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Edmonton Police Commission report calls for better coordination of police, social services

An Edmonton Police Commission report suggests the city should task an entity with governing all municipal social service programs and ensuring better coordination with police in the wake of concerns about police funding and practices.

In July 2020, Edmonton city council asked the commission to explore a more "balanced approach to community safety" following public demands for major changes to policing amid complaints about systemic racism and police aggression.

"Police are often called upon to respond to complex situations that often have elements of public safety concerns but, after investigation, are found to be non-criminal in nature," said the commission's report, completed in December but publicly released Monday.

 

"Many of these situations, such as an individual experiencing a mental health crisis, may be more appropriately managed through a service delivery model that leverages the strengths of partners in the community."

In a statement Monday evening, commission chair Micki Ruth said "improving community safety and achieving better outcomes for all residents, including for racialized and vulnerable communities, means things must be done differently."

But she said the main issue is not a lack of funding "so much as aligning and integrating services."

Ruth said the commission's report envisions a "new public governance entity" that would be responsible for overseeing all municipal social service programs including policing.

The city could further create an agency, board, or commission that would help coordinate social services and it could also expand the police commission's mandate to include oversight of city peace officers, the report stated.

Edmonton Coun.Tim Cartmell, who is a member of the police commission, stressed the report is a draft but he said there is a need for better coordination of services.

"If we can find a way where we have the right resources at our fingertips so that when a [911] call comes in, the right resource can be matched to the need in that moment, then we will get to better outcomes," Cartmell said.

He cited the commission's "social impact audit" released Monday, also prepared at the direction of city council, that found an estimated $7.5 billion is spent every year on social support and community services.

That amount includes money invested in first responder budgets, charities, and social service non-governmental organizations as well as direct government cash transfers to individuals such as income support and disability payments.

'Siloed and uncoordinated response': audit

The audit similarly called for better collaboration between police and social service agencies, stating that across Alberta, "communities are similarly challenged by the siloed and uncoordinated response to social issues that include mental health, addiction, homelessness, and poverty."

It said a standardized approach is needed to save money, reduce duplication of services, and ensure those who need social services connect with the right resources.

Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee will hold a new conference Tuesday morning to discuss the audit. An Edmonton Police Service spokesperson declined comment Monday evening.

The police commission's report said an agency overseeing social services could allocate city funding, establish policies for providing "efficient and effective" delivery of social services, and determine service priorities.

The agency would work closely with Alberta Health Services emergency services and mental health units to ensure the right resources are dispatched on service calls, the report said.

"It is important to note that although there could be less of a need to rely on reactionary, incident-driven responses, there continues to be a critical role for the police in triaging and responding to criminal incidents, violent situations, and for public safety issues," it said.