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Alberta Sheriffs to be deployed alongside downtown Calgary police officers

The 12-week pilot project will supplement Calgary police beats and bikes teams in the downtown with Alberta Sheriff support.

Alberta Sheriffs will be pairing up with Calgary police officers in the downtown core as a part of a pilot project aimed at improving public safety.

The announcement of the 12-week pilot that will see the deployment of 12 Alberta Sheriffs was made at the East Village Safety Hub Tuesday afternoon in Calgary. It follows an Edmonton announcement made on Feb. 1

“When we talk about public safety, I think it’s important that we talk about public safety for all,” said MLA Jeremy Nixon, Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services.

“We know that we’ve seen increasing concerns of public safety on our streets and in our communities.”

The pilot project will start in late February and will provide support to the Calgary Police Service beats and bikes officers already working in the downtown area.

Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld said this is another layer to the approach they’ve taken, which includes call diversion of mental health and other non-emergency calls, and their partnership with The Alex Community Health Centre on a mobile crisis response pilot project.

“Using a data-driven approach. These officers will patrol in the areas of highest need on foot or by bike delivering a whole range of the services that I’ve discussed,” Neufeld said.

“They play an important role in ensuring that we have a visible and accessible policing presence in our city’s core, including transit and other public spaces to ensure that everyone feels safe and supported while enjoying our city.”

Chief Neufeld said that the collaboration comes at a time when they’ve struggled with staffing shortages. He also knows that Calgarians are concerned about social disorder and perceptions of public safety.

“While we lead with support and services where that’s appropriate, make no mistake, we will not tolerate acts of violence or criminal behaviour in our city,” he said.

‘This is an important day for our city’: Mayor Gondek

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said that this announcement is an example of work between all levels of government to improve the quality of life for Calgarians.

“Today’s announcement is a welcomed enhancement to efforts that are already underway and is proof that true public service means building relationships, and focusing on how we best meet the needs of our common constituents,” she said.

The 12-week program puts the end date near the end of May. When asked how they would determine the success of the program, Minister Mike Ellis, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services said that ultimately Calgarians need to feel safe. 

“That certainly is a narrative that I have heard time and time again, whether it be in my constituency or outside of my constituency, that the folks are not feeling safe,” he said.

Chief Neufeld said they’re putting together an evaluation framework. Still, Neufeld said this is about a common-sense approach.  If Calgarians are telling them they’ve having positive interactions with law enforcement – CPS, Sheriffs or Transit Peace Officers – and they are seeing less of the incidents that make them feel less safe, “that will be a success.”

They will be tracking several components of any interactions they have, including social referrals, but also arrests, weapons and other criminal charges, Neufeld said.  They will be using data to identify social disorder hotspots to focus patrols.

Alberta NDP MLA Joe Ceci said that work to restore downtown vibrancy would go a long way to aiding public safety.

“Downtown Calgary continues to struggle under the UCP as we face the highest vacancy rates in the country, a lack of vibrancy, and concerns about disorder and safety. While an increased presence of law enforcement will be helpful in some situations, it does not address the root causes of the challenges facing our city,” Ceci said.  

“The UCP has offered next to nothing to support the revitalization of downtown Calgary. In fact, they’ve made a bad situation worse through the downloading of costs onto municipalities while refusing to build affordable housing or provide funding for supportive housing units.”

The Alberta Sheriffs initiative came through the Calgary Public Safety and Community Response Task Force, according to the province.

The cost will be covered by the existing Alberta Sheriffs budget, the province said.