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Deaths of two officers 'haunt' Edmonton police chief

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Edmonton's police chief says the "line of duty" deaths of two officers in 2023 will stay with him and others forever.

Personnel with the Edmonton Police Service continue to deal with the losses of Const. Travis Jordan and Const. Brett Ryan, who were killed by a teenaged gunman while answering a call to an Inglewood apartment on March 16, says Chief Dale McFee.

"It’s the hardest thing as a chief to lose your own and then you lose them under those circumstances," McFee told CTV News Edmonton in a year-end interview.

McFee said almost two dozen members of the EPS, both sworn and civilian, were still making steps to return to work as of November.

"Going into that emergency room that night, you can’t unsee what you’ve seen," McFee said. "To see the spouses and our officers there, and to see the families broken, those things last forever."

But the police chief says the EPS must continue to heal and move forward. His hope is that changes will come about as a result of the incident.

"An underage youth had health services for whatever reason that didn’t go right," he said. "You had another guy trafficking a weapon to a 16-year-old kid."

INCREASE IN SHOOTINGS

In May, the chief called the random fatal stabbings of a mother and her 11-year-old child outside a south Edmonton school a failure of the system. He's not backing off from that.

"By a person with a horrific record that should have been in jail and never should have got out," McFee said. "He had recent charges."

A suspect with known mental health issues and a recent prior history of attacks on youth ended his own life in that case, but the November incident in which another child was fatally shot alongside his father was harder for the chief to make sense of. EPS drug investigators were well-acquainted with Harp Uppal, 41. His 11-year-old son, Gavin, was with him outside a gas station on Ellerslie Road near 50 Street. Police say when a gunman came for the father, he intentionally killed the boy as well.

"The organized crime component ... what you’d see in the days growing up in policing, that was a crossing the line," McFee said. "People never did that when it came to a family."

The chief said officers with the gang suppression unit are now concerned with what retaliation will look like for the deaths. They also highlighted for McFee the increase in shootings the city has seen this year.

"Overall, our criminal incidents and our crime has come down, but our level of violence and, in particular, the crime severity has gone up 10 per cent," he said. "That’s a big concern for us, and most of that is around guns."

EPS says gunfire in Edmonton has risen sharply this year, with the number of reported shootings standing at 204 on Nov. 30, a 42-per-cent increase over last year.

A one-off? Perhaps not, he says.

"I would say not just our city but our country (has changed)," McFee said.

CONTROVERSIES

Another issue facing Canada's cities is homelessness.

The chief stands behind the decision to tear down certain encampments in Edmonton. The most troubling of them have simply become unsafe, he says, and for some, conditions are life-threatening.

"I’ve worked parts of three days down there in just the past few weeks," McFee said. "They’ve got people burning to death. We’ve got gangs in there. We’ve got serious medical issues. We’ve got cold weather coming."

He says the EPS has always worked with agencies and looked at what indoor spaces are available before taking down tents, and will continue to do so.

Police were criticized over two mental health calls that came to light in early December, and in each incident, officers fatally shot the people involved in them. McFee says it's too soon to comment as both incidents are under investigation.

As for the relationship between EPS and Edmonton's city council this year, the chief describes it as a mixed bag.

"Let me put it this way: I would say it’s good with some, not so good with others, tumultuous with some and there’s some ... it’s just not good," he said.

RECRUITMENT NUMBERS RISE

Something McFee is enthused with is recruitment numbers: they're up, he says -- "highest they've been in 10 years."

He said applications spiked following the deaths of Ryan and Jordan.

"It trended positively after that," the chief said. "Can I say it’s a hundred percent because of that? No. There is a coincidence there, at the very least."

His message to Edmontonians this year is less about 2024 and the holidays and more of a 'thank you' for the outpouring of support while the rank-and-file publicly grieved their loss.

"Seeing the citizen support from our city during some really difficult times is moving, and it says a lot," he said. "It shows the members just how important they are to this community."

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