Confidence in Edmonton Police Service drops, perception of crime increases in pandemic, survey shows

·3 min read
Nearly a quarter of survey respondents say they worry about crime most of the time, up from 17 per cent in 2020.  (CBC - image credit)
Nearly a quarter of survey respondents say they worry about crime most of the time, up from 17 per cent in 2020. (CBC - image credit)

The average person walking down an Edmonton street feels less safe than they did a year ago, a new report shows.

At the request of the Edmonton Police Service, market research firm Advanis surveyed 1,500 Edmontonians from May to July on how they feel about policing and crime in the city. Respondents were randomly selected, but deemed representative of Edmontonians based on age, gender and income level.

Mariam Masud, director of the EPS' strategy and engagement branch, presented the survey findings to the Edmonton Police Commission Thursday.

"Survey respondents said that they were not more likely to have been a victim of crime in 2021," Masud told the commission. "Despite this, Edmontonians feel less safe in 2021 than they did in 2020."

Nearly a quarter of respondents (23 per cent) said they worry about crime most of the time or almost always. This is up from 17 per cent in 2020, she said.

Only 37 per cent of Edmontonians think police are doing a good job — a drop from 45 per cent in 2020, she said. The number of those who said the police did an excellent job is about the same, 20 per cent, up from 19 per cent last year.

There's a correlation between age and satisfaction with EPS, she said. The older respondents were, the more satisfied they were.

Of respondents aged 18 to 34, nearly half rate the police performance as excellent or good, versus 61 percent by 35 to 54 year olds and 72 percent in the over 55 age category.

Meanwhile, Edmonton residents who identified as Indigenous or gender diverse — or both — were less satisfied with the police, felt less safe and were more likely to have been a victim of crime compared to a year ago, Masud said.

Last year's survey was conducted from February to April 2020, before the widespread police reform protests in the U.S. and Canada, including Edmonton, sparked by the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., and others.

The citizen perception survey is part of the police project Commitment to Action, which police Chief Dale McFee launched in September 2020 after several protests against police.

But this is the first time the police hired an outside research firm to gauge public sentiment about police work, McFee said.

"There's an interesting trend here: Our crime is actually going down but the perception is going up," McFee said during the meeting, adding that addressing this negative perception must be a focus for the force moving forward.

Racialized, underserved communities suggest more transparency, public communication

Insp. Mitch Flaman, of the EPS' equity and inclusion branch, presented the community feedback portion of the report to the commission.

Police were involved in dozens of discussion sessions with community organizations, businesses and the social sector. These were done in person, via video or online surveys, and included perspectives from Black, Indigenous and people of colour and other underserved communities.

The report highlights negative interactions with police, in which people felt they were "treated rudely, unfairly or disrespectfully by officers."

These included instances of perceived bias based on race, demeaning comments and use of insensitive language.

Many people who participated in the sessions said police should work on proactively communicating to the public in several areas, namely crime prevention methods and where to call for help, Flaman said.

The feedback also shows people want police to be more transparent about their policies and procedures and how police officers are trained.

Participants agreed that, if changes are made, the EPS could have better relationships with communities.

Commissioner Kemi Kufuor-Boakye said there are pros and cons to the results of the survey.

"It is concerning, but I think we have to look at it hand in hand, that police action is for the first time in a long time being highlighted," Kufuor-Boakye said.

"There's more expectation about police and how they treat the community."

Police say the work isn't done and the feedback collected so far will go toward a range of potential "enhancements to policies, procedures, and practices" in a roadmap by next year.

Twitter: @natashariebe

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