Edmonton leads the country with 33 homicides this year, and the city's new plan to combat violent crime is hopelessly lacklustre at best. People have been looking to the municipal authorities for assurance that the city's still safe, and all they're hearing are vague promises of more policing and stricter knife control, with little prospect of addressing the real community-based social roots of the problem.
Police Chief Rod Knecht and Mayor Stephen Mandel unveiled their much-hyped plan over the course of two press conferences last week, saying they would increase police presence and focus on weapons, drugs and alcohol, distressed communities, and social disorder. But all of this is what law enforcement is supposed to be doing already: it sounds like their solution for reducing violent crime is just "do more policing."
The police have identified problem areas in Edmonton, but their plans are still vague; they say they'll be sending more officers and community development teams to try and understand the background causes and how exactly to address them. In other words, they don't know what the problem is, and don't know how they're going to approach it — so there's no reason to make an announcement about it.
One area that will see change, however, is knife control, since half of this years' homicides involved knives. Police are looking to crack down on their concealed use, and want Crown prosecutors to more strongly enforce charges for simply carrying an edged weapon; possession earns a minimum sentence of six months, while brandishing it could get you up to 10 years in prison. But approaching the weapon issue with draconian strictness raises the same questions as the decades-old debate about gun control. It's been argued back and forth about whether or not extreme weapon control helps lower crime, but people keep dying anyhow.
Not only is more strictly enforcing existing laws against carrying concealed knives completely unenforceable without random police searches, it's also staggeringly unlikely to prevent any knife-based homicides. A person who has already rationalized murder won't stop because the law says he can't carry a knife; the law also says he can't commit murder. He'll have either brought the knife anyway, or he'll find another weapon. What EPS needs to realize is that the weapons aren't the problem — the issue lies with the people.
Much of Edmonton's violence stems from gang relations, immigrant communities, and the homeless population; four of the murders this year involved young Somali-Canadians, a community that has a history of trouble with gang violence — over the last five years, 18 Somali men have been murdered in Edmonton, and only three cases have been solved.
Additionally, Edmonton's estimated homeless population of 2,400 is a community that's not restricted to any single neighbourhood. More than half of the victims of 2011's homicides were either homeless, or once connected to a homeless shelter or agency. Helping this group of people off the streets and into a safe place at night will help reduce the chance of late-night confrontations. Even if directing resources towards helping the homeless has no effect on crime rate, at least it can measurably help the persistent homelessness problem in this city.
There's nothing truly noteworthy in the new police initiative — Mandel even said that most changes won't be noticed until three to five years from now. There's no saying what the crime rate will be in 2015, with or without a special plan. But we shouldn't be expecting EPS to solve this problem alone, or blaming them exclusively for the homicide count, because there are plenty of other factors that influence how safe a city is. The communities, and the broader municipal authorities need to take action as well.
The city needs to focus more on addressing the social issues underlying Edmonton's crime rate, and not turn the city into a police state with weapon control and a cop on every corner. The police force's plan does little to reduce violence in immigrant and homeless communities — communities that need the most help if we're going to give up first place in the homicide race.