Violent crime calls on Edmonton transit up 53% in one year, police say

Community outreach transit teams, COTT, have been working together to help social issues in and around Edmonton's transit system.  (Ariel Fournier/CBC - image credit)
Community outreach transit teams, COTT, have been working together to help social issues in and around Edmonton's transit system. (Ariel Fournier/CBC - image credit)

The number of calls to police about violent crime on Edmonton's transit system increased nearly 53 per cent in 2022 compared to the year before, according to the statistics released Wednesday.

Edmonton police statistics show people called dispatch about all issues around LRT and buses 31.4 per cent more last year than in 2021.

Police Chief Dale McFee said the statistics reflect the increase in violence around the city and the need to co-ordinate better with various agencies.

"These are stark numbers and we are all concerned about the responsibility to manage what we see here," McFee said at a media availability Wednesday.

McFee noted that violence around transit is up around the country but said police and the city need an Edmonton-specific plan to address the issues.

"We need the right people in the right places with the right authorities to manage these problems," McFee noted. "We have all the pieces in our city to deal with the problem but our individual tasks need to coordinate better."

Violent crimes include assault, robbery, uttering threats and sexual assault, police said.

Calls about non-violent crimes, such as theft under $5,000, breaching court orders, and possession of stolen property went up 37.6 per cent and calls about disorder were up 37.2 per cent.

"If somebody is being hurt, being beaten or hit with something or stabbed or open-air drug use that's scaring young children and families, none of that's acceptable."

Edmonton Police Service
Edmonton Police Service

At the Eaux Claires transit centre at 97th Street and 157th Avenue, calls for service were up 133 per cent, the largest increase in the city.

The next highest was the Westmount transit centre at 135th Street and 112th Avenue with a 107.4 per cent increase.

Stations with a traditionally high number of calls, including the Central LRT station and the Coliseum station, had the lowest increase but still the highest number of calls for service.

Police said they won't be releasing the raw data to the media.

City steps

Andre Corbould, Edmonton's city manager, outlined steps the city has taken since last year after council approved the transit safety plan in February 2022.

The city hired a director of transit safety to oversee the work and a transit security dispatcher to support the Transit Watch program, which include surveillance cameras across the system, he said.

"We continue to work collaboratively to increase the presence of security peace officers, EPS and outreach workers as well," Corbould said.

The city is hiring 22 more transit peace officers this year, for a total of 112, a 21 per cent increase from 2022.

"And this is focused on having the right presence at the right time in the right location," Corbould said.

For example, transit peace officers and police will focus on patrolling more during big events in the city, like the Juno awards.

Police also launched several community safety teams in the downtown core and at several LRT stations as part of the Healthy Streets Operations Centre — a central dispatch hub located in Chinatown.

The city's safety plan includes Community Outreach Transit Teams, or COTT, with the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society.

The teams help people struggling with addictions, mental health, and homelessness by connecting them with family, counselling services, housing and identification.

Cheryl Whiskeyjack, executive director, said the pandemic has had a devastating impact on many people.

"These community members seek transit lines as a form of safety themselves, safety from harsh weather and from those who may wish to do them harm."

Not a policing problem, expert says

Temitope Oriola, criminology professor at the University of Alberta, said he believes the police and city are taking the right approach.

"I like the idea of multi-agency collaboration, I think that's appropriate. I think that's what is needed to tackle this problem."

Oriola said people who regularly come into contact with the police are also usually in the social services system.

"This is not a policing problem, primarily. This is a social problem."

Police are scheduled to discuss their annual city-wide crime statistics during a police commission meeting Thursday.