciplinary teams," he added, "can touch down, start their shift, speak to what they are seeing on the streets and work with the community in terms of that kind of engagement and the ben out in terms of visibility, actual feet on the ground."
While the patrols and response have started, the city, EPS, and partner agencies are still working with the Chinatown community to select a permanent space to house the operations centre and deployment hub.
City council wanted $18 million from the province to support the operation of the joint team beyond this year, from 2023 to 2026.
That funding request went unanswered, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said Monday, meaning Edmontonians will be picking up the tab and could mean an approximate one per cent property tax hike.
The motion to approve the use of city funds for the operations centre passed 10-3, with councillors Erin Rutherford, Ashley Salvador, and Michael Janz opposed.
Salvador expressed concerns that the funding for the new joint dispatch project was coming from what city council decided to withhold from EPS and use toward social services. She argued the move puts that money "right back under EPS' budget."
"I feel that the intention behind the reallocation of the funds was to take pressure off of EPS, but I am not really seeing that here," she said. "This does not seem like detasking. To me, this actually seems like expansion."
Approximately $10 million of the $15 million approved by council for the dispatch centre is set to go toward EPS expenses related to the initiative.
Sohi said he was "hopeful" the operations centre would held reduce disorder in Chinatown and surrounding areas, but acknowledged more needs to be done.
"The disorder that we are seeing in our Chinatown, in downtown, in 118 Avenue, 107 Avenue, Whyte Avenue, directly relates to the lack of investment in addictions recovery, support services, in the lack of supportive housing, in the lack of shelter capacity in our city," Sohi said.
"Those are provincial responsibilities, but Edmontonians, through their property taxes, are being asked to pick up the cost," he said. "That is so frustrating.
"That at a time when Edmontonians are struggling to make ends meet because of the high inflation and the high cost of living, we are asked to step in into the area that is provincial responsibility."
On May 18, Ban Phuc Hoang, 61, and Hung Trang, 64, were killed in Chinatown. Justin Bone, 36, has since been charged with second-degree murder in those deaths.
Eight days after the murders, Justice Minister Tyler Shandro invoked the Police Act to force the city to provide a safety plan to the province, after expressing concerns about a "sharp increase of violent crime in downtown Edmonton."
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The city presented the province with the safety plan ahead of the deadline, listing the operation centre as one of the actions council would take to increase safety in Chinatown and downtown Edmonton.
"I thought we made a very compelling case," Sohi said. "But since then, I haven't heard anything back."
According to the mayor, Edmonton receives only one-third of the funding Calgary gets from the province to provide shelter capacity, and 50 per cent less to end houselessness.
"These inequities have existed for years and years," he added. "This is an opportunity for the province to step up and say that they will treat Edmonton the same way they treat Calgary and other cities."
INDICATIONS OF SUPPORT
Andre Corbould, city manager, told councillors that several provincial ministers, including Shandro and Associate Minister of Health Mike Ellis, toured Chinatown and attended meetings with neighbourhood leaders while committing to helping the city.
"There seemed to be an indication with six or seven ministers at the table in front of Chinatown that they would work collaboratively with the city on these issues," Corbould said.
"I think they have done some work," he added. "I think we also need more commitments from the province."
"I'm very confused by the lack of response from the province," said Anne Stevenson, ward O-day'min councillor. "Given that I was part of that meeting, as were some of my colleagues, where a number of ministers publicly stated their strong commitment to Chinatown and the asks from Chinatown, which included this centre."
'THEY COSPLAY THAT THEY CARE'
Janz, ward papastew councillor, said the province owes the city a response, that not even acknowledging the funding ask is "disrespectful" and "unprofessional."
"I am just aghast that the provincial ministers show up for the photo op, they cosplay that they care," Janz said. "Then when it comes to actually bringing money forward to help the people of Chinatown and to help Edmontonians, nothing."
Joseph Dow, Shandro's press secretary, said in a statement to CTV News Edmonton that the province is "encouraged" by the city, acknowledging that downtown safety "must start with appropriate funding" for EPS.
"Alberta's government will continue working with the City to provide support for social services and public safety, however, it remains primarily the City's responsibility to ensure safety on the streets of Edmonton," Dow said.
He noted that the province is increasing funding for Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams by $50 million over five years to target serious crime, funding addiction treatment spaces, hiring new Crown prosecutors and support staff to improve the justice system, and expanding drug treatment courts.
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"At the provincial level, our work and investments to protect Albertans and improve public safety in communities throughout the province, including Edmonton, do not start and stop with this safety plan," he added.
The province did not directly respond to CTV News Edmonton's questions about contributing funding toward the operation centre in Chinatown.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson and Sean Amato
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