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Property crime and sexual assaults up in Edmonton: Police Chief

EDMONTON – Edmonton’s police chief, Rod Knecht, is offering an overview of crime in the city, and it certainly seems to be keeping officers busy.

“I know in other jurisdictions they are reporting crime is down. That is certainly not the case here in Edmonton. We continue to be very, very busy,” he says.

But let’s start with a couple of the positives.

For one, since April and especially over the summer months, police have been seeing a lot more support from the public.

“If we’ve asked ‘please help us locate a vehicle, please help us locate an individual,’ we’ve been very successful. The public has called us and responded to those almost with 100 per cent success. We didn’t see that a couple years ago,” Knecht says.

Another piece of good news: violent crime, which police have been focusing on for the past year, is down 6.5 per cent from last year – that’s the equivalent of just under 300 crimes.

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“When we focus on one area it’s like grabbing Jell-O, you get a chunk of the Jell-O – so we’re getting the violence,” the Chief says. “But what’s squeezing out of our fingers, quite frankly, is property crime.”

Property crime

Property crimes is up 13.1 per cent over last year, which means close to 1,000 more crimes. Knecht says that theft from and of vehicles, especially certain models, makes up a significant chunk of that.

He is reminding people not to leave any valuables visible in your vehicle, not even change.

“They’re breaking into a car, and causing $1,000 damage to steal a loonie…thats what’s contributing to a lot of the break-ins in vehicles.”

Sexual assault and Domestic Violence

These two areas are also seeing increases, with sexual assault cases up 39 per cent since 2008.

“That’s a huge increase,” Knecht admits.

He explains that some of that may be due to more people coming forward to report sexual assaults. Over a weekend, Knecht says there will typically be six or seven serious sexual assaults a night.

“And sexual assaults, we know, are significantly under-reported,” he adds.

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Domestic violence, meanwhile, has seen an increase of 17 per cent over last year. And it seems to be a problem that permeates all levels of society.

“There’s no particular economic group, there’s no particular area of the city, it’s no particular age group,” Knecht says. “It’s a real mixed group across the city. I don’t think any particular group escapes domestic violence, quite frankly.”

“The challenge for us specific in these two crimes that are going up and that have a significant impact on the community and families and children is…they happen behind closed doors. They happen out of the view of the public. But we know, family members, neighbours, others are aware of this…and they’re not being reported.”

Knecht says over the next year, sexual assault and domestic violence will be two areas that police will be focusing on.

Increased amount of calls, tight resources

There have been about 3,500 more calls this year than last year, and Knecht says police are struggling to keep up – especially when resources are tight.

He believes that some of those resources could be freed up at hospitals. For instance, on a Saturday, he says there can be about six officers waiting with three patients, sometimes for up to 14 hours.

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“Those are six police officers that should be out on the street – keeping people safe – basically babysitting,” says Knecht. “You don’t need a fully trained officer with a gun and a badge babysitting someone waiting for a health professional.”

A three-month survey which  began August 1st will look at just how much time officers are regularly spending waiting at hospitals. From it, recommendations may be made for other alternatives, such as replacing the police officers with peace officers.

Repeat Offenders

According to Knecht, a big part of what keeps police as busy as they are, is dealing with what he calls “prolific offenders.” He says this group makes up about 80 per cent of the people police deal with.

“A very recent example, I’m going to say two weeks ago, a person committed had three robberies and he was released at 11 o’clock in the morning, and 3 o’clock in the afternoon he commits another robbery. So we’re seeing lots of that. And…it’s a bit demoralizing for our police officers because they feel they’re on this carousel of dealing with the same people over and over again.”

He also understands it’s frustrating for the public, and hopes it’s an issue that can be worked on with the justice system.

Elder Abuse

Police are also trying to tackle elder abuse, which they say is growing every day. To help deal with it, the Edmonton Police Service has formed a dedicated Elder Abuse Unit. Over the course of six months last year, the unit investigated 47 files.

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By next year, police are hoping to have four detectives working on these cases.

Other stats (provided by EPS):

  • Two less homicides (16) so far in 2013, 63 per cent of which have been solved (as compared to 56 per cent solved last year)
  • 3,105 distracted driving tickets issued between January 1st and August 19th of this year, (compared to 2,970 tickets issued in 2012)
  • Over the last 10 years, the incarceration of Aboriginal people has increased by 53 per cent in the federal prison system, compared to a 9.6 per cent increase from the rest of the population. Aboriginal people are also twice as likely to become victims of violent crimes and seven times more likely to become the victim of a homicide. Since Edmonton’s urban Aboriginal population is the second highest in the country, and is projected to be the highest over the next two to four years, the EPS has recently formed an Aboriginal Relations Unit, consisting of one civilian and a police officer. They consider the unit to be an important part of their Violence Reduction Strategy.

With files from Laurel Clark, Global News

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