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Edmonton police chief listens to crime concerns from Mill Woods residents, says ‘more eyes and ears’ will help across the city

Edmonton police chief speaks to Mill Woods residents about crime concerns
WATCH ABOVE: Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee attended a town hall on crime in the community of Mill Woods on Wednesday night. Chris Chacon reports.

Edmonton’s police chief met with Mill Woods residents at the Woodvale Community League on Wednesday night to have “an information exchange” about crime in the area, something he said he’s also done with about half a dozen other communities lately.

“[Ward 11] Coun. [Mike] Nickel and I were talking and I thought it was pretty important that I come out and hear firsthand what’s going on in the community,” Chief Dale McFee told Global News.

“I think it’s just important that I have a feeling and understanding of what’s going on throughout our city and no better place to do it than from the communities.”

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Watch below: In December, 2018, incoming Edmonton police chief Dale McFee laid out his goals for the new role, saying face-to-face conversations are the best way to build relationships with community groups.

Nickel told Global News he’s received a growing number of calls from residents about their concern over crime in Mill Woods recently and that he wants to “get in front of this.”

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“I don’t want to wait until it gets out of control,” he said. “I’ve been getting ever-growing complaints about not just aggressive panhandling but [also] much more serious issues like carjackings, break and enters.

“As I look into this more, we’re finding this is not just a problem in Mill Woods. This is clear across the city.”

Nickel said he recently told McFee that he has “gotta come down and talk to my constituents because they’ve had enough.”

“We’re done,” he said. “We’ve gotta find a solution.”

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Marian Biggar lives in the Richfield area in Mill Woods and said she believes problems like break-ins involving vehicles and garages seem to be getting worse and that she wants to know if the city could be “getting really scary.”

“I thought I’d just pop out and see what they have planned,” she said. “I’m a widow. I’m by myself, and they did break into my garage last fall… [but] until you go to something like this, you don’t know how bad it is in a particular district.”

Nickel suggested he believes the development of the Ice District in downtown Edmonton may have spread crime that used to be more concentrated in that area elsewhere.

“We’ve pushed a lot of problems out of downtown and into our suburbs [and] we just have to deal with it,” he said.

Finding innovative ways to fight crime

Nickel added that “money is tight” in the city these days and as a result, “everybody has to chip in” to fight crime and more creativity is needed to address the issue.

“It’s not just [about] asking city hall for money [to address crime],” he said. “I go out there and raise money and ask companies to participate in these programs.”

McFee also said more innovation when it comes to fighting crime will help. He pointed to the recent spike in liquor store thefts across the city as one example.

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“Do we have to do something different there? Yes,” he said of liquor theft. “I mean, we charged an individual here just the other day with 25 of them and the same individual is back outside the next day… [so] this is something obviously the business community is frustrated [by] and so are we.
“That particular one [crime problem] needs a new solution. We’ve got to look to technology, we’ve got to look at how we can actually change the behaviour on this because we just can’t continue to have the same response.”

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McFee noted that Edmonton’s reputation as a hub for high-tech innovation and artificial intelligence is something he would like to see his police force leverage more.

He said in some cases, he would like to see the city’s brightest minds in the high-tech sphere help police come up with new crimefighting ideas because if only police do so, the ideas won’t always be “cutting edge.”

Meth use a growing concern in Edmonton

McFee said Wednesday that figuring out what drives criminal behaviour is essential to fighting crime and that one of those drivers that currently has him concerned is drug use, specifically meth.

“One thing that we’ve seen a spike in in the radical behaviour is meth,” he said. “It’s unpredictable. You know, you look at some of our violent crime [like] unpredictable behaviour, staying up all night, car chases, gun violence.

“Meth is right across the west right now and it’s cheap.”

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McFee said his police officers have recently taken a significant amount of drugs and guns off the street but that he believes they need to continue “to be relentless on that.”

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He said that while going after drug dealers is critical, crime problems tied to meth also need to be addressed by connecting users with resources that can address mental health and addictions.

Ward 10 Councillor Michael Walters echoed the police chief’s concerns. Next week, he plans to put forward a motion at city council in hopes of opening up the discussion around the city’s meth problem.

“We need to have a conversation with the [police] commission and the chief about what we’re going to do about crystal meth,” Walters said. “This is a big problem, in my opinion.

“It’s affecting our communities through an increase in crime, it’s affecting our businesses through increased social disorder and break-ins and I think ultimately, it’s something that we have to step up on and really understand what we can do. I don’t know what we can do and that’s why we need to have this conversation.”

Walters said the solution will likely be a collaborative effort between government, law enforcement and health-care organizations. He said he “definitely” thinks the province needs to be involved in the conversation.

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“I think a lot of the rural crime — that they seem a little bit more focused on than they do in the big cities right now — is likely sourced to meth as well. I think this is problem that we have across the province and all of our communities, affecting young people particularly, and certainly hurting our businesses.”

‘More eyes and ears’ needed

McFee said that at the end of the day, “the more eyes and ears we have, the better chance we have of solving some of our problems” when it comes to crime.

“Every community, as you know, in Edmonton is different,” he said. “Some of the issues in different parts of the city are going to be different and that’s OK.

“But when you actually build a plan for the city, you need to know what are some of the drivers, what are some of the things that are leading to some of the behaviour and obviously some of the crime… and it’s important that you get the whole picture from the whole city.”

McFee said he also believes it’s important that his police force shares information about localized crime trends with specific communities so people are more aware of issues in their neighbourhoods.

“The chief has been very clear about, he thinks the community is part of the solution,” Nickel said. “So that’s what we’re going to do.

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“It starts… [with] basic awareness,” he added. “Lock your doors [and] lock your car so you get out of these crimes of opportunity.

Nickel said it’s imperative to make people feel safe in their communities.

“This is what people pay their taxes for and if they don’t feel safe in their neighbourhoods, if they’re constantly in fear of having their stuff broken into or worse, then I’m not doing my job, to be quite honest,” he said.