'Edmonton has a crime problem': Police chief says budget cuts could affect community safety
The Edmonton Police Commission is asking city council to continue the plan for its budget, saying further cuts could impact community safety.
The current funding formula includes a reduction in the police budget of $11 million over two years, including $5.5 million in 2022.
“I want to assure council that working within the assigned budget under the police funding formula, the police commission is delivering on council and the public’s vision for policing in Edmonton,” said Micki Ruth, chair of the Edmonton Police Commission.
Police Chief Dale McFee indicated that any further cuts to the policing budget would mean a reduction in service at a time when he says Edmontonians are calling for an increased police presence in some areas of the city.
"We're not here saying that we're asking for more money, we just want to continue to complete what we've been asked to deliver," said McFee.
'EDMONTON HAS A CRIME PROBLEM'
During his budget presentation, Chief McFee outlined an increase in average crime severity in downtown Edmonton, as well as at city transit centers.
“Let me make it abundantly clear: Edmonton has a crime problem that’s existed for many years,” McFee said. “One that simply moving money around won’t fix.”
McFee said the police service has received consistent feedback from downtown businesses and residents that they want increased relationship building, communication, transparency, and visibility from police.
"If we don't have safety what do we have? If we don't have safety we don't have a viable community, we don't have business community, we have people move out," said McFee.
The EPS plans to move 30 officers back to the front lines downtown, and change how officers are deployed in that area of the city.
Discussions need to be had about EPS’s presence at transit centers, he said, because transit guards employed by the city are not designed to deal with the type of crimes that are occurring.
Addiction and trauma are the driving factors behind much of the crime in Edmonton, McFee told council, and the long-term focus needs to be on integrating social services and the police.
“The issue isn’t money,” McFee said. “The issue is that the system isn’t integrated to maximize social impact.”
COORDINATION WITH THE PROVINCE
McFee said ultimately, Edmonton’s crime issue can’t be resolved by police alone.
“Being a modern police service means balancing support and enforcement,” he said. “Success isn’t just about the number of guns we take off the street or criminals we put behind bars. It’s also about the number of individuals that we help divert from the justice system toward measured, proven supports.”
According to the chief, this means getting the best value for every dollar of social funding – much of which comes from the province.
He believes approaching social issues one by one isn’t working, and instead of reducing police funding, the city needs to coordinate with the province to integrate systems and reallocate resources towards evidence-based, long-term solutions.
“The goal is to break down systemic barriers and connect vulnerable individuals with assistance programs, ultimately driving down calls for service for police, for EMS, for fire, [and] reducing overdoses by using authorities that [police] have and then connecting to the partners for relentless follow-up.”
McFee contended that budget cuts beyond the $5.5 million slated for next year would mean reductions to police services. Examples given include reducing traffic safety operations in favour of relying on photo radar, or reducing police presence at transit centers where security is already deployed. He says in addition to the cuts, the police budget has also been stretched thin by everything from provincial changes to traffic revenue to stat pay for officers to work the new Truth and Reconciliation holiday.
Meanwhile, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said the city is struggling under its own budget constraints due to pandemic costs – and pressure from many Edmontonians who don’t want to see a tax hike in 2022.
“Over the last three years, the only budget that has gone up is police budget,” Sohi said. “City operations have taken a 1.5 per cent reduction over three years. So for us it’s a very difficult balance – how do we continue to support you, and how do we continue to support our other operations.”
Deliberations ended Wednesday after two rounds of questions from councillors. Further talks and voting are planned to begin on Friday.
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