Edmonton mayor says police budget 'kind of a dilemma' for the city

·3 min read
Edmonton city council hears from the police at a meeting Tuesday, as they review the proposed police budget for 2022.  (Natasha Riebe/CBC - image credit)
Edmonton city council hears from the police at a meeting Tuesday, as they review the proposed police budget for 2022. (Natasha Riebe/CBC - image credit)

The future of policing in Edmonton is under scrutiny again as city council reviews the police budget for 2022 as part of the city's operating and capital budget deliberations.

The budget for Edmonton police is set to increase by $12 million next year to $396 million from the $384 million in 2021.

That's 0.7 per cent of the city's proposed 1.8 per cent property tax increase.

At a council meeting Tuesday, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he's searching for a balance.

"One of the issues we have is the financial sustainability of EPS [Edmonton Police Service]," Sohi said. "If we continue on this trend, it will be very difficult for us to maintain services in other areas of the city."

Of the tax levy collected from Edmontonians, 22 cents of every dollar goes to policing, which is a concern, Sohi said.

While city operations took a 1.5 per cent reduction over the past three years, the police budget didn't, he added.

"This is a kind of a dilemma, that's why it's very important that we work together in a collaborative way to tackle these challenges," Sohi said.

The largest part of the budget increase in 2022 will go toward 41 more positions within EPS, the budget shows.

Because of inflation, It's also costing more to buy equipment, computer hardware and software.

Police Chief Dale Mcfee fielded questions from councillors on Tuesday, saying police are working with community groups on different strategies.

"We're not asking for more right now because we're trying — a lot of different innovations," McFee said. "We just want to continue to complete what we've asked to deliver."

In July 2020, council agreed to reallocate $11 million from the police budget in 2021 and 2022 to community safety and well-being and other initiatives.

Some of that has been invested in anti-racism initiatives, Sohi said.

McFee also created a community safety and well-being bureau when he was hired, which works on developing relationships with social agencies to improve how police respond to calls for service.

The current police budget is nearly $18 million lower than the budget approved at the beginning of the 2019-2022 four-year cycle when police were slated to get $406 million for 2022.

Sean Tout, exec director of the EPS information management and intelligence division, said long-term trends — from 2011 to 2020 — show crime severity has gone down in Edmonton.

McFee also told council that crime increased 16 per cent during the pandemic, and crime severity at LRT and transit centres has gone up 30 per cent, despite there being only half the riders from pre-COVID-19 days.

In 2021, the top 10 occurrences at transit centres were violent crime, assault, assault with a weapon, McFee said.

He again stressed the need to keep the status quo in budgeting.

"If we're going to start making the city safer, if we're going to reduce some of the serious issues we have in the city - both crime and social — we can't stop halfway," McFee said. "We're on a good path."

City council will continue deliberating the 2022 operating and capital budgets, and will be expected to approve the financial books by mid-December.

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