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Open-air drug use, escalating violence and disorder underline EPS Safer Public Spaces approach

For Immediate Release: 11-Sep-2023 @ 1:15 PM
MRU #: 23R070 

As Edmonton faces an increase in severe crime, social disorder, and violence citywide, the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) is taking action to address safety in public spaces with a more intensive focus on the criminality and disorder associated with open-air drug use and drug trafficking.

“There has been a visible increase in socially unacceptable behaviours on our streets and in places like our parks, pedways, and LRT stations. The impacts of violence and social disorder, including random violence, have grown increasingly prominent,” says Police Chief Dale McFee. “We are sending a clear message that safety is the priority. No Edmontonian should be at risk of becoming a victim, and no one should feel that their right to go about their lives within these spaces is compromised.”

Annual crime statistics show that Edmonton’s total crime rate increased eight per cent between 2021 and 2022, with the violent crime rate increasing by 13 per cent in the same time frame. Though the impacts are magnified in areas like the downtown core, the effects are felt citywide and by all demographics. In 2022, there were 15,180 victims of violent crime, an 18 per cent increase from 2021. 

Safer Public Spaces describes the ongoing focused work of EPS with various partners, agencies, and within the health system to ensure violence and social disorder is addressed promptly and adequately. This includes addressing open-air drug use in public spaces. It is based on the foundational principle that all public spaces must be maintained for the safe and appropriate use of all.

“Open-air drug use is a major and ongoing problem on some Edmonton streets. The Commission supports the EPS approach, while it seeks to review outcomes and results that create safer public spaces in Edmonton. EPS has built programs to support diversion, along with many community and public sector partners, but there is a clear need for more compassionate intervention now to ensure public spaces are safer for everyone. We also welcome the Government of Alberta’s proposed changes within the justice system to address violent crime and issues within the bail process to keep repeat violent offenders off our streets,” says Erick Ambtman, Chair of the Edmonton Police Commission

“As this new Safer Public Spaces approach is implemented, I hope that EPS will monitor and evaluate its success and identify any gaps that become evident. Today’s announcement is an important step, but I know that it will not solve all of our problems as root causes still remain. Stabilization will take some time. We will keep working together with our partners on the long-term solutions, including permanent supportive housing, harm reduction and a full spectrum of resources to support treatment and recovery,” says Mayor Amarjeet Sohi.

“We are very much alive to the fact that there are people in these spaces who are victims themselves and are struggling with the added weight of mental health and addiction. This is why we work with community partners and through diversion programs like HELP, PACT and HSOC to ensure that once people are safe and secure, they are connected to the right resources,” says Warren Driechel, Deputy Chief of the EPS Community Safety and Well-being Bureau.

Addressing the proliferation of visible drug use and drug trafficking in Edmonton is a multi-pronged approach, and EPS will be working with the Alberta Government and the City of Edmonton to ensure Safer Public Spaces can have immediate impacts while medium and long-term solutions are advanced.

For EPS, enforcement and policing-related activities will have these major objectives:

  1. Reduce the unacceptable levels of violence, particularly random violence, by addressing all factors contributing to victimization, much of which is closely linked to the drug trade.
  2. Effect sustainable behaviour change within public spaces, including the visible use of drugs.
  3. Offer supports for those who are victimized and links to treatment where willing.
  4. Aggressive enforcement of those who are supplying and carrying out the drug trade, who often target and victimize the most vulnerable of Edmonton’s community members.
  5. Work with the City of Edmonton to address the unacceptable levels of violence, victimization, and public safety threats tied to encampments.

“Police respond to criminal behaviour, and we will continue to rely on lawful placement within all public spaces to do so. The types of drugs on our streets are dangerous for users and for everyone around them, and we cannot help anyone if we do not ensure the safety of our city for all. EPS initiatives like HSOC, Transit Safety teams, HELP and our new Integrated Care Centre all provide essential service in linking people to support. We know more is needed in all aspects of the social safety ecosystem, but effective policing of crime and disorder is also needed to get balance back in all our communities,” says Chief McFee.

As this work evolves, the EPS will continue to engage with key stakeholders and publicly share information on progress and efforts as available.

For additional information, please view the Safer Public Spaces Background document. 


For media inquiries please contact the EPS Media Relations Unit at mediarelations@edmontonpolice.ca.