Safety improving on Edmonton transit, new numbers suggest

James Hopchin (peace officer) and Robert Solem (outreach worker) check on someone they met for the first time at the Corona LRT station.  (Ariel Fournier/CBC - image credit)
James Hopchin (peace officer) and Robert Solem (outreach worker) check on someone they met for the first time at the Corona LRT station. (Ariel Fournier/CBC - image credit)

New figures presented to city council this week suggest the city's plan to improve transit safety in Edmonton is working.

Mayor and council receive updates twice a month as they implement system-wide improvements to address safety and cleanliness on LRT and bus services.

On Wednesday, council heard incidents such as assaults, robberies, theft and vandalism dropped 36 per cent from spring to summer. From July to September there were 76 incidents of that type.

In the same time period, drug-related incidents including drug-use and trafficking decreased by 19 per cent to 404 incidents.

"Drug-related incidents continue to be one of the top factors making riders feel unsafe," Duane Hunter, director of transit safety, told city council, referring to a QR code survey.

"We believe that by focusing on high-frequency nonviolent drug offences, we can prevent higher severity instance incidents such as weapons offences and assault."

But Hunter noted that drug-related incidents were still up overall from the 318 reported in the third quarter of last year.

"We're in a much better position, but we still have work to do."

The city is also seeing an increase in ridership. Year over year, September ridership saw a 14 per cent increase compared to September 2022

The multi-prong safety initiative is funded by a one-time $5-million provincial grant,  which is also funding 50 new police officers in Edmonton.

Twenty-one police officers have been hired with another 29 expected to be hired by late 2024. The city also hired 16 more transit peace officers in September.

Law enforcement officers work with Community Outreach Transit Teams (COTT) from Bent Arrow Healing Society for "a tailored response for that individual."

"Our integrated approach involves a range of responsibilities highlighting our holistic approach to drug-related incidents," Hunter said.

"We recognize that we simply can't arrest our way out of this. COTT is able to assist by helping people out of spaces and into other services that can support them safely."

The Alberta Transit System Cleanup Grant, a one-time provincial sum of funding, was announced in April to address violence on transit systems in Edmonton and Calgary.

Shelter, housing referrals up

Referrals are also up, according to the update from COTT.

In 2022, of the Edmontonians who interacted with COTT, just three per cent accepted shelter support and seven per cent accepted housing support.

So far this year, 11 per cent of the interactions have led to the acceptance of shelter support and 12 per cent to housing support for a total of 230 referrals.

In the report to council, Bent Arrow noted the complexity of outreach work where people often face multiple barriers including trauma, mental health, or a lack of ID and a phone.

"All of these factors can add up, making it extremely difficult to accept help and move out of spaces. Multiple interactions are often needed before someone feels safe enough to accept the connection to support."

As well as system-wide patrols, COTT operates a temporary booth at Churchill Station with plans to set up a permanent workstation by next year.