Alberta’s public safety minister says a final decision on a provincial police force won’t be made before the election — contradicting a statement made just days earlier by another high-level government minister.
On Tuesday after tabling his 2023 Alberta budget, Finance Minister Travis Toews said a provincial police service is off the table.
“It’s off the table. It’s not been budgeted in this plan,” Toews said during an interview on Global News after delivering the budget inside the Alberta legislature.
“The minister of public safety is engaging Albertans with the question. But in the meantime, we’re investing in additional enforcement officers, more boots on the ground.”
Alberta provincial police ‘off the table’: Finance Minister Travis Toews
Two days later on the streets of Edmonton, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services Mike Ellis said no decision has been made on replacing the RCMP with a provincial force.
“The position, really, has not changed. Not decision has been made,” Ellis told Global News.
“I’ll tell you right now, there’s no decision that’s going to be made (regarding a provincial police service) before the election.”
He said the province isn’t sure what the right path forward is and they’ll try several new things to keep people safe.
Alberta moves forward with regional policing model as it mulls provincial force
That includes a 15-week pilot project meant to improve safety downtown — which Ellis and members of the media got a chance to see in operation during a walk-along Thursday in the inner city.
Starting in February, a dozen Alberta Sheriffs — also known as peace officers — were embedded with Edmonton Police Service downtown divison officers, to patrol areas with the highest social disorder, open drug use, and have the most vulnerable people.
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That includes the neighbourhoods directly north of the downtown core, such as Chinatown, Boyle Street and McCauley — all areas where the city’s social services are concentrated.
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According to data from the EPS, violent crime in downtown Edmonton went up by 26.4 per cent between 2017 and 2022, and went up by 10.2 per cent between 2021 and 2022.
Citywide, there was a 16.4 per cent increase in violent crime incidents between 2021 and 2022.
Violence in Edmonton’s downtown core hit a tipping point last year after two men were killed at two different businesses in Chinatown. Police said the man accused in their deaths is not believed to have known either victim.
A provincial task force was also assembled in December to help mitigate crime and violence downtown.
Task force launched to address Edmonton’s social issues, addictions, homelessness
Ellis said on Thursday the sheriffs pilot project – that’s now being mirrored in Calgary – is going well.
“The biggest complaint that I’m getting right now is that people in the community want more and they want it permanent,” Ellis said.
“It’s what I hoped. It is not about a heavy hand coming in and asking people to move along, it’s about engaging with those individuals and saying, ‘I’m here and how can I help you?’”
Organizations that work with vulnerable Edmontonians have reported a sharp rise in homelessness across the city since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic all while first responders continue to deal with the ongoing opioid crisis and people experiencing mental health issues.
The officers who patrol the area carry naloxone kits with them, in case they come across someone experiencing an overdose.
The addition of the sheriffs has helped increase patrols in the areas to 20 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We understand that people are in a vulnerable state and we’re here to help them if they need help,” Const. Michael Pollock said while on patrol with his team and reporters.
He said a lot of the time it isn’t about enforcement, but rather protecting vulnerable people who are being victimized or have no other way of getting help.
“For example, last week we came upon an individual — during the cold snap when it was -40 (with the wind chill) — who had absolutely no shoes on. ‘Like we have to help you.’ So, we are able to liaise with our partners to get them some clothing and some shoes and stuff like that.”
The embed program is expected to continue until June.
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The province has not made a final decision on whether to make either program permanent.
— With files from Meaghan Archer and Emily Mertz, Global News
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