Pubdate: Sat, 09 Apr 2016
Source: Edmonton Sun (CN AB)
Copyright: 2016 Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: Otiena Ellwand
Page: 5


Edmonton's Top Cop Addresses Some of City's Key Problems

If a safe injection site for IV drug users reduces crime and helps 
people get to a better place in their lives, Edmonton police Chief 
Rod Knecht says he would throw his full weight behind it.

But for now, he's not voicing an opinion on whether one should open or not.

"I really don't have a position," Knecht said Friday morning. "I'm 
obviously not a physician, I'm not a nurse, I'm not a social worker. 
I think if the public's view is that safe injection sites are a good 
thing, I guess we'll respect that, but we have some concerns."

One of those is an increase in the number of used and discarded 
needles found around the city, as well as crime problems rising 
around injection sites.

Edmonton's needle exchange program handed out 1.4 million needles in 
its last fiscal year and is on track to distribute 1.6 million this 
year, suggesting an increase in injection drug use. For months now, a 
group called Access to Medically Supervised Injection Services 
Edmonton has been meeting to figure out just how a safe site here might work.

Knecht has done some reading about Vancouver's model, where there are 
two medically supervised injection sites, and he said the scientific 
evidence that the sites help drug users is promising.

In 2012, 3,418 people who used Vancouver's Insite program were 
referred to clinical treatment programs.

"We're all interested in public safety, we want this to be a good 
thing. If it drives down crime, if it drives down infection, if it 
provides these folks with an opportunity to get help, to get into a 
program, I'm all for it. I think it's some of the residual issues 
that folks are concerned about," Knecht said.

This was just one of many topics the chief addressed during his 
biannual "coffee with the chief" session with reporters on Friday. Here are

some other highlights:


There have been 12 homicides this year, with the last six occurring 
in as many days. So far, only one person has been charged, but Knecht 
said detectives have identified suspects on the majority of the 
outstanding cases.

"I've looked at all of those homicides - who was the victim, who was 
the potential perpetrator and the circumstances around it - and 
there's no clear pattern . ... It spans the full rainbow of issues 
and some of the issues are very complex," he said.

But one thing did catch his attention: of the 12 homicides this year, 
seven involved a gun. And of the six latest victims, Knecht said all 
were living a "high-risk lifestyle."

But none of that has any affect on the priority of the investigation, he said.

"They all have mums and dads and family members that care for them 
very deeply, and they are the victims left behind. They want to know, 
is somebody going to be arrested? Is somebody going to be held to 
account? Are the police focused on this? The answer is absolutely 
yes," Knecht said.

This recent cluster of homicides is likely an anomaly, such as in 
2011 was when there were 48 homicides, he said. "Our homicides have 
been trending down since 2011," he said. "But a homicide a day is not 
a good thing."

Nevertheless, Knecht wanted to reassure citizens, and said it twice 
for good measure: "You're very safe here in Edmonton."


"Alberta is a very busy jurisdiction for counterterrorism and 
radicalization issues and Edmonton in particular. We do have a lot of 
active investigations," Knecht said.

He wouldn't go into any detail about those investigations or how many 
are ongoing, but said the number continues to rise.

One concern is how terrorist networks and individuals tend to use 
social media to target youth, he said.

"Their focus is getting at disengaged, disenfranchised, disillusioned 
youth and that's a problem. It's almost the same as using that same 
approach to get people to join gangs," he said.

"It's the counter-narrative that we have to work on and telling 
people there's a different way to solve your problems ... get people engaged."


Violent crime statistics have increased "dramatically" in the last 
three years, but they're finally starting to level-off. Violent crime 
- -encompassing assaults, domestic violence, homicides, robbery and 
sexual assaults - is down by nearly two per cent from this time last year.

During a meeting with the chief last September, he said violent crime 
in the city was up by 12 per cent.

Property crime has increased from last year by about 21 per cent, 
something that could be linked to the flailing economy and warm 
weather, he said. Break and enters are up 21 per cent, theft from 
vehicles is up 30 per cent and theft of vehicles is up nearly five per cent.

Calls for service increased by only three per cent, which the chief 
saw as an improvement. They've ballooned over the years from eight to 
12 per cent, he said.


"We really have to be on the cutting-edge of policing here in 
Edmonton because things change so fast. One day the streets are paved 
with gold and the next day, the streets are paved with pennies. For 
the police that's a very difficult environment to respond to in a 
very short period of time, but that's what makes it exciting and 
interesting," Knecht said.

Knecht's contract has been renewed until November 2018.
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