Gun violence, workplace culture and budget issues all made for a busy 2019 for Calgary’s police chief.
Mark Neufeld was sworn in as Calgary’s top cop in June of 2019. He sat down with Global News for a look at the past six months and ahead to 2020 for the Calgary Police Service.
On being new to the role, Neufeld said there were many expected and unexpected hurdles he walked into. He knew workplace culture was an issue. It had been in the media.
While that was on his radar, the money issues surrounding city budget cuts and a new UCP government were not.
“There was a four-year budget approved and then certainly the environment has driven a bunch of changes provincially and municipally.”
Neufeld says while CPS has come out of it in a good place, it took away from what he would have rather focused on.
“We did absorb a $7-million cut, probably two-thirds of the way into 2019, that was in relation to the 2019 municipal budget. Then we had the provincial budget 2020 and municipal budget 2020. All of that meant that we were spending a lot of time looking at different cutback scenarios at a time when we had a lot of priority issues to be looking at out in the community.
“So a bit of a distraction. I’m happy to say that it looks like that’s over now for a while and we can get back to the business that most impacts Calgarians.”
Neufeld, says the budget process did allow for an opportunity to get to know members of the Calgary Police Commission, city council and UCP government members.
“That was time well spent.”
2019 was a year of gun violence. Neufeld says there’s been a resurgence and something needs to be done about it. The number of firearm incidents are alarmingly higher than in 2018.
“Certainly we’ve seen a concentration of gun violence in the northeast. It’s a huge issue for us. The root causes tend to be around drug culture, gangs and conflict between groups.”
“We feel like there’s way too much of this and into 2020 we are re-evaluating our strategies and are looking at re-upping what we are doing.”
Neufeld says the public is worried about gun violence and he can understand why. The focus for CPS in 2020 around gun violence will include looking at prevention management and intervention.
Officers will also continue to investigate incidents that have already happened.
“I think we have seen some successes around that in the recent past. Lots of arrests where guns have been taken off the street recently.”
The issues surrounding workplace culture within the Calgary police force continue but Neufeld says it’s widespread.
“I ask other leaders around the police universe, as well as just public sector leaders, about their workplace because I’m interested in knowing whether there’s some uniqueness about ours or whether this is the workplace of the 21st Century.
“I’m often times pleased to hear a lot of other public sector workers are dealing with the very same issues. I think we do have a uniqueness around ours, being first responders and all the things that go with that around the workplace stresses and demands, but I think that just puts an onus on us to be a little bit more diligent.”
Neufeld says when he started the job, he had to learn what the issues were “because when you talk about things like culture and workforce, HR modernization, or bullying and harassment, you need to understand what it is you are actually targeting.”
He says the service did need to evolve its practices around conflict management.
“I think what we had been doing was being focused on a crisis model,” which Neufeld says was not intentional.
“What was happening is that we were reacting to things after conflict had become entrenched. So, we have kind of moved back a little bit and we are trying to do a lot more proactive work and education work.”
Neufeld says the work environment is a demanding and stressful one, and when you combine that with a diverse workforce, you’ve got a recipe of ingredients where conflict can happen.
Calgary’s supervised consumption site made many headlines in 2019 for increased crime surrounding it and people living in the area wanting something done about it.
The Sheldon M. Chumir Centre on 4th Street SW was put in place to deal with the opioid crisis, as two people die every day in Alberta as a result of it, on average.
But Neufeld says methamphetamine is driving a lot of crime and violence, not just in Calgary but across North America.
When it comes to crime levels going up around the safe consumption site, Neufeld says a lot of them are preventable crimes, like valuables being stolen from inside vehicles.
“We have extra resources down in that area, to deal with the calls for issues and disorder issues down there. But that’s only one aspect of the problem. There’s the whole piece around addiction and around mental health and how we get people off of that system.”
When Neufeld was sworn in as chief, he said he wanted to put a focus on domestic violence. He still wants to because of how big of an issue it is in the city but has had to deal with other priorities first.
“With all the things we have been dealing with over the past six months, we haven’t brought out any particular initiatives around that. We will be looking at it for 2020 but we have had our hands full with all the demands.”
Neufeld does say CPS already has a great system in place to deal with domestic violence; one that other cities look up to.
When asked about his goals for the Calgary Police Service in 2020, the chief says reducing gun violence is one of the biggest priorities.
“I want to bring those numbers down for 2020.”
Neufeld also has some internal business to take care of.
“In early 2020 I’m looking at filling the deputy chief positions that are vacant right now and finalizing the senior management team.
“Because we’ve had a number of changeovers in leadership in recent years, I think there’s a need to crystallize the vision and priorities for the police service.
“I think most of our folks are looking for clear direction around that.”
Neufeld also says human resource reform and workplace culture is ongoing work that will continue through 2020.
Overall, Neufeld is looking to 2020 optimistically, despite the demands.
“We certainly have a great police service in Calgary, we have great people that are committed to our community, and so I think we are in a good place.”