Crime up at transit centres, shelters, Edmonton police say

Crime at transit stations and shelters has gone up in the past two years but most of it is caused by a small group of prolific offenders, police said at a news conference Wednesday. 

Crime severity at the city’s 24-hour emergency shelters is twice as high as the city-wide average, the police data shows. 

Between Nov. 1, 2020 and Feb. 22 this year, there were 372 occurrences at the city’s temporary shelters, Edmonton Convention Centre, Hope Mission’s shelter at Commonwealth, at the southside location off 99th street.

The most common forms of crime around shelters were assault, intoxication, assault causing bodily harm or with a weapon. 

However, these account for less than one per cent of all citywide occurrences.

Crime severity is calculated using the number of police‐reported incidents for an offence multiplied by a national standard for that offence. 

A small number of people are responsible for a large part of escalating violence, which is taking place where homeless people are known to spend time. Police say they have identified 18 prolific offenders they say were involved in 964 incidents since January 2019. 

Sean Tout, executive director of information management and intelligence with the Edmonton Police Service, said the rate and severity of crime by these offenders is concerning. 

“They are prolific, and they are predatory,” Tout said. “They occupy the same and time as our vulnerable, for all intents and purposes masquerading as them to effect their criminal purpose.” 

More than half of the 18 offenders have been identified as having possible street gang affiliations, Tout said. 

Homeless targeted

Elliott Tanti, a spokesperson with Boyle Street Services, said the city’s homeless population are often targets for theft, assault and sexual assault.

Tanti said the perpetrators flow in and out of the inner-city social fabric and it’s not always obvious who they are. 

“Criminals are smart and they know not how to get caught and they know how to navigate systems so as to not be recognized.” 

Tanti said it’s an ongoing challenge to help the most vulnerable. 

“The more we can do to protect those folks, the better, and that includes partnering with police to do that.” 

Similar to crimes occurring near shelters, common crimes with high severity rates around transit were assaults, assault causing bodily harm or with a weapon, and intoxication. 

Carrie Hotton-McDonald, manager of Edmonton Transit Services, said the city has taken steps to enhance security in and around transit stations, especially with lower ridership during the pandemic. . 

“There’s not that natural deterrence that comes from having thousands of people in the location.” Hotton-McDonald said. “We do see that there’s been an increase in reports and an increase in incidents.”

It’s not just about criminal incidents, Hotton-McDonald noted. 

The city added more patrols Jan., with transit peace officers and security guards around transit stations. 

“It’s proactively monitoring the service and being out there, so not just responding for calls for service,” Hotton-McDonald said

The city of Edmonton is also working on a new kind of patrol pairing outreach workers with transit peace officers to proactively help people in distress or with mental health-related incidents. 

Hotton-McDonald referred to it as a more holistic, community response with an integrated approach that the city, social agencies and police have been talking about for several months.  

Acting Insp. David Crisp, with the EPS community safety and well-being bureau, said police have started taking this approach, working with social agencies and the city of Edmonton. 

Incarceration is not the only solution to dealing with crime, he said. 

“We need to take policing into the 21st Century,” Crisp said. 

The police statistics were released a day after the city’s community safety and well-being task force presented its findings to city council. 

The task force has made 14 recommendations on improving policing and the response to calls for help in Edmonton. 

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