Criticism of EPS unfair, says Chief McFee, as city debates police budget cuts

Chief Dale McFee fears if police funding is frozen, Edmonton will loose progress made on reducing crime stats. As Carly Robinson reports, City Council is still discussing what to do with the budget.

Police Chief Dale McFee says a negative perception of Edmonton is clouding the statistics: that crime is down in the city – and that the police’s budget should not be cut as a result.

Armed with charts from Statistics Canada, McFee spoke to CityNews as part of a year-end interview. He hoped to counteract online criticism of Edmonton police and defend the force’s spending.

McFee says social media perception of the city is not helping.

“We can’t have names like ‘Deadmonton.’ We’ve got to do some things differently. So we’re starting to see some real progress in these things.”

McFee says changes to policing have had an impact on overall crime, down 17 per cent between 2018 and 2020.

“What we talk about budget, and what’s at stake,” he said. “This is what is at stake. Progress is at stake.”

WATCH: Full year-end interview with Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee

On Tuesday, Edmonton city council debated the budget and a proposal to not give police their more than $11 million increase, outlined under the funding formula.

Coun. Michael Janz shared on Twitter a recent city report outlining how Edmonton has some of the highest per-capita police spending in Canada.

CityNews asked McFee how police would respond to a funding freeze.

“All we’ve planned on here is what is allocated, so we’re not asking for more money,” he said. “I just want to be very clear, we’re just asking for what was approved, we’ve already reduced it $11 million.”

In 2020, city council diverted $11 million towards social agencies, but Edmonton police has nevertheless seen budget increases for the past three years while other city departments face cuts.

Chief McFee says police officers need to be there to work with social agencies.

“Work with our partners to actually reduce the intake in our system,” he said. “That’s why we’re seeing some of the statistics. But all that said, other challenges are coming, and they’re COVID related, domestic violence is our single biggest growing thing, as you’ve seen the homicides fluctuate, the number of gang-related homicides have increased – that’s a concern – gangs infiltrating a lot of our vulnerable and some of our encampments.

“Those are things we are not going to back away from.”

While the statistics don’t give a picture of 2021 crime yet, Edmonton police say they have noticed certain trends: an increase in the violent nature of crimes and more domestic abuse calls.

There are also parts of the city – like downtown, Chinatown or the LRT system – where people report feeling unsafe.

That could lead to a feeling that crime is going up.

“Perception is one thing,” said McFee. “But I think what we are really fighting is the social media… there’s only about two or some percent who are on Twitter in Edmonton, but it’s not real positive. Everything is negative.”

City council continues budget debates until Friday.

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