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‘A year we have nothing to compare to’: Calgary police chief reflects on 2020

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Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld reflects on some of the challenges for officers in 2020 in what he calls "a year where we have nothing to compare to." – Dec 29, 2020

COVID-19 forced the Calgary Police Service to adapt its delivery of services in 2020 and created challenges never seen before when it came to enforcement, keeping staff safe and balancing the budget.

Along with dealing with the pandemic, the public perception of the CPS and its forces was pushed to the forefront in light of the death of George Floyd.

Black Lives Matter demonstrations were carried out in the city and anti-racist hearings at city hall highlighted serious concerns from citizens regarding their faith in the service and feeling safe and protected in Calgary.

Read more: COVID-19 — Nearly half of Calgary’s health-measure fines handed out in past week

Gun violence remained high in Calgary in 2020 as the homicide numbers nearly doubled from the year before. The Calgary police dealt with higher call volumes for domestic-related incidents but the violence related to those calls was down, which signalled that perhaps people were calling police before domestic-related incidents escalated to violence.

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COVID-19 forces Calgary police to adapt

In the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Calgary, police chief Mark Neufeld said the service was forced into a balancing act.

Neufeld said CPS tried to figure out how to adapt services, keep officers safe and also deal with a financial loss attributed to a virus that kept people in their homes.

“When there’s no cars on the road and people aren’t travelling to work, there’s an impact to the city budget that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen coming,“ said Neufeld. “We ended up absorbing in 2020 about $11.7 million that wasn’t realized.”

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Enforcement in the first wave of the pandemic in Alberta focused on educating people rather than handing out tickets and fines.

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Approximately 50 tickets total were handed out, but Neufeld said by the time the numbers climbed in the second wave, enforcement presented new challenges.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw issued a letter to police chiefs across the province asking for help in enforcing new restrictions.

Read more: Judge dismisses application to have some of Alberta’s COVID-19 restrictions suspended

“Some folks simply don’t agree that the public health restrictions are lawful or constitutional,“ said Neufeld. “They don’t want to be educated in that regard.”

Neufeld said as Calgary police look forward to 2021, enforcing COVID-19 restrictions continues to be an issue that the organization is assessing.

Anti-racist hearings highlight concern that Calgarians don’t feel safe in the city

The death of Floyd, a Black American man who died at the hands of police in Minneapolis in May, brought calls for police reform across North America.

In Calgary, more than 1,500 people protested in the streets against racism and police brutality.

“When we saw our own citizens from Calgary marching in our city and our own citizens going into our municipal buildings to talk about their experience with police, that forced us to step back and have a look,” Neufeld said.

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City council debated reallocating $20 million over the span of two years from the police budget to address service gaps.

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Calgary police chief discusses priorities for 2021 – Dec 29, 2020

“It’s a long-term commitment to working with the community to better understand what is driving those experiences and the fact that a portion of our community is telling us that they don’t feel safe with the police service. As long as that’s the case here in Calgary, that’s going to be a problem for us.”

The city ended up taking $8 million out of reserve funds with the CPS, contributing $2 million to take a look at improving and finding alternative call responses.

Neufeld acknowledged that using money from reserves was a welcome surprise and doesn’t change the organization’s commitment to addressing anti-racism in Calgary.

Shootings, domestic violence and homicide numbers continue to be problems

Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal created a public task force as a result of an alarming number of violent crimes in Calgary in 2019 and numbers continued to rise in 2020.

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In 2019, Calgary recorded 89 shootings and in early December 2020, the city was on track to surpass that number, with officers responding to 100 calls.

Read more: Calgary shootings on par for highest numbers in 5 years, police chief says

Neufeld said he believes that while the numbers remain concerning, thanks to the work of investigators, many of the shootings weren’t attributed to gang culture.

“Big driver this year was conflict between individuals and groups but not necessarily attributable to organized crime,” he said.

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Domestic violence calls also increased in 2020 but Neufeld said what was perplexing was that the number that involved violence was down.

“We’re trying to figure out what’s going on in a year where we have nothing to compare to.”

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Neufeld said on average, officers responded to 55 calls a day and 80 per cent of them didn’t involve violence.

He said CPS has been working to try and determine to what to attribute the decline.

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