Alberta looks to expand Sheriffs’ responsibilities to combat spike in crime

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Alberta looks to expand sheriffs’ responsibilities to combat spike in crime
As cities across Alberta continue to see a spike in crime and public disorder, Premier Danielle Smith is directing her public safety minister to expand the purview of Alberta Sheriffs to tackle some of the issues. Provincial affairs reporter Saif Kaisar has the details – Jul 31, 2023

The United Conservative government is looking at ways to tackle a spike in guns, gangs, drugs and disorder in Alberta.

While Premier Danielle Smith’s mandate letter to Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis doesn’t mention an Alberta Police Service, it does outline an expansion of Alberta Sheriffs’ purview.

It’s one of the main ways Ellis says the province is looking to fight back against crime.

“Right now, we’re trying to expand the role of Sheriffs to tackle some of the obviously serious issues,” he told Global News in an interview.

“I’m certainly up for the challenge about trying to make Alberta and Albertans feel safer in their communities.”

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Alberta Sheriffs to help police catch fugitives with outstanding warrants

In the letter to Ellis, Smith lays out numerous ways to expand the Sheriffs’ roles, like:

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  • “Creating specialized sheriff-led anti-fentanyl and illegal gun trafficking teams including at the Canada-U.S. border”;
  • “Exploring opportunities for continued sheriff deployment in Edmonton, Calgary and other communities to assist with patrols and street-level law enforcement”;
  • “Implementing, with sheriffs, a modern ankle bracelet monitoring program and enhanced 24-hour bail monitoring of violent and sexual offenders”;
  • and “Reviewing the education and training curriculum for sheriffs so they can assist in a broader scope of policing.”

“We’re going to continue to put out initiatives that are going to try to make both Calgary and Edmonton, and quite frankly the rest of Alberta, a safer place to live, work and play,” Ellis said.

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Smith’s mandate letter to Ellis last fall mentioned exploring and implementing a provincial police service, something omitted from this letter.

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Ellis says they’ll support municipalities and let them make their own decisions around policing.

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“It’s really about empowering the municipalities, working with them, and to make sure that they are getting the service they deserve in their municipality, and see whatever that’s going to look like,” he explained.

It’s a decision welcomed by Alberta Municipalities.

Its director of cities up to 500,000, Tyler Gandam, says he was concerned over the potential of a provincial police service being forced upon municipalities.

“Not seeing that in Minister Ellis’ mandate, and allowing municipalities to choose the police service that best suits them is what’s important for Alberta municipalities,” Gandam told Global News.

He’s also mayor of the City of Wetaskiwin.

Gandam says the mandate letter sets good priorities in place to combat crime.

“Some of the things we’re seeing with our own municipality is just making sure that we’re addressing the root causes of the problem,” he said.

“We’ve got mental health, addictions, homelessness. When we start addressing those issues within our communities, I think we’ll see the change in crime in our local communities.”

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Meantime, University of Alberta criminologist Temitope Oriola says it makes sense that Alberta didn’t mention a provincial police service.

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“The discourse around provincial police had gone on without sufficient consultation at the grass roots,” Oriola explained.

“I think this represents a strategic shift.”

While he does agree with some of the points outlined in Ellis’ mandate letter, he doesn’t believe more boots on the ground will solve the spike in crime.

Oriola also says an expansion of the purview of Sheriffs may lead to some larger issues.

“I foresee jurisdictional battles down the road. I think it’s inevitable,” he said.

“I worry that the relationship may work at first, but over time, there will be units within the Calgary Police Service and Edmonton Police Service whose domains will be affected.”

Ellis is also being asked to expand the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT) Gang Suppression Unit.

The goal is to have more of those units monitor scrap metal dealers and gangs to lower catalytic converter thefts as both Calgary and Edmonton see a surge.

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