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Edmonton's police chief discusses enforcement, photo radar and downtown

Edmonton police chief Dale McFee on Thursday June 13, 2024. (Dave Ewasuk/CTV News Edmonton) Edmonton police chief Dale McFee on Thursday June 13, 2024. (Dave Ewasuk/CTV News Edmonton)
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Edmonton's police chief held a general discussion with the media Thursday, touching on topics including enforcement levels, photo radar and downtown safety.

ENFORCEMENT NUMBERS

"Getting our numbers back to where we need them to be, it's trending positively … our attrition rate has slowed down substantially," said Chief Dale McFee.

On the heels of two pedestrians being killed in crashes earlier this week, the chief said police are working on different angles to tackle traffic enforcement to prevent accidents like this.

"(It's) going to be more than just traffic that'll be doing that enforcement and in the long term, obviously, is to get the resources back so we can get more staff in not just that area, but patrol and other areas," McFee said.

"Generally, when you get these things, that generally is a pattern area and driving in a particular area, but … it's been scattered all over the city."

SAFETY DURING THE STANLEY CUP

With the Oilers playoff run ongoing, Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals is in Edmonton Thursday night, police are taking steps to ensure people are safe at games and events.

"When you get 600 protests or demonstrations every year, you get a lot better each time you do it," McFee said. "It's also a credit to some of the actions that we've taken in the particular area earlier with the removal of the encampments and removing some of the dangerous individuals out of there, out of the area … a lot of these things, most of the heavy lifting is done preemptively because we plan on it."

Police have been working with the Oilers Entertainment Group and RCMP and are working ahead on plans for future cup events, if necessary.

"We've had some fighting and some different issues, and actually some of them have been pretty young kids fighting, for the most part people are enjoying the festivities," Mcfee added. "They're enjoying it for the right reasons … I give full marks to our citizens and our fans for their behavior and it makes it a lot easier for all of us."

DOWNTOWN EDMONTON

Edmonton's core has been a focus of police efforts, including tackling gang activity, drug use and the removal of homeless encampments.

According to McFee, police have received comments about "how much better" downtown Edmonton is getting, though there's still "a lot of work to be done."

The Navigation and Support Centre, which connects vulnerable people in the city to resources, has made a large impact, according to the chief. Since it opened, over 2,000 people have been connected to services, over 1,000 IDs have been handed out and over 800 people have been connected to financial services.

"We need to make sure that we're taking our vulnerable population and we're connecting with services so they don't get entrenched in the justice system," McFee said. "But when it comes to the gang activity … and how they situate and try to prey on these individuals, we're going to be relentless on the accountability piece and I think when we do that consistently, it becomes the norm."

PHOTO RADAR

Photo radar is a divisive topic, some arguing it's just a cash grab while others argue it serves as an effective deterrent.

In 2019, Alberta implemented a temporary freeze on new photo radar devices and locations. Over the years the freeze has been extended, including in 2023.

Earlier this week, the transportation minister said in a statement that Alberta would consider reducing the amount of photo radar sites in the province by 85 to 90 per cent.

"Taking something away, generally, at times where we need enforcement generally isn't a good idea," McFee said. "If you're using it in areas where there are serious problems with traffic, mobility and movement and speed, then I think it's a good tool to have.

"It's very location specific and … should be statistically led in how you use it, but I do think there's a role for it."

FUTURE EFFORTS

For the first time in several years, crime is down in Edmonton by a "significant" amount downtown, according to McFee.

Police want to begin expanding resources outside of downtown to other areas that are seeing an uptick in crime.

The chief is also interested in working with the province to allow officers to seize vehicles from drivers caught going too much over the speed limit. In Ontario, police can temporarily seize vehicles caught going 50 km/h over the limit.

"Most provinces also have the ability to seize vehicles at higher rates of speed," McFee said. "The number of 50 kilometers over (drivers) that we see over a course of a year, or even the course of a month, are significant."

Vehicle seizure is a tool the chief wants to be able to use in other scenarios too.

"We still have a really high number of vehicles that take off on police pursuits," McFee said. "Obviously, we don't pursue most of them, depending on what the situation is, but as you've heard me say that many, many times, we need legislation in this province to seize those vehicles.

"When we can seize the vehicle, it's way more effective than writing the ticket, because now people have the ability that they're going to lose something that they may need, in a circumstance they need."

BODY CAMERAS IN, DASH CAMERAS OUT FOR NOW

In 2023, the province announced that all law-enforcement officers would be required to wear body cameras in an effort to boost transparency and accountability.

As part of this move, dash cameras in police vehicles have been reallocated in favour of body cameras.

"We don't have the resources to do both," McFee said. "We're just going to focus right now on getting the body cams rolled out and then once we get that completed, we can revisit the dash cams."

Edmonton police expect to have around 280 body cameras in use by July, according to the chief.

"We're going to focus on PSU (Public Safety Unit), patrol, some of those sensitive areas that have a lot of interaction with the public," added McFee. "It's a big project to roll out."

He expects most officers to be outfitted with cameras over the course of the next 18 months.

CHIEF'S CONTRACT TO EXPIRE

McFee's contract as the police chief is set to expire in 2026. He said he hasn't made any decisions for after that time yet, but is building a succession plan if needed.

"I've got a lot of talent and behind me, EPS is going to be in a good position, regardless if I'm here or not," he added. "That's been one of my main focuses is trying to build up a succession plan with options and I feel very, very comfortable with the options that we have here that go beyond me."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's David Ewasuk