Alberta says sheriff pilots in Calgary and Edmonton are working, but is it effective?

The Alberta government says pilot projects to put sheriffs along transit systems in both Calgary and Edmonton are working, but didn’t provide details on long-term safety strategies after the pilots are over.

The pilots were first launched in Edmonton on Feb. 1 and in Calgary on Feb. 28 after a string of assaults on transit systems in both cities.

Calgary’s pilot is scheduled to end on May 31. When the project was first announced for Edmonton in February, the provincial government said it would launch in the city later that month and run for 15 weeks.

Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis said the pilot projects aimed to keep transit riders safe while addressing crime and social disorder. The sheriffs will provide a “reassuring and visible presence in the inner city,” he told Calgary reporters on Feb. 28.

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Read more: Alberta Sheriffs to join Calgary police in downtown patrols for 3-month pilot

In a news release on Thursday, the province said sheriffs in Calgary laid 109 charges and executed 1,524 outstanding warrants since the pilot started.

Meanwhile in Edmonton, sheriffs laid 274 charges against 66 people and executed 2,986 warrants since the pilot started.

“The Alberta sheriffs have made a substantial difference with their (Edmonton Police Service) partners to improve public safety in Edmonton’s inner city,” Ellis said in an emailed statement.

“The wide range of criminal activity they are taking on, along with their work to help people find the community supports they need, is helping make a positive difference. We will do whatever it takes to keep our streets safe.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta public safety minister tours Calgary’s downtown with sheriffs, police'

Alberta public safety minister tours Calgary’s downtown with sheriffs, police

But some are criticizing the sheriff pilot project, saying it is reactionary and doesn’t actually solve crime and social disorder.

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Kelly Sundberg, an associate professor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, said the increased police presence only pushes the unhoused into other areas of the city.

Focusing on transit safety will address issues along Calgary’s CTrain or Edmonton’s LRT system but won’t solve crime and social disorder in other parts of the city, such as libraries or parks.

“They’re going to move into neighbourhoods surrounding those public spaces… The unfortunate thing is the neighbours around those transit stations are going to be quite upset when they see quite a change in their social landscape,” Sundberg told Rob Breakenridge on QR Calgary on Tuesday morning.

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Alberta should be looking at the bigger picture and partner with the federal government and other provinces to create a task force to solve crime and social disorder instead, Sundberg said.

“We have to start collecting data and we have to create better roads or better pathways for citizens to express their concerns to the city, be it in a park or on the transit,” the associate professor said.

“We need to start capturing this data more effectively so we can analyze it and then put the resources where we need them.

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“Why don’t we take this opportunity to do some strategic master planning, identify the problems, set up a platform to collect information and data, and do this the right way, and hopefully we will reduce crime, will reduce the issues of social disorder, and we’re going to help a lot of people that need help.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta Sheriffs to help police catch fugitives with outstanding warrants'

Alberta Sheriffs to help police catch fugitives with outstanding warrants

It’s important to include a diversity of voices and perspectives in the task force, Sundberg said. Researchers, academics, public and private stakeholders, and Indigenous representatives need to be at the table to develop sound policies and practices.

“I’m very confident that we will help to reduce the number of deaths from the toxic drug supply by taking this approach,” he added.

“We also have to start finding efficiencies in coordinating approaches for law enforcement so that we can start taking more better-informed approaches that are cost-effective and have a high level of efficacy.”

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— with files from Adam Toy, Global News.

&© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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