Calgary Police Service Chief Mark Neufeld said 2021 will go down as a “tumultuous” year in the history books, as he and the force’s senior leadership delivered their annual report to a city committee on Thursday.
The city’s community development committee heard the police service faced many challenges over the last year, which began with the death of Sgt. Andrew Harnett.
According to Neufeld, continued impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, a rise in violent crime, staffing issues and a heavier workload contributed to a significant decline in employee morale in 2021.
“We really saw things start to turn back to pre-pandemic levels at a time when we had a tired and frustrated workforce,” Neufeld said.
“Notwithstanding the challenges that we navigated during that period of time, our folks stepped up in ways with grit and determination to continue to deliver those services.”
Although crime and calls for service trended below the five-year average in Calgary, the police service noted increases in reports of disorder and firearm related crime, which increased 29 per cent over 2020.
Commercial robberies also reached a six-year high with pharmacies, cannabis and cell phone stores reported as key targets.
“That involved young people, and we really need to put some focus there along with community to make sure we’re trying to keep people away from those types of crimes,” Neufeld said.
“Obviously those are very serious crimes, we’re seeing an alarming amount of violence with those.”
The report showed 13,826 violent crime incidents reported in 2021, which is the second highest in the last decade and only second to 2019.
Recruitment and hiring also saw an increase in 2021, with the addition of 110 sworn and 68 civilian members to the police service.
CPS also noted a nine per cent increase in applicants in 2021. The report said the service held a third of its recruitment events for people from diverse and racialized groups to increase diversity on its staff.
Neufeld told the committee that CPS was progressing on some of its anti-racism work, that included the staffing of an office of respect and inclusion; the report said its mandate is to ensure staff have a safe and accessible place to report harassment and concerns in the workplace.
According to Neufeld, CPS continues to work on race-based data collection, which included engagement with community and other stakeholders such as Statistics Canada.
“Who members thought they were dealing with is important, but also it’s important to ask somebody how they identify,” Neufeld said.
“We know not everybody will want to identify, and they’re under no obligation to do so, but I also think that a lot of people will.”
Marilyn North Peigan, who sits on the Calgary Police Commission, said race-based data will be important to help guide direction in the service.
“These are the structures that people see as power structures, so we need to start changing those structures into something that is visible for the citizens,” she said. “With that, we need the data, but it’s not there.”
Peigan said city council must work to advocate changes to provincial legislation to improving access to that data.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek questioned North Peigan on whether the service could avoid “data dumping,” and an information overload to improve communication.
It’s something she said she noticed on her time on the Calgary Police Commission while on the previous council.
“Do something with the data, analyze it and come back to us with recommendations on what you’ve changed or what you’d want commission to direct as a change,” Gondek said.
Peigan said there is work to ensure reports evolve moving forward to help improve understanding and communication.
She suggested a meeting between city council, police commission and police to address these concerns and to help get context behind the data.
Neufeld and police senior leadership addressed committee virtually from Calgary police headquarters, and the presentation included several audio issues inside council chambers.
Ward 11 councillor and committee chair, Kourtney Penner, said police officials are welcome to attend meetings inside council chambers at city hall.
She said meeting face-to-face with CPS officials could be helpful in addressing any potential communication breakdown between the city, commission and police.
“We have a motto as a city: one city, one voice,” Penner said. “I don’t think our police should be exempt from that.”