For the first time ever, volunteer-led, donation-run Crime Stoppers is getting funding from the government of Alberta.
The province announced Wednesday it would spend $850,000 over the next three years to support Crime Stoppers’ work — $350,000 this year and $500,000 over the next two years.
Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said the decision was made “heeding the advice” of RCMP and local police departments and chiefs.
Shandro said that in 2020, Crime Stoppers’ four Alberta chapters handled 18,000 tips which led to 400 arrests, 1,724 charges and the recovery of more than $4 million in cash, drugs and stolen property.
Until now, Crime Stoppers has relied on donations and fundraising.
The not-for-profit group started in Calgary in 1982 and asks Albertans to provide police with anonymous information about crime or potential crime.
“For the first time ever, our government will provide Crime Stoppers with direct funding to continue its historic work,” Shandro said, adding Crime Stoppers works with local police services and also conducts public education.
Edmonton police chief Dale McFee said citizens are the “eyes and the ears” of the community and that “no one is more invested” in a community’s safety and well-being than the people who live there.
“Crime Stoppers is a valuable resource for the Edmonton Police Service. Thanks to this partnership, they have become integral in assisting our service in solving crimes in our communities. Their collaboration is fundamental to our success.”
Mark Holik, director of Alberta Crime Stoppers, said the grant will provide unique opportunities for the group.
“We are a volunteer-led organization that has, until now, solely relied on private funding from individuals and businesses.”
Holik said Crime Stoppers will continue to fundraise in order to pay out tip rewards.
“We work closely with law enforcement across the province, however, we have always been a separate entity from the police,” Holik said. “Our mission is to help solve and prevent crime by providing anonymous tip reporting online, through our app or by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS. We also provide education and crime-specific initiatives to Alberta communities.”
Shandro said the government funding will allow Crime Stoppers to continue the work it does. The group helps not just in responding to crime, McFee said, but also prevention.
“It’s used every day for prevention and intervention in solving crime,” the police chief said. “It’s just another mechanism. And being anonymous, it just makes it easy.
“Crime Stoppers has been a proven entity for many years, as you’ve heard from the results, and certainly it can be used more frequently in some cases,” McFee said. “Any information that we can increase on the front end of an investigation saves time and gets better outcomes.”
A lot of the questions during the question-and-answer portion of the news conference were about the two violent attacks in Edmonton’s Chinatown on May 18, which left two men dead and sparked calls for action from the community.
In a message on Twitter before the news conference, Shandro wrote: “Last week, Hung Trang and Ban Phuc Hoang were murdered. Hundreds of people from Chinatown are now demanding accountability from the City of Edmonton. Cutting Edmonton police (funding) in the midst of a violent crime wave doesn’t make sense.”
During the news conference, Shandro said repeatedly that it’s up to city councils to ensure local police services are funded properly.
“Especially when we have a municipality that has increases in violent crime, it’s up to our municipalities.
“We as a province are providing half a billion dollars in funding to our police services in the province. We need our municipalities to step up and make sure that the municipal police services have the resources they need to respond.”
Edmonton Councillor Aaron Paquette said he’d prefer less politics and more collaboration with the province.
“The irony is the majority of disorder in the city of Edmonton has to do with homelessness, addiction and mental health, which are all within the purview the provincial government,” the Ward Dene representative said.
“As a city, we’re doing everything we can, using taxpayers’ money — basically property tax — to cover the gaps left by the money they’re already paying to the Alberta government for these services which they’re simply not getting.”
Paquette said providing health care isn’t the role of the municipality.
“What we need is funding from the province for housing, for addictions support, for mental support, we need to solve these things, but we also need some funding for police services… The province did reduce the amount of money police services are getting across the province, and we need that restored.”
NDP Justice Critic Irfan Sabir responded to the $850,000 Crime Stoppers announcement.
“Addressing this increase in crime will require a wide range of approaches that includes law enforcement, collaboration with all orders of government, support for mental health and addictions, housing, and court resources.
“However, the UCP has made deep cuts to the justice department budget, wrap-around supports and affordable housing for several years. They have also increased barriers to accessing mental health and addiction support, and failed to hire more prosecutors.
“On every factor that drives violent crime, the UCP has made the situation in Alberta worse.”
When asked how the province was providing supports to address these systemic issues, Shandro replied: “in many different ways.”
“Our provincial government has been investing incredibly, particularly over the last two years, when we’ve seen our response to the pandemic, in supports that are required in our community.
He said the province was working on the entire spectrum of response to recovery and addiction, “stepping up as a province and taking residential treatment services and… making it publicly funded and having all these beds available in Alberta to people who need it.
“It is a health service,” Shandro said.
Paquette also pointed out that city council has been considering how best to allocate resources when talking about an appropriate police funding formula.
“In my mind, the conversation was never about cutting funding to police; it was about increasing funding to social programs in the city in order to reduce the causes and determinants of crime and disorder.
“We should have a well-funded police and we should have well-funded social programs,” Paquette said.
“What we’ve heard from Chief McFee, EPS, from EPC (Edmonton Police Commission), from our city manager and everyone involved in these spheres is that we really need to address these root determinants.
“We’ve got an opioid crisis, a meth crisis on our streets, and these are a direct result of lack of funding for addictions and mental health supports and homelessness,” Paquette said.
On Tuesday, city council approved the Community Safety and Well-being Strategy, and is providing $8.7 million in funding for 11 related projects to address immediate needs for the remainder of 2022.
The strategy has seven pillars: anti-racism; reconciliation; safe and inclusive spaces; equitable policies procedures, standards and guidelines; pathways in and out of poverty; crime prevention and crime intervention; and well-being.
The Community Safety and Well-being Strategy has 10 projects, including support for an Indigenous-led shelter, additional program funding to drug poisoning response, addressing gaps in mental health supports, an integrated call and dispatch centre, and creating Community Safety Peace Officer Training and Professional Standards Centre of Excellence. Click here to find more information on the 10 projects.
“By working together with community, we are taking a more connected and coordinated approach to safety and well-being, and creating a model for collaboration, planning, and action that helps determine how we respond to current and emerging issues,” city manager Andre Corbould said.
Paquette said Wednesday that the strategy includes preventative measures for the medium and long-term. Edmonton is also taking immediate action, he said.
“We’ve increased the number of peace officers, there’s going to be a reallocation of police officers into hot spot areas, and we’ve also increased our COTT program, which pairs peace officers or police officers with social workers. And they go into these areas where people are obviously suffering or dealing with addictions and they help get them to the places they need so we’re not just shuffling them around; we’re taking steps to solve these issues.”
Council also voted to immediately allocate $300,000 in one-time funding to help address the needs of Chinatown.
Several community members, including family members of two men violently killed while at work in Chinatown on Wednesday, spoke to council about the dangers and safety concerns in the area.“Our Chinatown immediately needs support,” said Councillor Jennifer Rice. “As a city, we need to do something.”
McFee confirmed on Wednesday that EPS is increasing its presence downtown.
“We’re going to continue to work towards putting the necessary resources into downtown, the Chinese business community and certainly Arts on the Ave, 118th, as well as the LRT, trying to increase our capacity and, as mentioned, start to get more presence.”
In a news release Tuesday afternoon, the EPS said it is creating a policing strategy called Project Connection that will address increased violence, property and disorder-related incidents in the areas of Alberta Avenue, Chinatown, downtown, as well as on the Edmonton transit system.
The EPS said Phase 1 of the project will see an increased police presence in specific areas within these neighbourhoods, and at specific transit stations:
- 113 Street to 79 Street along 118 Avenue
- 100 Avenue encompassing the Downtown core, Chinatown and Alberta Avenue
- Edmonton transit LRT Stations including Stadium LRT Station, Coliseum LRT Station, Central LRT Station, Churchill LRT Station and the adjacent pedway system
Police hope this will help increase community safety.
“Having been in that room and seeing the grief and with a lot of the people who are struggling in these particularly areas — Chinatown, certainly 118th, and downtown businesses.
“We’re going to figure out what we can move and what we can do in the short term,” McFee said Wednesday. “But I don’t think it would be fair for me to say today exactly what to make that sustainable looks like but that’s something we’re going to be working on in the coming days.”
Edmonton city council is scheduled to meet again on Friday.