Shandro tells Sohi to create 'public safety plan' to fight violence in Edmonton's core

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi has two weeks to provide a new plan to the province, after the justice minister accused him on Thursday of "not providing or maintaining adequate and effective policing services."

Tyler Shandro said he is concerned about a "sharp increase of violent crime in downtown Edmonton," listing recent attacks at transit stations and "high level of public drug use" as specific problems.

“I have a responsibility under the Police Act to ensure the people of Edmonton receive the law enforcement protection they deserve," Shandro said in a new release.

"I will require a public safety plan from you that will increase police response to this disorder and ensure members of the public can use Edmonton’s public transit safely," he wrote in a letter to Sohi, which he then made public.

A day earlier, Shandro accused Edmonton City Council of cutting police funding in a tweet, something two councillors and Sohi disputed.

"Thank you for your interest in Edmonton, Minister Shandro," Sohi responded, adding an offer to meet with him at the legislature on Thursday to talk about "houselessness, mental health, addictions and trauma."

"From 2019 to 2022, the Edmonton Police Service property tax-supported budget went up by $28.6 million, which represents a 8.47% increase over 4 years."

SOHI CALLS SHANDRO'S LETTER AN 'OVERREACH'

Sohi pointed his finger back at the provincial government Thursday afternoon by calling crime and the prevention of it a "shared responsibility." He then listed a number of new city initiatives he's supporting.

"The disorder and crime that we're seeing in our downtown is directly linked to the lack of provincial investments in ending houselessness, the mental health crisis, drug poisoning and addictions crisis," he said at City Hall.

"Ever since I got elected, I have been raising these issues with the provincial government and asking them to step up to help to deal with them. So far, they have neglected these asks, but we have been taking actions on our own."

Sohi spoke specifically about $3.9 million for a new transit safety strategy, $8.4 million on a new community safety strategy and $5 million in a motion he's proposing to improve safety in the core and on LRT.

The province provided statistics Thursday that show violent incidents in Edmonton rose 11 per cent from 2020 to 2021. Sohi stated that crime in Edmonton is down 17 per cent overall, although he agreed that some areas and transit are seeing spikes in violence.

Sohi and Shandro plan to meet next week, although the mayor said he was not happy there hadn't been more communication before the letter came out.

BATTLE OVER POLICE FUNDING

Last week, Edmonton Police Service Chief Dale McFee promised to rush more officers into the core by diverting resources from other areas of the city. Sohi later applauded that effort.

CTV News Edmonton has learned that the number of officers being moved is between 30 to 50. A spokesperson for EPS said the service had no comment on Thursday.

The issue of police funding is a hot topic in the Alberta capital this month, with councillors set to vote Friday on a motion to freeze base funding for EPS at $385 million.

A local criminologist said while Shandro has a right to demand a safety plan, his motivations are suspect, and his letter could be seen as an attempt to influence a council vote.

"I don't see how this positively contributes to what was already a politically-charged debate. My perspective is that the minister's approach takes this deeper into political theatrics," said Temitope Oriola from the University of Alberta.

Politicians, police commission chair John McDougall and McFee have been publicly sparring over what a freeze would mean for the bottomline on police resources, with some claiming a $22-million cut could result from the new formula.

"EPS has received $22 million per year from photo radar revenue. If this were to stop, and council did not subsequently add that to the tax base, then there could be a cut," Coun. Andrew Knack wrote in a blog post aimed at clearing up confusion.

"But to be clear, no one has suggested that at all so the idea that council is considering a cut to EPS’ funding is not accurate."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Chelan Skulski

 

Alberta Justice Letter to Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi by CTV News Edmonton on Scribd