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Home New Release Funding, social disorder, Chinatown killings: 2022 with Edmonton police chief Dale McFee

Funding, social disorder, Chinatown killings: 2022 with Edmonton police chief Dale McFee

Edmonton Police Service chief Dale McFee said 2022 was a year full of ups and downs.

“It was challenging, to say the least,” said McFee in a year-end interview with Global News’ Sarah Komadina.

Explaining the push to defund the Edmonton police

McFee said the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) remains under scrutiny following the death of George Floyd more than two years ago — what the chief referred to as “the events in Minneapolis” — that sparked worldwide protests as part of a broader reckoning over racial injustice and Black Lives Matter.

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Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for 9.5 minutes as the Black man repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe and eventually went limp.

McFee said this conversation has made recruiting and retention difficult.

“That’s a lot of wear and tear in the last three years on my officers for us, we’ve seen a lot retire, but we also see some younger ones leave the career,” he said.

“The whole defunding movement in the U.S. has been a real failure … but it’s really challenged our recruiting.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton criminologist weighs in on police funding in the city'

Edmonton criminologist weighs in on police funding in the city

McFee expressed frustration over how much funding the service gets from city council.

“What’s the relationship with council? I’m really not quite sure,” he said.

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In October, Edmonton city council wrestled with establishing a new funding formula. Proponents for a formula say it gives police a steady and predictable amount of money each year. Those against would prefer to review the effectiveness of the service each year and be able to adjust the budget accordingly.

The councillors ended up increasing the police budget to more than $414 million and will revisit the funding formula question again in the spring.

Read more:

Edmonton city council settles on $407M annual base funding for police

Policing is currently the most expensive thing Edmontonians pay for through taxes. The EPS budget for 2022 is $407 million.

A review presented to city council in October found Edmonton has the highest average policing costs per capita when comparing seven similar cities.

While Edmonton spends $397 per capita, Winnipeg spends $360, Calgary spends $357 and Regina spends $354.

The review also found Edmonton has one of the lowest costs per incident when comparing seven cities.

While Edmonton spends an average of $4,503 per call, York Regional Police in Ontario averaged $10,056 per call. Regina spends about $3,444 per call.

Read more:

Councillors approve temporary funding increase for Edmonton Police Service

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McFee said their money is being stretched “to the bone.”

“We’re getting to the point where we can’t actually move things around anymore and what we’re having to do now to address the area in Chinatown is to take from another part of the city,” he said.

Edmonton’s Chinatown was the topic of much discussion relating to crime, homelessness, safety and social disorder, especially after two men were randomly attacked and killed in May.

Read more:

Citizens pack Edmonton council chambers to speak on Chinatown crime, safety and policing

The inner city neighbourhood is home to many of the city’s social service agencies. McFee said Chinatown hasn’t been given the attention it deserves in past years.

“On a positive note, it is attention to these areas and communities that should have been done many, many years ago and which was what we were trying to work towards,” he said.

One of the initiatives funded by the city is the Healthy Streets Operation Centre (HSOC) which is set to open in the new year. EPS started a “soft launch” in October to trial the concept.

EPS assigned several officers to areas with “chronically high levels of victimization and crime” — Chinatown, Alberta Avenue, downtown and certain downtown LRT stations.

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The police officers are joined by peace officers and paramedics, and in the new year will be joined by firefighters and City of Edmonton community safety liaisons.

The goal of the HSOC is to provide a visible police presence and proactively address the issues associated with homelessness, drug use, crime and victimization, according to police.

In this police handout picture is the aftermath of an encampment fire at 105A Ave. and 96 St. on Dec. 13, 2022.

In this police handout picture is the aftermath of an encampment fire at 105A Ave. and 96 St. on Dec. 13, 2022.

Edmonton Police Service

McFee said when it comes to homeless encampments, the police’s role is to assist the city.

“It’s not safe to have people camping in a tent. When it’s 20 below, 30 below, 15 below,” he said.

“So we have to use empathy and compassion to get people connected to services.”

Read more:

Homicide detectives investigating after person found dead in central Edmonton encampment

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In November, EPS reassigned some officers to frontline patrol, moving them from front counters and other areas.

The service previously operated on a model with eight patrol squads assigned to each of the city’s six divisions, but there were issues with staffing and shift relief.

The new model bumped that up to 10 units for each division, with two static day shifts and eight rotating shifts. They are typically be staffed by one sergeant and eight constables.

The new model was staffed by redeploying 62 officers from other areas.

The 10-squad model has a goal of increasing visibility of officers and reducing the number of calls to police.

“Early indications see that we’re pulling a call volume down quite a bit,” McFee said.

Read more:

Edmonton Police Service moves 62 officers to front-line patrol

McFee said the 10-squad model is one way the service is stretching their dollar.

Other changes included creating two collision reporting centres, which free up officers for higher-priority calls, according to police.

He said the Police and Crisis Response Team (PACT) — which pairs police with mental health therapists — is having “great results.”

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He also said the Human-centred Engagement Liaison Partnership (HELP) team — which aims to divert people from the justice system by providing them with social, health and community supports — is helping reduce the number of people in the justice system.

Read more:

Edmonton police unit aimed at providing services to vulnerable population has a new home

Heading into the new year, McFee said he is going to be more vocal about a few matters.

During the launch of a provincial task force in mid-December, McFee spoke candidly about the issue of rampant drug use, saying “I don’t think you have to walk more than a block to see somebody using meth in an open air space.”

He said there’s a clear connection between crystal methamphetamine use and crime in the city.

Read more:

Task force launched to address Edmonton’s social issues, addictions, homelessness

McFee revisited the topic during his year-end interview with Global News, saying problems like mental health and addiction are “significantly” linked with violence like car crashes.

“You can’t solve that by thinking a house is going to solve that,” he said.

“Now, housing is a part of it. But there’s a lot of parts that are missing here.”

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McFee said too many people focus on housing without considering other factors, like drug and alcohol addiction.

“I’m not sure when open air drug use started to be okay.”

“Those are things that you’re going to see us get a little bit more vocal about in the coming months because we have to. This is about our citizens and it’s about safety and things have to change,” said McFee.

Click to play video: 'Province announces plan to tackle social disorder in Edmonton, mayor not involved'

Province announces plan to tackle social disorder in Edmonton, mayor not involved

He said he wants the province to take the lead.

“I think the only mechanism to get there is going to have to be provincially. And I think that’s because they have the bulk of the money in it,” said the chief.

Read more:

Despite how Edmontonians perceived their safety in 2021, crime was down: report

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McFee said Edmonton is coming to a “critical stage” and that the service needs to continue working with the right partners.

“We’re not going to create fear and alarm, but I am going to start speaking a little bit more clear on the safety perspective,” he said.

He said there should be an “ecosystem” of services to address the social issues across the city.

“We have to think about going at some of these things differently,” said McFee.

“It’s not that we don’t do it with empathy. It’s not that we don’t deal with compassion. But we have to think about the whole equation.”

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