Edmonton releases formal plan to improve safety in city's core neighbourhoods

·5 min read
Two men were killed in Chinatown in mid-May, prompting renewed calls for better safety measures there and in downtown.  (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC - image credit)
Two men were killed in Chinatown in mid-May, prompting renewed calls for better safety measures there and in downtown. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC - image credit)

The City of Edmonton is taking a comprehensive approach to improving safety in the downtown area, in Chinatown and on public transit, all of which are outlined in a final safety plan it released Thursday.

Edmonton's Downtown Core and Transit System Safety Plan was posted on the city's website, abiding by a deadline set two weeks ago by Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro.

In a letter to Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, Shandro demanded the city come up with a concrete plan to curb ongoing crime in core neighbourhoods.

He sent the letter after two men — Hung Trang, 64, and Ban Phuc Hoang, 61 — were killed in Chinatown businesses.

The city's plan combines immediate steps and longer-term initiatives, many of which were outlined in a draft response last week.

In the short term, the city will put more police and peace officers on the streets, pay for private security to patrol in Chinatown, implement programs to prevent and respond to drug overdoses, and increase responses to encampments.

There is also a plan to immediately set up a joint operations centre in Chinatown — a collaborative effort among police, city staff, and social agencies.

City Manager Andre Corbould said the city is looking for the location in collaboration with EPS and they'll be moving in soon.

Several initiatives are also directed at public order and cleanliness, such as cleaning streets and back alleys, adding temporary washrooms, and implementing a needle cleanup program.

In a statement sent out Thursday, Shandro said his office would begin reviewing the plan immediately.

"I am encouraged by the constructive discussions I've had with Mayor Sohi and the recent steps municipal officials have taken to improve public safety for Edmontonians — including city council's vote to amend the municipal transit bylaw to ban loitering and drug use on public transit," Shandro said.

"There is still a considerable amount of work to do to address crime and violence in downtown Edmonton and make it safer for everyone, but these are positive steps in the right direction."

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi made five requests to the Alberta government.

They deal with police, homelessness, shelter standards, addictions and mental health.

"If other provincial government is really serious about the safety and well-being of Edmontonians and they've asked us to step up — we have stepped up — and I hope they will step by step as well," Sohi said at the conference. "Because a lot of the areas, the root causes of crime are houselessness, mental health, addictions, crisis, and those are provincial areas of responsibility."

He's asking the province to bump up funding to Edmonton police to adjust for inflation and population growth.

Sohi said the province capped municipal police assistance grant funding and that in 2022, the cost per officer has nearly doubled.

He's asking the province to give more money to shelter providers to help them improve standards and hours of operation and match the funding Calgary receives for emergency shelter spaces. Sohi said Edmonton receives 40 to 50 per cent of what Calgary gets for shelter spaces.

Sohi is also calling on the province to give Homeward Trust $8.9 million more a year to provide services for supportive and permanent housing.

He's also requesting more support to address the opioid crisis. Sohi is asking the province to work with the city and community organizations to determine where and what harm reduction services are needed.

Sohi said he was hoping to have conversations with the minister in the near future, but didn't suggest a deadline for a response to his requests.

Chinatown focus

Many initiatives focus on improving social disorder, homelessness and drug use in Chinatown.

Wen Wang, with the Chinatown and Area Business Association, said he has noticed changes over the past week.

He said the city is paying for nine security guards to patrol from 97th to 101st streets, between 105th and 110A avenues, 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

The safety plan earmarked a $300,000 grant to the Chinatown and Area Business Association to help pay for the private security resources, which is something businesses had been paying for themselves.

"We hope that those steps or measures in place for now will have a good result," Wang told CBC News.

He said it's still too early to say how well they are working, but said they are positive steps from the city and the province.

"In the short term, the financial support is key," Wang said. "But long term is policy."

Longer-term initiatives

The comprehensive plan includes several long-term objectives, such as community enhancement projects.

The enhancement plan involves streetscape improvements from 98th Street to 100th Street and parts of 105th Avenue.

City administration will give city council an update on the streetscape capital investments in mid-June.

Doug Cooke, an outreach worker, said city investment in neighbourhood revitalization should get more people to come back to the area.

"The restaurants here are wonderful and the businesses, the grocery stores, they're all super places to shop at," Cooke told CBC News Thursday.

"Revitalize sidewalks and streets and storefronts and put some benches out on the street," he said. "Encouraging more folks throughout Edmonton to actually come and visit the area I think would be a wonderful thing."

The strategy includes steps to decentralize the high concentration of social services in the area.

The city will work with community stakeholders and other orders of government to create a five-year plan to redistribute social services from Chinatown and downtown to other appropriate areas of the city.