Most of the increasing crime at Edmonton transit stations and overnight shelters is being caused by 18 prolific offenders, police said in releasing crime data from the past two years.
Data released Wednesday afternoon shows crime severity at Edmonton LRT stations is three times the city-wide average and two times as high at three temporary shelters that operated throughout the winter. Analysis found that 18 distinct offenders were in the top 20 per cent of individuals involved in these cases at transit stations as well as the shelters and identified as living at one of the emergency shelter locations.
Sean Tout, Edmonton Police Service executive director of information management and intelligence, said this high crime rate from few individuals makes it more difficult to ensure the safety and security of vulnerable residents experiencing homelessness. Ten of the individuals have been identified as having possible street gang affiliation and Tout said they increase the risk of violence to the marginalized community needing support.
These 18 offenders have been involved in 2,137 criminal violations since 2006 with 45 per cent occurring within the last two years. There was a significant increase in the severity of violations involving these offenders between December 2020 and January 2021.
“They are prolific and they are predatory. They occupy the same space and time as our vulnerable, for all intents and purposes masquerading as them to affect their criminal purpose,” Tout told reporters Wednesday. “The complexities of differentiating the prolific or career criminal from the vulnerable in this context compounds the challenges of delivering timely and effective community safety supports and services to address the needs of the vulnerable while at the same time holding the prolific offenders to account.”
Police said they are working with community outreach agencies to try and accommodate basic needs for these individuals including mental health supports and housing. Some may be faced with criminal investigations.
Insp. Angela Kemp, with the crime suppression branch, said the police service can’t do it alone and are working with community partners and the City of Edmonton to solve the safety concerns. She said increased 24-7 access to outreach workers will be necessary to respond to issues “quicker and more efficiently.”
In an effort to improve safety and security on the transit system, Edmonton transit branch manager Carrie Hotton-MacDonald said the city is working on piloting an outreach model similar to Calgary where a transit peace officer and social support worker will patrol the system together and will be able to provide aid and referrals to those in need.
“They’re going to be essentially a foot patrol going through the transit centres and LRT stations and doing that early intervention to help people, so I think that’s really going to add another layer,” she said. “I want people to know that (safety) is my top priority and it is about making sure everyone has that safe journey.”
The city is still working on finding necessary funding the pilot program and working out the logistics in consultation with Calgary before it can launch.
In addition to the pilot, the city has doubled security guards at 19 select transit stations and increased patrols of police and transit peace officers to increase safety.