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Violence on Edmonton’s public transit: 50 new officers on the way, officials say

Violence on Edmonton’s public transit: 50 new officers on the way, officials say
Violence on Edmonton’s public transit: 50 new officers on the way, officials say

The provincial government is making good on its campaign promise to pay for 50 new police officers to patrol “high crime areas” in Edmonton, while defending the time it takes to get those officers on the scene.

The United Conservative Party pledged the investment back in April, which now stands at $8.3 million, along with other money for more crisis teams and better cleaning of public transport stations.

Although experienced staff have already been deployed to assist with public transport, the process is expected to take at least another 12 months.

“There are not 50 fully trained unemployed police officers sitting on the streets right now,” Public Safety and Emergency Services Minister Mike Ellis said when a reporter asked why it was taking so long.

“To actually get a fully trained and qualified police officer who can actually handle every call for service takes about five years. They’re going as fast as they can.”

Ellis’ comments come a week after concerns were raised again in the capital over violence on public transport following revelations of two random attacks at the Coliseum LRT station.

In those cases, a 55-year-old woman and a 58-year-old man were seriously injured.

500 INCIDENTS OF VIOLENCE

A closer look at police data shows that more than 500 incidents of use of force have been reported at Edmonton transit centres and LRT stations so far this year.

This total does not include unreported crimes, online complaints, and attacks on trains, buses, or near (but not at) public transport stations.

EPS now has 21 officers who travel in teams of six on public transport.

A report presented at City Hall on Tuesday found that the number of violent crimes at public transport hubs fell from 123 the previous year to 75 between October 1 and November 21.

However, the number of non-violent incidents increased over the same period, from 166 to 248.

“We’ve seen a significant decrease in crime on public transit since they’ve been there,” said Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee.

McFee said the process to hire the 50 new officers is a complex one and that some of the $8.3 million will be used to fill positions of officers already assigned to patrol public transit.

LARGER CLASSES ‘CHALLENGING’: PROFESSOR

The chief explained that EPS is expanding the number of three-year recruiting groups from 32 to 50, streamlining the recruitment of experienced officers and looking at transferring duties to personnel who “don’t need a badge and a gun” to free up more officers on the front lines.

According to McFee, they are now receiving record numbers of applications, after several years of low hiring numbers during the defund movement.

“These additional officers are the next step in addressing Edmonton’s high-crime neighbourhoods,” he said.

The funding amounts to $4.5 million for salaries and benefits, $2.5 million for vehicles, uniforms and equipment, $850,000 for “ongoing technology costs” and $500,000 for recruitment.

“Our government will do everything it can to tackle the worrying rise in crime, particularly in key areas such as public transport and the city centre,” Ellis said.

According to Doug King, a professor of justice studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary, the timeline may seem long to the public, but when you think about the complexities of policing, it’s actually “quite ambitious.”

“How do you deal with people with mental disorders? How do you deal with people with substance abuse?” he asked.

“So now there’s more to train and now there’s more officers to train. So that’s a challenge and we’ll see how it plays out.”

He believes that “underfunding of the police” in recent years is partly why crime has increased in Calgary and Edmonton.

‘LRT ROULETTE’: COUNCIL MEMBERS DEBATE ON SPINNING

The province has also appointed Alberta sheriffs to patrol downtown Edmonton and created a new task force to address crime and disorder in the downtown area and around public transit.

On Tuesday at City Hall, Councillor Tim Cartmell reiterated his support for exploring fairground gates at LRT stations in an effort to improve safety.

“It’s like LRT roulette. It could be just one incident a day, or one incident on that platform, or you know it happens a couple times a week,” Cartmell said of people who are afraid of public transit.

“But I don’t want it to happen to me, and I don’t want it to happen to my child, so I’m not going to take that risk.”

But not everyone agrees with the idea, including council member Michael Janz, who thinks the gates could be expensive, easy to bypass and would concentrate problems in other tunnels.

“I want to see the report. I want to know the costs,” he said.

“I want to know the answers, but I doubt there is a quick, easy, technical solution to this incredibly complex, complicated problem.”


With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Chelan Skulski and Jeremy Thompson