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More than 500 violent crimes reported inside Edmonton transit centres this year: police data

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There have been more than 500 reported cases of violence at transit centres and LRT stations in the Alberta capital so far this year, police data shows, and it may be about a year before more police are dispatched to help.

A police superintendent said Wednesday that although it's been announced that 50 new officers are being hired to patrol transit, those boots will likely not be on the ground until the end of 2024.

The issue of transit violence has again flared in the city following the revelations this week that a 55-year-old woman and a 58-year-old man were both seriously injured in separate random attacks at the Coliseum LRT Station.

"When the news broke of a lady who was attacked by two 12-year-olds, every police officer would look inward and go, 'Geez, I wish I was there sooner.' It's devastating to her and her family," Supt. Keith Johnson told reporters.

"It's difficult to see the violence and experience the violence here that's occurring on a day-to-day basis."

The 500 reported cases at transit centres and LRT stations includes 441 reports of "personal violence," 28 cases of "extortion/harassment/threats" and 26 "sexual violations."

That total does not include incidents that went unreported, online complaints or attacks on trains, buses or near (but not at) transit stations.

Johnson said three teams of Edmonton Police Service officers are currently patrolling the transit system, consisting of six constables and a sergeant.

He said the reason attacks are often not announced for days or weeks after they happen is because there's a process to follow and because there's so much violence in Edmonton.

"To be honest with you, the amount of assaults that occur, we're a city of a million people…we would be, frankly, overwhelming everyone, as far as [news] releases," Johnson said.

ANNOUNCEMENT ON OFFICERS COMING: ELLIS

Alberta's minister of public safety and emergency services was asked about transit violence at the legislature Wednesday, but wouldn't provide a clear date on when the 50 officers promised in April will start patrolling.

"There's going to be a media announcement coming. I think that's all I will say in regards to the 50 officers for both Calgary and Edmonton," Mike Ellis told reporters.

"We know that officer presence matters."

Ellis said he believes that sheriffs dispatched to help in Chinatown have made a difference in reducing violent crime there.

He then pointed out that the province is currently building 11 addictions recovery centres in Alberta, which Ellis believes will have a positive impact in the longer term.

"We're going as fast as we can. We're building as fast as we can," he said.

"We want to make sure that individual not only gets help for their severe mental health and addiction issue, but we also want to make sure that individual gets skills, so that they can get a job…We're trying to stop that cycle of abuse, we're trying to stop that recidivism."

24/7 PATROLS, TURNSTILES BEING CONSIDERED

On Tuesday, Edmonton city councillor Aaron Paquette said Alberta needs to get "a handle on the mental health and addictions crisis" to reduce violence in Edmonton.

Until that happens, he said 24-hour officer presence in LRT stations may have to be considered, which would cost between $3.5 to $5 million a year.

Meanwhile, Coun. Tim Cartmell told reporters Tuesday he intends to pitch a plan to add turnstiles in some stations for two years "and see what actually happens."

"I hear from people that say the system is not safe…and turnstiles would make it safer. At least make it feel safer. We'll see if the majority of council agrees," he said.

Cartmell is suggesting the tests be done at Coliseum and Churchill LRT stations, because those are at the top of the list for violence and so the city can get a sense of how the turnstiles work in both an underground and surface station.

"Our system is in serious trouble…and I can't put more money into this system, for any other thing, as long as the narrative out there is that the system is not worth investing in," he told CTV News Edmonton in a follow-up interview on Wednesday.

Cartmell said city council needs to do something now because many taxpayers are avoiding the transit system they pay out of fear that it's unsafe.

"If somebody has a better idea, besides blame the province for what they're not doing, I'd love to hear it. But I can't wait around anymore," he said.

"We have to change that narrative. This might be part of it."

Supt. Johnson said turnstiles are not a "be-all-end-all" to the problems at stations but could increase safety by reducing the amount of people using the spaces for "illegitimate purposes."

Police are seeking witnesses and information in both Coliseum LRT Station attacks. Anyone with information is asked to call EPS 780-423-4567 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Diego Romero, Chelan Skulski and Dave Mitchell

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