With his contract renewed for another five years, Chief Dale McFee sat down with Detective Aubrey Zalaski to talk about short-term and long terms goals for the Edmonton Police Service as well as increasing challenges to public safety. Here’s a recap of the hour-long discussion.
What is being done about crime in the downtown core?
Overall, occurrences and reported crime are trending downward throughout the city. However, the number of occurrences within Downtown Division has increased. Some that of that increase, Chief McFee attributes directly to problems with addiction, trauma, and lack of social support.
“We need to rethink the whole approach downtown,” said Chief McFee. “We have focused as a city, not just the police service, on housing and safe consumption sites as important ingredients. But housing to what we’re dealing with here isn’t the ultimate solution. We’re dealing with a major addictions problem.”
The Chief went on to explain that more focus needs to be given to stabilization services and skills development in order to truly and effectively manage some of downtown’s issues.
“We have to balance the scales and we need some investment in the middle of the social systems,” said Chief McFee. “We need to get the right supports in place rather than a one-dimensional solution.”
He went on to further explain that the EPS needs to use its voice of influence to get the partners that choose to work with the Service, working collectively together with the same measurement and outcomes to bring things down at a manageable level.
In terms of violence, Chief McFee explained the EPS will be relentless on crime and holding those accountable through the criminal justice system.
Shootings and gang violence feel out of control. What is the EPS doing about that?
“We’re going to be relentless on that side of the house, too,” assured Chief McFee. “We put in provisions and we’re turning the notch up. We need to continue to be relentless and make things uncomfortable for some of these individuals.”
What is the EPS doing about speeding in the city?
High rates of speed have been captured all over the city’s roadways. In most other provinces in Canada, police can seize vehicles when caught driving at high rates of speed–typically 40 to 50 km/hour over the speed limit.
“You have to have the ability to seize that vehicle rather than ticket the driver because a lot of them can afford the tickets,” said Chief McFee. “You take the vehicle away, it changes the behaviour. We need that mechanism for these severe offences and then you can actually start to see it slow down a bit.”
Has COVID-19 made things worse?
The Chief was quick to point out that a lot of the challenges the city faces were not created by COVID but simply exposed by it.
“I don't think COVID is to blame for our problems. I think COVID has exposed our problems. It's exposed the gaps in the social piece, and it's also exposed the gaps when you don't have as many people out,” said Chief Mcfee.
With that in mind, Chief McFee is hopeful with the development of the EPS’ Community Safety and Well-being Bureau–a first of its kind in Canada. The bureau is taking an innovative approach to crime, using data to reduce the number of people in the criminal justice system, and make sure they have access to the resources they need to prevent them from returning to a life of crime. Their most recent project, stopping liquor store thefts through the use of GPS trackers and ID scanners led to a 96 per cent decrease in theft at hot spot areas.
Overall short-term and long-term, what can we see from the EPS in the future?
First and foremost, Chief McFee sees the EPS as the voice of calm to help get the city through the pandemic.
“We have a lot of tension in the community and we just need to be a calm, steady voice. Not overreact. Not underreact,” said Chief McFee. “We’re going to look at technology advancements that make us smarter in how we deploy. We’ll do a lot of smart investments to increase our presence in the different communities based on need.”
“We have got to look at some of the ways that we can best intervene with people that have major addictions problems. And, that includes businesses being able to operate and citizens being able to walk around on the street and feel safe. We have to make sure that we're continuing to look at what the trends are and where we can get the most value for having our resources deployed.”
How does the EPS plan to work with a new City Council despite some candidates vocalizing their thoughts on defunding the police?
With the civil election just days away, Chief McFee assured that the EPS will work with whoever is elected.
“We have a distinct and unique job that's been given to us and we also have to have some voice of autonomy to do it. That's why there's a police commission,” said Chief McFee. “There are some things that we've collectively heard through our Commitment to Action and other things over the past year that we've already started changing and continue to change. We're just asking to use our resources and our money that we currently have, differently.”
Watch the full discussion below. You can folllow Edmonton Police Service on Facebook to watch even more live discussions in the future.