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‘We’ll be OK’: Edmonton police chief talks tough budget, technology and edibles in year-end interview

Edmonton police chief on first year
WATCH: Edmonton's police chief is reassuring citizens that front-line services won't change despite budget cuts. Chief Dale McFee spoke to Breanna Karstens-Smith in Part 1 of his year-end interview.

Dale McFee, chief of the Edmonton Police Service, sat down with Global News on Monday for a year-end interview.

The lengthy talk with Breanna Karstens-Smith covered a variety of issues. Below are excerpts from the conversation.

Breanna Karstens-Smith: Thank you so much for doing this. It’s a tradition that we’re really glad is continuing moving into your first full year as chief. Let’s start there. Talk about that first year.

Dale McFee: Something that you learn early on [is] you’ve got to understand the organization before you can make any kind of changes. We put a lot of time and effort into that. And one thing I can say though is: phenomenal organization. Lots of talent, lots of great men and women both sworn and civilian. So it’s not like you’re starting at ground zero. But I was brought in, obviously, by the commission to do some things differently and protect the things we’re good at.

BKS: So what’s the priority?

DM: We’re going to focus on getting more bodies into our patrol function, our front-line services.

But equally as important, we’re going to put a lot more people into our new bureau of community safety and well-being and that’s designed to take stuff out of the system and that’s, in large part, a lot of our vulnerable population.

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That’s a lot of work on the mental health and addiction side of the house, that’s a lot of work on the domestic violence, some of the things around housing, homeless, poverty, all those things. But I think we’re the perfect entity that can lead the change.

Edmonton must do better job helping city’s vulnerable: police chief
Edmonton must do better job helping city’s vulnerable: police chief

I think in the last several months here you’ve seen more guns and drugs taken off the streets than we have in a long time. That’s intentionally. But at the same time, there’s so many good stories going on right now with my officers and people that are connecting some of the homeless to housing, they’re working on getting some of the people into services on the mental health side. That’s what we’re going to see more of in 2020.

READ MORE: Edmonton police budget taking $5M hit due to Alberta budget

BKS: It’s hard to do that when you’re presented with the challenge that you were this year from the provincial budget, an operating budget shortfall of between $5- and $10 million. You’ve had about a month now to sort of look at that, reflect. So where is that money going to come from or where are you going to make up for that shortfall?

DM: You know what, we’ll be OK. We’re really going to align from the value and impact perspective.

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I think, you know, in this particular space, is it difficult? Yeah. But it’s kind of like Churchill said… People, we are out of money, now we have to think, right?

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One thing that the city council did, and I give them a lot of credit because I hadn’t seen it, I knew about it when I got here… They put a four-year budgeting formula in place that, as long as it doesn’t get tweaked too much more, I think we have some lead-way to divert and re-think, rewire some of our resources and some of those things.

We’re looking for the commitment of other partners in who we can work with to actually drive better outcomes for our citizens.

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City of Edmonton explains its multi-agency approach to dismantling homeless camps

BKS: So are you confident that we’ll be able to avoid cuts, layoffs, those sorts of things?

DM: One hundred per cent, you know, at this point in time. And thank goodness city council, I think they made a good decision. We’ve, you know, the money that we have to find, the $5 million this year, obviously that’s no small number but we will find that and we will make sure that it doesn’t impact our front-line services.

READ MORE: Edmonton police budget at razor-thin tipping point after cuts

BKS: We’ve seen so much property crime in Edmonton. It’s everything from graffiti to people walking up and checking unlocked vehicles. Talk about how we start to combat that.

DM: We need to use better technology, we need better use of video. Most businesses have video now, how do we do that in real time?

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We need to use the open data, we need to make sure that we’re creating the space where people can call in and we can actually use some video not only to solve it but also prevent it, right?

Crimes of opportunity are still our biggest problem in property crime, whether it’s a stolen vehicle, stolen bike or, you know, stolen mail is another one that we can actually start to be more proactive on and we will in 2020.

Police express concerns about cannabis edible legalization
Police express concerns about cannabis edible legalization

BKS: We’ve seen it already this year, cannabis coming into the public and as of Dec. 17, edibles can start coming out. Are you concerned about that?

DM: The edibles is the only piece and the impaired driving are the only two things I’ve been concerned about. I don’t think we even saw the impaired driving. Any intoxicant or drug that’s going to impair you is a concern to me. The edibles, more so on the kids. But, you know, at the end of the day, marijuana has been in existence for a lot of years.

And there’s going to be the people that choose to use it and the people that to not, just like alcohol.

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And I don’t think it’s going to have the significant impact.

READ MORE: Cannabis edibles found in child’s Halloween treats in Coldbrook, N.S., say RCMP

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But I think we need to be aware because of the kids. And edibles, you know, something, you start eating and you don’t know what it’s going to do to you. You could put yourself in a vulnerable situation. So those are a bit of a concern. But it’s just like what we talked about: if I had to compare that to meth right now, it’s not even on the same scale.

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Edmonton’s police chief says city needs to address growing meth problem

BKS: Let’s end on a positive note. Tell me about your family traditions. What do you guys do?

DM: We usually get together, I’ve got three daughters. Everybody gets a new pair of PJs the night before. That’s kind of our pre-Christmas. Have a couple warm drinks. And then Christmas morning’s usually early and we open up. This year’s going to be a little different. I’m to the age now, or my daughters are to the age now where they’ve got serious boyfriends and we’ve been pretty spoiled because we’ve had them, so this year they’re going to go, so we’re going to do it a couple days earlier.

It’s knowing how to split your time and we can’t be the selfish people we once were and it’s understood. But really it’s just a matter of more who you spend it with and sharing some laughs and some good food and, you know, trying to put your feet up a little bit.

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BKS: Chief, thank you for doing this, I really appreciate this.