With the unanimous support of council, the City of Edmonton will start a three-year pilot program aimed at improving safety in and around Edmonton Transit Service transit stations.
“We know that transit is a major priority, but in order to get that ridership up, we really need to make sure people are feeling safe and comfortable,” explained Ward Metis Coun. Ashley Salvador.
In a presentation to council on Thursday, Edmonton’s city manager Andre Corbould said in 2021, Edmonton’s transit peace officers were busy responding to more than 52,000 incidents.
In a recent survey, Corbould said 78 per cent of current bus and LRT riders said they were satisfied with their safety — down five per cent from 2015.
Meanwhile, Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee said the average crime severity is 12 per cent higher at LRT and bus stations compared to the citywide average.
McFee listed a number of crimes being reported by transit users, including personal robberies, assaults and weapon-related offences. Users have also reported open drug use on transit.
A $3.9-million plan aims to address the problems by adding three more community outreach transit teams — pairs of workers from Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society and peace officers. They patrol the transit systems together.
“It’s not just about enforcement, but it’s about connecting people with the supports and services they need,” Salvador said.
Edmonton currently has two of those teams. Working Monday to Friday since September, they’ve helped 800 people. The pilot project will increase their capacity.
“There is merit to working beyond these hours, especially on weekends, as many supports are more difficult to access during those times,” said Cheryl Whiskeyjack, Bent Arrow’s executive director.
Funding for the new teams will come from previously withheld police funds, pandemic response dollars and the city’s financial stabilization reserve.
“We want to make sure we’re dealing with those perceptions of safety now, and I think this is a way to see that immediate action that has maybe been missing for a while,” Salvador said.
She added it’s also important for the city to address the root causes of things like homelessness, mental health struggles and addictions.