Edmonton releases public safety plan requested by Shandro; pushes province for support

Click to play video: 'City of Edmonton releases public safety plan including provincial funding requests'
City of Edmonton releases public safety plan including provincial funding requests
The City of Edmonton has released a public safety plan which was demanded by the province's justice minister. Breanna Karstens-Smith looks at the details, including five pages of provincial funding requests. – Jun 9, 2022

The city has created and made public Edmonton’s Downtown Core and Transit System Safety Plan after a request from Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro.

It outlines 12 recent actions the city has taken to support safety (focusing on public spaces, bylaw, cleanliness, communication and enforcement), four streams of longer-term work, as well as specific requests for support from the provincial government to help address this multi-layered issue.

“Community safety and wellbeing is a shared responsibility,” Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said Thursday.

Read more: Alberta justice minister demands Edmonton mayor create safety plan for downtown and transit

On May 26, the justice minister invoked Section 30 of the Police Act, giving Edmonton’s mayor two weeks to come up with a public safety plan to combat the violence downtown and on transit, and take “direct action to address this alarming situation.”

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Read more: Deaths, violent crimes over 24 hours sees Edmonton police redirect more officers downtown

In the days to follow, city officials said efforts to improve public safety have been in the works for months — even years, in some cases — and that crime and social disorder are closely connected.

Sohi, as well as a number of city councillors, explained that areas of action that help address social disorder — mental health, drug poisoning and addiction, homelessness — are the province’s jurisdiction.

Read more: Edmonton mayor, Alberta justice minister have ‘productive’ meeting about crime and safety

Sohi said the city is doing its best with limited resources.

Edmonton mayor Amarjeet Sohi outlines the city’s public safety plan it submitted to the province on Thursday, June 9, 2022. Global News

“Ever since I was elected, I’ve been raising these issues with the provincial government and have been asking them to step up to help to deal with them. So far, they have neglected these asks,” he said May 26.

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On June 9, the day the public safety plan was due, the city posted it publicly. (Scroll down to read it in its entirety).

Click to play video: 'Mayor  Amarjeet Sohi addresses safety issues in Edmonton'
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi addresses safety issues in Edmonton

“Some of the actions described were well underway before the plan was requested, while others are just getting started,” the city report reads.

It highlights particular initiatives by the city, including:

“These 12 actions are practical steps that make a difference right at the street level,” city manager Andre Corbould said. “They respond to the concerns we’ve heard from Chinatown and downtown communities and transit passengers.”

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According to a city spokesperson, Edmonton has spent about $30 million this fiscal year on downtown and Chinatown initiatives.

“While the Safety Plan confirms that the city has a number of actions underway and strategic approaches to guide future decisions, it also reinforces that all orders of government must work together to respond to these challenges,” the plan states.

“Municipal governments have neither the jurisdiction nor the resources to address houselessness, mental health crises, addictions issues, and criminal justice procedures.

“The plan includes an overview of those areas where leadership, funding and collaboration from other orders of government are required.”

Click to play video: 'City of Edmonton looking at different options to address increase in homelessness'
City of Edmonton looking at different options to address increase in homelessness

In total, the plan asks the Alberta government for action on police funding to municipalities, mental health, drug poisoning and addiction treatment, homeless shelters and supportive housing.

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The city (and EPS, in some cases) asks the province for more than $12 million in specific requests for support to:

  • Increase the per capita allocation in the Municipal Policing Grant to accurately reflect population growth and inflation.
  • Pay the full and current cost of a police officer which it capped in 2008 at $100,000. In 2022, this figure has nearly doubled.

“That has meant the City of Edmonton has had to fill that gap by increasing police funding through increasing property tax,” Sohi said.

  • Immediately increase its mental health investment in a collaborative model, such as the Police and Crisis Response Team (PACT).
    • An existing partnership with Alberta Health Services pairs mental health therapists from Alberta Health Services’ Access 24/7 program with Edmonton Police Service officers to respond to citizens in need of mental health crisis support, consultation, and transportation to designated facilities.
    • Additional funding of $605,000 annually would allow for resources to provide phone services on a 24/7 basis for consultation calls, so that deployed police resources can be fully utilized within the community.
  • Support access to AHS’ Emergency Medical Services’ call for service data for inclusion in the Drug Poisoning Outreach Dashboard.
  • Establish several treatment and recovery facilities throughout Edmonton with ongoing support to help sustain long-term recovery.
  •  $1.4 million annually for converting EPS headquarters’ vacant detainee management unit (in basement) to a transition area for those with an opioid dependency; supporting them with addiction services before being released.
  •  Funding to emergency shelter providers so they can expand the available capacity in the shelter system and implement the city’s Minimum Emergency Shelter Standards.
  •  Immediately provide permanent funding for additional emergency shelter spaces in Edmonton.
  •  Increase Homeward Trust Edmonton’s Outreach and Support Services Initiative (OSSI) funding by $8.9 million ongoing, starting in 2022, and continue to increase it as additional supportive housing comes online (to an estimated total of $24.1 million by 2026).

“We want the province to step up to improve emergency shelter conditions,” Sohi said. “We know that poor and exclusionary shelter standards have contributed to the number of encampments in Edmonton.

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“Currently there are approximately 637 permanently-funded emergency shelter spaces in Edmonton, compared to 1,758 spaces in Calgary. I don’t understand the reason for this discrepancy when both cities are facing similar challenges.”

Sohi said Thursday afternoon he had not spoken directly to the justice minister since submitting the safety plan but hoped to sit down with provincial politicians and staff soon to walk them through the details.

“If our provincial government is really serious about the safety and wellbeing of Edmontonians — and they’re asking us to step up and we have stepped up — I hope they will step up as well.

“I hope that the province will recognize that they have certain responsibilities to Edmontonians and they need to fulfill those responsibilities by investing more in Edmonton — or invest equitably in Edmonton,” the mayor said.

“I have highlighted two areas where we’re not getting even half the support that Calgary is getting: for shelter space, and we’re getting half the support for ending houselessness.

“We’ll see,” Sohi said. “Words matter, but actions should speak louder than words.”

Read more: Alberta harm reduction advocate, drug user challenges government focus on abstinence

Shandro confirmed the plan was submitted to his office Thursday and thanked the city, mayor, Edmonton Police Commission and city council for their work.

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“My office, as well as officials at Alberta Justice and Solicitor General, will begin reviewing the plan immediately,” the minister said in a statement.

“In the meantime, I am encouraged by the constructive discussions I’ve had with Mayor Sohi and the recent steps municipal officials have taken to improve public safety for Edmontonians — including city council’s vote to amend the municipal transit bylaw to ban loitering and drug use on public transit.”

The justice minister’s office told Global News on Thursday that Shandro would not be available for an interview.

A spokesperson for Edmonton police said the service won’t be commenting “as the public safety plan remains an ongoing conversation between the province and council.”

Click to play video: 'Suspicious deaths, violence over 24 hours has Edmonton police redirecting more officers downtown'
Suspicious deaths, violence over 24 hours has Edmonton police redirecting more officers downtown

The Downtown Core and Transit System Safety Plan includes:

Identified Need for a Healthy Streets Operations Centre

  • City and Edmonton Police Service creating operations centre in Chinatown, opening shortly.
  • Multidisciplinary teams (EPS, peace officers and staff from social agencies) can respond in timely and effective manner.
  • Downtown branch of EPS continues to offer walk-in services to community.

Read more: Citizens pack Edmonton council chambers to speak on Chinatown crime, safety and policing

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Increased Police Presence

  • To increase responsiveness in Chinatown and downtown, EPS launched Project Connection on May 24
  • EPS increased focus on identified high-harm and high-disorder areas of Alberta Avenue, Chinatown, downtown core and downtown LRT stations.
  • Communities identified as having historically high levels of victimization and criminality, magnified by COVID-19 pandemic.

Increased Peace Officers

  • As of May 22, the Transit Peace Officer foot patrol teams referred to as Transit Community Action Teams (TCAT), and act as a more consistent presence on LRT and platforms.
  • Teams consist of 11 Transit Peace Officers who work split shifts (7 a.m. and 1 a.m.)
  • As of May 24, the Downtown Peace Officer team was deployed into Chinatown community.
  • In June, other enforcement and community development resources will be deployed into Chinatown for summer.

Amended Conduct of Transit Passengers Bylaw

  • May 27, council asked city administration to bring forward amendments.

Read more: Edmonton amends transit conduct bylaw to address ‘immediate’ safety, criminal, gang concerns

  • Amendments were approved June 8, when council added an additional offence dealing with inappropriate behaviours on transit property that have the effect of interfering with the intended use of transit and negatively affecting perceptions of safety.
  • Amendments strengthen existing rules by confirming that inappropriate use of transit property, such as remaining in transit stations, vehicles, or platforms for long periods of time for purposes unrelated to the use of transit services, is not permitted.
  • Amendment confirms that visible use of illicit substances is not permitted in transit property.
Click to play video: 'Edmonton senior recounts terrifying LRT station encounter near University of Alberta'
Edmonton senior recounts terrifying LRT station encounter near University of Alberta

Increased Response to Encampments and Problem Properties

  • May 9, council increased investment in city’s Encampment Response Team by $860,000 to focus on priority hot spots.
  • Team partners with community agencies, and when notified, helps people find supports and connect to housing.
  • Camps are assessed as low or high risk, with assessment determining the nature of the response.
  • City clean-up crews assigned to clean up encampments once they are closed to reduce public safety risks.
  • April 19, council approved $850,000 on a one-time basis to extend the Community Property Safety Team pilot for up to 18 months.
  • Council approved $915,000 on a one-time basis to enhance dedicated resources for problem properties.
  • Pilot project involves ordering owners to secure vacant properties, and uses an escalating enforcement model that secures vacant properties against break-ins at homeowners’ expense.
  • Pilot project scheduled to run until October 2023

Funded Business Security

  • May 24, council approved $300,000 to address immediate needs of Chinatown.
  • Community told city an effective use of these resources is helping fund new private security resources which coordinate with EPS and peace officers.
  • June 3, administration provided $300,000 grant to Chinatown and Area Business Association to help fund private security.

Funded Community Recovery

  • May 25, city established dedicated Chinatown Recovery Fund, a post-COVID vibrancy fund along the same model as the Downtown Recovery Coalition, and allocated $1 million in funding from the City’s Financial Stabilization Reserve.
  • June 22, 2021, council approved up to $5 million in one time funding towards the Downtown Vibrancy Strategy

Installed Temporary Public Washrooms

  • Administration working with Chinatown and Area Business Association to co-ordinate the installation timing, location and operational plans for a temporary public washroom facility.
  • Builds on the 2022 mobile washroom project, which is installing up to 12 mobile washrooms in high-traffic parks, business districts and event areas.
  • Mobile washroom trailers offer increased and equitable access to safe and clean washroom facilities, and are staffed with attendants from Boyle Street Ventures.

Completed Safety Audits

  • Between 2006 and spring 2022, the Neighbourhood Empowerment Team, EPS, and a private company have completed more than 20 safety audits.
  • NET’s most recent Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) audit was completed in fall 2021 with recommendations provided to Chinatown.
  • Administration will conduct a new audit shortly, will share the results with the Chinatown and Area Business Association and other stakeholders upon completion, and will prepare an implementation plan.

Increased Cleaning in Parks, Roads and Alleys

  • May 2022, administration has enhanced its cleanup and servicing activities downtown and in the Chinatown area.
  • Patrols for loose litter and general waste including hazardous materials (e.g. needles or fecal matter) were increased from weekly to daily throughout all streets in the Chinatown area.
  • Includes power washing of public amenities as needed.
  • Lighting, furniture and public amenities are being assessed and repaired across the downtown and the Chinatown areas
Click to play video: 'Alberta harm reduction advocates criticize latest opioid numbers: ‘It’s far too early to really celebrate’'
Alberta harm reduction advocates criticize latest opioid numbers: ‘It’s far too early to really celebrate’

Funded Opioid Prevention and Response

  • May 31, the city, Downtown Business Association and Boyle Street Community Services announced they are piloting a new program called Overdose Prevention and Response Teams (OPRTs) to help prevent and respond to drug poisonings in Edmonton.
  • Pilot runs May to September 2022 and includes a city-funded Downtown Vibrancy grant of $195,000.
  • Teams consist of trained medical professionals and outreach workers that will provide drug poisoning prevention and response throughout the downtown pedway system and surrounding streets.

Increased Communications and Co-ordination with Businesses and Social Agencies

  • As of May 24, city employees and bylaw officers directly engaging with business owners and informing them of support available to clean up both public areas in front of their businesses and private property.

Upcoming Actions

  • City and Chinatown community representatives to develop a Community Enhancement Plan, including streetscape improvements
  • City administration will work with community to assist with prevention of encampment set ups and infrastructure improvements
  • Plan to decentralize social services
    • Five-year plan to redistribute social services from Chinatown and downtown to other appropriate areas of the city.
    • Collaboration with partner agencies and the provincial government
  • Advocate to provincial and federal governments to:
    • Adopt minimum shelter standards and provide increased support for permanent supportive housing;
    • Better support vulnerable populations;
    • Stop discharging health patients into houselessness
    • Stop releasing people from provincial remand and correctional facilities into houselessness
    • Limit pharmacy concentration in Chinatown.

Downtown Core and Transit Safety Plan by Emily Mertz on Scribd

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