Thursday, March 31, 2011

State of the City Address

Sometimes cities experience bad times - not only economically, but also crime rates, which can sometimes spike for no apparent reason. Edmonton, however, is experiencing a complete anomaly. Three times last year's homicide rate, two fatal police shootings in as many months, and a police service that has to go public just to find a suitable chief candidate when the previous chief quits for family reasons.

It is possible the lack of strong direction from the force is a motivating factor, especially at such a critical time in Edmonton's development. The only notable statement from the acting Police chief has been a public apology to the Somali community for complaining about the lack of helpful witnesses to a shooting, but a strong head, especially one taking over a force, should make a noticeable entrance to ensure the continuity of service. It was not long ago that Mayor Mandel felt compelled to post fliers denouncing the high level of violence in the city, and imploring people to feel more loyalty to the city, and stop being such idiots. This type of tactic occasionally works, but the city seems to rely on it too much (this was similar to their tactic on car idling, which failed) and the downside to the tactic is that it can be undermined if there is an external motivating factor provoking the behavior that people don't want, or if the "instigator" of the change loses face. It is possible the "stop violence" campaign worked while Mandel was a new Mayor, active enough to lead the city, but now that he is no longer a novelty, and we have no strong direction from the Police Chief, the progress that we enjoyed has been undone.

The Edmonton Police Service's annual police report indicates one of the main areas of attention this year is an emphasis on reduced crime and victimization, manifest by a 4% reduction in the eight major areas of crime (Assault; Homicide; Robbery; Sexual Assault; Break and Enter; Theft from Vehicle; Theft of Vehicle; Theft Over $5000) No numbers are available for the other areas since they are less publicized and reported, but the outrageous increase in homicide could effectively undermine any other drop in numbers. The chief of police is listed as the primary instigator for this initiative, but since he is listed as such for many of the initiatives, it is likely this is purely symbolic.

Some people might suggest that this increase in fatal police incidents is due to lack of training, but the police report for 2011 indicates that all officers were given a level of force training refresher (level one and two) during the months of January,February and March. It is possible this either led to a "priming effect", whereby violence is suggested in the minds of the officers through the training, and they misjudge situations to be more dangerous than they actually are, because of the preconditioning, or the use of force model itself needs to be re-evaluated. Since April, May, and June are earmarked for note-taking refreshers, it should be possible to check for priming effect.

One thing is for certain: Something has to change, preferably soon.

No comments: