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Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld: Capacity a challenge in 2022

In the first of a two-part, year-end series, LWC talked with Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld on challenges and successes for police in 2022, including organizational transformation

Calgary police Chief Constable Mark Neufeld looked back on 2022 as a year of capacity challenges, but also a slow return to normalcy.

LWC talked with Chief Neufeld last week about the year that was and the year ahead for the Calgary Police Service (CPS). This is the first of a two-part series.

This time last year, Neufeld said Calgary was in the grip of Omicron.

“We were seeing staffing shortages and impact on staffing in ways that we had never seen during the previous waves of the pandemic,” he said.

Pair that up with protests at hospitals, in neighbourhoods and at other facilities – including politicians’ homes, Neufeld said – and it challenged the Calgary police capacity.

By spring, it was a return to normalcy. By that, Neufeld said things like the Red Mile, the Calgary Stampede and a wide variety of community events and festivals were back in full swing.

While much of the city was returning to normal, so too were the criminals.  That meant that the CPS saw an increase in demand for service.

“We saw sort of a return to increase demands, some of which maybe we didn’t even anticipate, at a time when we had kind of diminished staffing and capacity,” Chief Neufeld said.

Shift in crime patterns, particularly gun violence

Neufeld said that as they saw that normalcy return, and Calgarians’ daily routines shifting once again, so too did the type of crimes.  During the pandemic, with people at home, residential break and enters dropped. As did vehicle crime.

“I think during the year as things went back to normal, we did see a return of some of those numbers, but not fully,” Neufeld said.

“It’s interesting and I think that’ll be something to monitor going forward.”

With a fair number of people still working from home, it makes those break and enters much riskier, he said.

Gun violence is also on the rise. He said in 2022 there have been 122 shootings in Calgary. It’s at levels not seen since the last spike in gang violence back in 2015.   This rise, however, isn’t just attributed to organized crime, Neufeld said.

While roughly 25 per cent is connected to gangs, the other 75 per cent of gun-related crimes have a variety of origins, Neufeld said. It’s domestic violence, some are drug related, others are personal animosity between people, or things like road rage.

“As you can imagine with those ones, I think harder to sort of pattern and understand what’s happening and predict,” he said.  

Chief Neufeld said it’s not that they’re random shootings, it’s just not what they’re used to seeing. It’s happening across North America, too, he said.

“It’s something we continue to monitor but from a prevention standpoint, it’s really tough to get in front of it,” Neufeld said.

CPS continues its transformation

Chief Neufeld said when you talk about the CPS organizational transformation, it comes in two parts.  The human resource modernization was a project they were tackling prior to the start of the pandemic.  Changes to call diversion and response is the other part.

Neufeld said the one thing they’d realized was that the Service itself had continued to grow in its front-facing operations. What hadn’t been growing was the back-office staff who handled human resources, labour relations, return to work and training, recruitment and retention.

“That’s critical for the service – that will change the way the organization runs for employees internally,” he said.

In the CPS 2021 employee survey, 82 per cent disagreed with the statement, “Morale at CPS is good.” Further, six in 10 had low engagement. Fewer service members were feeling valued, fewer felt the CPS was adequately staffed, fewer had confidence in leadership. The survey notes a decline in many categories.

“I was devastated by the status of our employee engagement and how employees were feeling,” Chief Neufeld said.

“If our people aren’t supported and they’re not equipped properly, and they don’t feel good about what they’re doing, we’re going to struggle.”

Neufeld said they immediately went to their employee data from the past five years. Then, they went to other police agencies to see their data. He said they learned that not many of their counterparts had data like this.  What they did see was that they weren’t alone in how officers were feeling.

That set them down the path of digging into what was specifically hurting CPS staff. They did focus groups with hundreds of employees, Neufeld said.  They identified six themes and then went and validate those themes with employees.

Those were: Workload, staffing, leadership support, fair and transparent processes, professional development, and better internal communications and organizational identity.

In September, CPS delivered an update on their Pathways to Engagement for employees.

In a follow up, Neufeld said it was good news that 65 per cent of employees had already heard about the Pathways endeavour.

Call diversion on line for 2023

Chief Neufeld said they know dealing with some of these organizational challenges – like workload and staffing – have city budget implications.

(Public safety was one of the issues of highest importance in the City of Calgary’s most recent citizen satisfaction survey.)

One area that began in earnest in 2022 was co-location and call diversion strategies. As part of the CPS contribution to the Community Safety Investment Framework, alternative call response models were examined.

In January, the first phase of a partnership between Calgary 911 and 211 began. By February, calls that came into CPS that were better fielded by social services providers were diverted from police, thus reducing workload.

In June, the CPS and the City of Calgary provided an update on call diversions. They also put out the call for partners in the mobile crisis response team pilot project.  In October, the Alex Community Health Centre was named as the partner in that project.

Neufeld said that project is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2023.

“It aligns very well with what the community was asking for,” he said.

Eventually, Chief Neufeld is hoping it gets them back to a point where they can do more proactive patrols.  He said it’s not uncommon today for a patrol officer to come in to their shift with 20 calls sitting on their response board, and then 20 calls when they end their shift.

“It wasn’t that long ago when officers could come in and when the shift started, it wouldn’t take too long to get on top of the calls. So, that would allow time for proactive control,” he said.

Being proactive allows them to use data to cover areas where there are problems with the intent to deter crime, Neufeld said.

“The challenge is if they’re responding to calls for the vast majority of their shift, and they don’t have that proactive time, they’re not available to do those things,” Neufeld said.

“The one thing that I often say is that if we’re only chasing calls, we’ll have lots of calls to chase. So, we need to sort of turn that back around.”

Budget rises modestly over next four years

In the recent 2023 to 2026 City of Calgary Service Plans and Budgets, the Calgary police will see a roughly 1.75 per cent annual increase in operating budget. They got nearly $34 million in operating, plus roughly $70 million in capital funding.

Chief Neufeld said the public is concerned about public safety and city council responded.

“I think one of the reasons why you would have seen what seemed like a little bit less scrutiny was because when you look at the priorities of council, probably out of their out of their seven priority areas, five of them tie pretty directly to public safety,” he said.

The added budget cash include more than 150 new service members, both sworn members and civilian. Neufeld said this will help deal with some of the employee concerns around workload. It will also help them continue to build the support structure in-house to manage employees effectively.

“I think when you when you look at what’s happening in our city right now, as we come out of the pandemic, public safety was a pretty key and critical issue,” Neufeld said.

“In order to deliver on the priorities that have been set there, we would need to be properly resourced.”

Check with LWC later this week for Chief Neufeld’s response on Police Act changes, the CPS relationship with police commission, how citizens view the Calgary Police Service, and what to expect for 2023.