Watch above: Every weekend, there are six to seven serious sexual assaults in Edmonton. Police chief Rod Knecht says the number is disturbing. Shallima Maharaj reports.
EDMONTON – When it comes to reports of violent crime, Edmonton has seen the biggest increase in sexual assaults, according to police chief Rod Knecht.
“There’s way too many of them in the city and we know they’re under-reported. So if we’re struck by the numbers right now and they’re under-reported, I think we’d be aghast at the numbers if we truly knew the numbers that are actually out there, that exist.”
He said six to seven happen every Friday and Saturday nights.
“Sexual assaults continue to go up,” said Knecht. “I can tell you we have six or seven serious sexual assaults in the city every weekend, so every Friday and Saturday night.”
“I think we’re up four per cent or three per cent over last year, and last year we were up,” explained Knecht. “It is growing, and it’s a growing concern.”
In 2013, there were 776 reported sexual assaults in Edmonton. So far this year, there have been 707.
“What we need to do is get the message out that this is what a sexual assault is and this is not an acceptable practice. This is not part of a date, or a bad date, or going to the bar at night.”
“We seize a lot of GHB in this city – the date rape drug. I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb and say we probably seize more than other cities our size.
“It’s to facilitate date rape because the person loses their memory and they’re not a strong witness obviously if they don’t have a memory.
“They don’t know what happened to them. They know something happened, something wrong happened, but they don’t know exactly.
“We know of incidents where this has been slipped into an individual’s drink at a bar – frequently.
“We don’t know to what extent that happens… it’s deeply disconcerting. We are seizing a lot of the drug… gallons of it.”
Last year, the police chief said property crime and sexual assaults were up in the city.
“That has been a tremendous investment for the Edmonton Police Service,” said Knecht. “Six-hundred I would suggest… is very, very high for a police service.”
Service calls to Edmonton police have continued to climb over the last three years, according to Knecht.
During his Coffee with the Chief event Wednesday morning, Knecht said EPS has received nearly 4,000 calls so far this year. Among the challenges facing the force, he said Edmonton is the only major Canadian city where crime is on the rise.
“Those priority one calls, we will get there within seven minutes 80 per cent of the time, we use that as a benchmark,” said Knecht. “Over the last three years, we’ve seen that steadily decline… we’re getting to serious calls within seven minutes only 69 percent of the time to 70 per cent of the time.”
“It tells us that we’re going to more calls.”
The police service will be asking for funding from the city in the next budget for nearly 100 new officers for the downtown area to meet growing demands. Knecht said the EPS has to be prepared for 2016.
The Edmonton Police Commission recently recommended adding 400 police positions over the next five years. The commission increased its original ask because of an increase in forecast population growth and more calls for service.
Last year, the EPS requested $6.13 million to pay for 35 new positions, including 31 sworn officers and 4 civilian members. City Council rejected that request. Instead, council said it would ask senior levels of government for added support for police.
During Wednesday’s event, Knecht also discussed the police helicopters. He said it costs approximately $1 million a year to run both aircrafts, which includes the pilots’ wages. Knecht said the helicopters are worth the investment.
The police chief said the average response time for the helicopters is three minutes. The top two complaints Air One responds to are stolen vehicles and impaired driving.
In the span of two weeks (Nov. 2 – Nov. 16, 2014), Air One responded to 85 events.