As part of the final phase of Project Connection, the EPS assigned several officers to Community Safety Teams to address areas of Edmonton with chronically high levels of victimization and crime: Chinatown, Alberta Avenue, the downtown core and certain downtown LRT stations. These teams currently consist of police and peace officers and, as of Dec. 6, paramedics.
The teams will eventually form part of the Healthy Streets Operations Centre, or “HSOC,” which will be launching in the new year. However, as a way to address urgent needs in Chinatown and the downtown area, the Community Safety Teams started with a “soft launch” in October 2022 to trial the concept.
In addition to police, peace officers, and advanced care paramedics (EMS), the January launch is expected to see firefighters and City of Edmonton community safety liaisons join the team.
The goal of the teams is to provide a visible presence in the identified geography of the Community Safety Zones, engage with the community, and proactively address the issues associated with homelessness, drug use, crime and victimization that continue to plague central Edmonton. “The multidisciplinary focus of the Community Safety Teams will allow the organization that has the appropriate authority and is best suited to solve a specific problem to take the lead, with all other partner organizations in place to provide support,” says Insp. Angela Kemp, EPS Crime Suppression Branch, who is overseeing the initiative.
Team members are experiencing regular positive interactions with community members, who say that they feel safer with the Community Safety Team’s presence in the area. “Yesterday, a senior woman who was attending medical appointments downtown approached our team members while they were doing proactive walkthroughs of the pedway system,” says Insp. Kemp. “She told our team that she feels afraid to walk through the City Centre mall and pedways, and that having them there helped to calm her down and allowed her to attend her appointments without constant anxiety.”
Addition of Advanced Care Paramedics
Paramedics joined the HSOC Community Safety Teams on Dec. 6, 2022. In the short time since their addition, paramedics have attended to several medical issues that would have previously required the dispatch of an ambulance crew. “In just over a week, the EMS addition to HSOC has diverted more than five ambulances from attending police events,” says Insp. Kemp. “The addition of EMS to HSOC has been extremely valuable, because any medical issues that arise are managed by our teams’ paramedics, whether the medical intervention involves our own team members or the members of the community.”
HSOC Community Safety Teams are consistently the first responders on scene at encampment fires, which have become a common and extremely dangerous community hazard. On Dec. 13, 2022, HSOC was first on the scene of a propane tank explosion that resulted in at least three unoccupied tents burning down and significant heat damage to vehicles parked in the area of 105A Avenue and 96 Street.
While HSOC team members were attempting to put out the fire with extinguishers, a smaller secondary explosion occurred. “This could have very easily been a tragedy with injuries and death to our vulnerable community members, bystanders and first responders,” says Insp. Kemp. “One police officer suffered minor burns while attempting to check if there was anyone in one of the tents.”
Because EMS was part of the HSOC team that responded to the fire, no ambulances were required to be dispatched. This shows the importance of a coordinated systems response where all partner agencies are working together to increase community safety.
Pictured: aftermath of Dec. 13, 2022 encampment fire at 105A Ave. and 96 St.
“While the current deployment is a soft, trial launch of the future full-scale HSOC initiative, it is showing encouraging early successes and community approval,” says Insp. Kemp. Longer-term successes will be measured by a data and performance working group in EPS’s Research and Development Division. All partnering stakeholders have a shared outcome and evaluation structure to ensure the HSOC is successful in its goals.