A rash of suspicious deaths and violent crimes over the past 24 hours in central Edmonton has the police chief pulling resources from other areas of the city in order to crack down on the violence.
“Two people lost their lives and and there’s a whole bunch of other serious stuff in relation to that,” Chief Dale McFee said Thursday afternoon at city hall after speaking at an Edmonton Police Commission meeting.
Between Wednesday night and Thursday morning McFee said there were two suspicious deaths in Chinatown that are believed to be related, a brazen shooting outside a pub near Jasper Avenue, a pedestrian collision and a stabbing at the Bay-Enterprise LRT station, in addition to other lesser crimes and calls officers responded to.
One of the people who died was a man who was attacked late Wednesday afternoon at an autobody shop near 106 Avenue and 98 Street in Chinatown.
Police responded to the aggravated assault around 4 p.m. The injured 64-year-old man was taken in serious, life-threatening condition to hospital, where he died Thursday.
A 36-year-old suspect was arrested after witnesses told police what had happened.
While investigating that attack, police were made aware of another incident a block south, at 105 Avenue and 98 Street.
When officers got there, another injured man was found. EMS responded and the 61-year-old man was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy on his body is scheduled for Friday.
Homicide detectives have taken over the suspicious death investigations and a news release on Thursday said the suspect in custody is believed to have been involved in both incidents. Charges are pending, police said.
Global News spoke to the owner of the autobody shop, who said the attack at their business happened after the one a block south, where a man was reportedly assaulted inside an electronics store.
Edmonton police were unable to confirm that location.
The shop owner said it was one of his employees who was attacked, adding the painter was going to retire next year.
There was also an stabbing and shooting in the same area of Jasper Avenue within an hour-and-a-half of each other later in the night, police said.
Two people were injured in the stabbing incident around 10:30 p.m. at the Bay/Enterprise Square LRT Station at 104 Street and Jasper Avenue.
Officers said a woman was taken to hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries after she was stabbed. A man also suffered minor injuries, but police said he did not appear to have been stabbed. He was not taken to hospital.
Then around midnight, there was also a shooting outside a bar in that area.
Police said officers responded to a weapons complaint around 12:10 a.m. at 101 Avenue and 104 Street. Two people reportedly got into an argument outside the bar, and one of them shot the other before running away.
The victim was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and as of late Thursday afternoon, police said the suspect has not been found.
“You can just imagine how we’re spinning our wheels running call to call to call,” McFee said. To that end, starting next week, officers will be moved from other divisions to downtown to increase police visibility.
“So it might mean some short-term pain. We’ll try to obviously track what it does to the other areas of the city because although downtown is a percentage of our calls, we have other areas that are really busy in the city too.”
McFee said police have heard from businesses about open drug use and violence in central Edmonton.
“It’s been something, obviously, that’s been a concern for a long time,” he said. “And we have a disproportionate number of resources in and out of (downtown) all the time, and we’ve seen it escalate.”
McFee said the reason for the uptick in crime isn’t tied to just one factor and added he believes the pandemic has exacerbated existing problems.
“The COVID thing, I think, has really highlighted and isolated the actual issue that we’ve probably had for years,” he said.
“And when I say downtown, when you look at kind of the pattern of traffic, we have to be inclusive that 118 (Avenue) area, we have to be inclusive of McCauley and Chinatown and downtown.”
McFee said there have been issues with social disorder and crime for a long time and both need to be addressed. He acknowledged some progress is being made, but the violence downtown needs to be addressed more immediately.
It isn’t all on police to figure out the issues plaguing downtown Edmonton, McFee said, citing how Edmonton Fire Rescue has authority over blazes at derelict properties, housing authorities address homeless encampments and EMS takes the lead on public health issues.
“We need these folks as a collective team figuring out how we make this better,” the police chief said. “And I think we can get there because we’ve got a lot of good things going.”
Chinatown and Area Business Association executive director Wen Wang was overwhelmed while trying to speak about the deaths on Thursday afternoon.
“It’s very sad,” he said before choking up with tears.
“We have asked for help for years. I don’t remember how many times.”
Wang spoke out earlier this year. He said the community’s calls for more security and cleaner streets were not being answered and businesses were fed up.
After years of dealing with crime, social disorder and a perceived lack of police support, business owners said there was no hope for Chinatown.
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he was devastated by the deaths and sent his condolences to the families of the people who died on Wednesday.
“I have heard Chinatown’s calls for increased safety measures, and will be working with the community and EPS to find immediate solutions, following my motion that passed on Monday to allocate funding and resources to Chinatown and the downtown core,” he said in a statement Thursday.
The latest violence comes as the police budget was up for discussion at a city committee meeting on Wednesday.
The previous city council essentially froze the EPS budget and took away a $22-million budget increase, putting it towards community safety initiatives.
Now the current council is deciding what to do and has outlined three options:
- Create the police budget annually, like most other city departments
- Create a new, revised multi-year funding formula (potentially tied to police performance)
- Keep EPS budget frozen (or reduce it) and make the long-term funding decision later
McFee said he is still digesting that, adding he’s not sure he’s ever seen anything like it.
“Well, it’s all based on money. It’s not asking, ‘What do you actually need to do the job?’ It’s based on money.”
He said EPS and the police commission didn’t get a chance to sit down to discuss what standards of safety look like.
“The reality is, there’s a fulsome discussion needed here to actually (address) what’s happening,” McFee said, adding there are some misunderstandings on what police are legally mandated to do, such as traffic enforcement.
Wang said any cuts to the EPS budget go against the community’s interests in improving safety in Chinatown.
— With files from Caley Gibson and Emily Mertz, Global News