The past year was a year that saw COVID-19 protests and restrictions both ease, and gun violence and transit safety topped many news headlines.
Calgary Police Service Chief Mark Neufeld sat down with Global Calgary anchor Dallas Flexhaug to look back at the biggest challenges facing CPS in 2022 and to look ahead to what’s next for Calgary police in 2023.
As of Dec. 19, there have been 123 shootings in Calgary in 2022, up from 95 over the same period last year. The five-year average sits around 73.
Of the 25 homicides in the city this year, 14 of them have involved the use of firearms.
Neufeld said the city has not seen this level of violence since 2015, but, back then, the crimes could mostly be attributed to open gang violence. This year, only 25 per cent of the shootings in the city can be directly-linked to organized crime. The rest are from different motivations like domestic violence, road rage or drug disputes. The police chief said the varying reasons make it more difficult to police and prevent shootings.
“We continue to look at the look at the sample size that we have, to see if there’s any discernible patterns — the focus right now is on that.”
Neufeld also said CPS has “identified individuals who we know were involved in high risk activities, who have a propensity to carry weapons and to shoot in urban environments,” which he believes is making a difference.
“What we have seen in the fourth quarter (of 2022) is that the pace of shootings has slowed down. I think it is trending in a good direction as we move towards 2023”.
Crime on Calgary Transit this year is well above the three-year average. In the second quarter of 2022, it was 47 per cent higher than the three-year average and in the third quarter, 12 per cent higher.
Calgary Police teamed up with Calgary Transit in October for an enforcement blitz, revealing just how much crime is happening. In the matter of a few days, CPS executed 171 warrants, arrested 45 people, laid 47 criminal charges, issued 110 warnings and 140 summonses, and seized a few thousand dollars worth of drugs — all on transit property.
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“In previous times, the city had gone to the transit peace officer program to primarily have peace officers be responsible for safety on transit, ensuring fares are being paid and this type of thing,” Neufeld points out. He says the crime numbers from the enforcement blitz “are staggering and give some sense of what’s going on on transit right now”.
Neufeld wants to see a better relationship between CPS and transit peace officers in the future.
“I would like to see that more deeply integrated and be ongoing work throughout the year. It seems like when things get really bad (Calgary police officers) get called in to try and clean up the worst of the worst,” he said.
Neufeld said public transit is an essential service and Calgarians deserve better.
“Calgarians rely on that and they need to be able to feel safe on transit.”
Chief Neufeld said getting the right services to people who need them is a priority for CPS.
Since 2020, Calgary police have been working on its crisis response model, upscaling the Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) teams to deal with disorder calls downtown and on transit, and working on call-diversion and co-location initiatives with 911 and 211 to get Calgarians the most appropriate services in their time of need.
“Police would become the de facto response, especially to calls involving mental health and addiction after business hours. So, if we wouldn’t have been the right response to the right resource before or during business hours, then realistically we should be trying to bring those other resources out to people when when they need them,” the chief said.
Read more: Calgary to pilot mental health and addictions crisis response team in partnership with police
Launching in early 2023 is a new 12-month pilot project for a mobile community crisis response team in District 4 in the city’s northeast, funded by the City of Calgary and Calgary Police Service and operated by The Alex. Support workers will respond to non-emergency calls that come through Calgary 911 and the Distress Centre (211).
Chief Neufeld calls it the “next step” in better crisis response in the city.
Thin Blue Line
Officers were ordered by the Calgary Police Commission to remove the Thin Blue Line patch from their uniforms in May. While it signified honoring fallen officers, it has also been linked to white nationalist movements and racism.
Neufeld says that was a trying time for all sides.
“That was obviously a very emotional issue for police in the community at a very emotional time,” he said.
“We had seen an increased number of police officers being murdered around the country. We felt it here at home. On top of that you have a time where you’ve got first responders not feeling very valued.”
The police chief believes both sides needed to be heard.
“At the end of the day, it wasn’t really about whether or not that patch needed to be on the Calgary police uniform. It was just about an acknowledgement that that patch meant something to the members of the service, something very important.
“Then there was also a portion of the community that didn’t feel comfortable with it,” Neufeld said. “So, I think the nuance there was very important and I think the understanding of both sides was very important.
“We’re to the point now where the patches aren’t on the uniforms and we’ve moved on from that”.
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Goliath’s bathhouse raid in downtown Calgary.
The police chief acknowledged the trauma it caused and also said the service stands by the investigation. Neufeld says the acknowledgement came about after ongoing conversations with the CPS diversity relations officers and the LGBTQ2S+ community.
“It became obvious that that was still an issue that was impacting the relationship between the CPS and the community”, Neufeld said.
“It’s not about doing archaeology back to 2002, about what decisionmakers knew or whether it was right or wrong. That raid was lawful at the time.
“What we have today that we didn’t have back then was the the benefit of hindsight.”
Neufeld says he’s learned a lot from listening to members of the LGBTQ2S+ community.
“This is really around sending a message to the community that our folks ‘get it’ and that they understand the way that (the raids) impacted the community,” he said.
“Internally, we have a large number of people who are members of the LGBTQ2S+ community or who are allies for them. I think those people want to know as well that we ‘get it’ in 2022 and that we’re evolving in many ways around EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion).”
Modernizing Alberta’s Police Act
The Police Amendment Act, also known as Bill 6 or the Modernizing the Alberta Police Act was made law after receiving royal assent in mid-December.
Neufeld hopes proper funding will be in place to deal with more independent investigations following the changes to Alberta’s Police Act.
“So with that change, there will be an independent agency that takes care of police complaints, so it won’t be the police investigating the police. That’s really important.
“The one thing I would just flag is I’m hopeful that the government resources (the independent agency), because there’s been challenges around ASIRT and the timelines. I think it’s going to be important that they have the ability to move those forward within a reasonable period of time.”
Looking ahead to 2023
Neufeld said gun violence is an ongoing concern and a top priority for CPS heading into the new year. And he hopes to see more success on the continued work to better deal with mental health calls.
The police chief also had a message of thanks for Calgarians.
“The one message I’d like to leave to with Calgarians is just thank you very much for the support of the men and women of the police service. Thinking back to Beacons of Hope, the grassroots movement in May and all of the good wishes people give to members on the street, we feel quite supported by Calgarians. So, I want to say thank you for that.”