Edmonton

Edmonton not blaming Fort McMurray workers for crime spike: acting police chief

The Edmonton Police Service is not singling out people from Fort McMurray for increases in crime in the capital, says acting police Chief Brian Simpson.

Crime statistics released in response to challenge from Fort McMurray mayor

Acting police Chief Brian Simpson addressed the media in front of EPS headquarters Monday morning. He said police are not blaming oilfield workers for the spike in crime in Edmonton. (CBC)

The Edmonton Police Service is not singling out people from Fort McMurray for increases in crime in the capital, says acting police Chief Brian Simpson.

Simpson told a news conference Monday police believe the downturn in the economy is linked to recent statistics showing a 12-per-cent increase in violent crime and an 18-per-cent hike in property crimes this year.

But clarifying controversial comments made last week by Chief Rod Knecht, Simpson said the EPS is "absolutely not" blaming the crime increases on jobless oilfield workers from Fort McMurray.

"It's not about the oilfield workers, it's about the oil economy," he said.

"We are experiencing a migration of individuals into the city," he added. "It's a cross-section of people from all aspects of life. It's not one specific group over another."

Simpson was responding to criticism from Melissa Blake, mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, who said Fort McMurray oilsands workers are being unfairly blamed for Edmonton's crime increases.

Blake took exception with Knecht's suggestion that a lot of people are coming back to Edmonton from Fort McMurray and Cold Lake and are waiting for the price of oil to go back up so they can go back to work.

Blake said Monday during an interview on CBC's Edmonton AM morning radio show that the allegations were unjust, chalking the comments up to a "blame the north" mentality.

"(We) feel like we are being blamed for something that I'm not sure is that easy to put on us," she said.

"It's an allegation I think that says that anybody from here could be creating those crime problems in Edmonton just simply because they are out of work."

Simpson said Edmonton is a hub city for the north. But he noted the city sees migration from not only northern Alberta, but from across northern Canada including northern British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

Still, Simpson said he was not surprised by Blake's comments.

"I think Mayor Blake's looking after her community as she should and I have the utmost respect for her," he said.

Blake said the reported statistics do not reflect what she is seeing in her community, where crime numbers are generally going down.

She also takes issue with Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson's characterization of "northern Alberta's problem children," which he later clarified in a blog post to say he meant vulnerable, out-of-work individuals and families moving to cities like Edmonton in search of work.

"These are people who are legitimately looking for work and trying to get back on their feet if they've had a layoff," Blake said.

Going forward, Blake said she wants to see city officials outside of northern Alberta more carefully consider the effects of their words.

"In Wood Buffalo, Fort McMurray, we have this difficulty in trying to overcome all kinds of bad images that people (have) about the community and I really want them to understand that is not how our region is," she said.

"We've got a really family-friendly community and, even in these tough times, we pull together and we do the best we can for each other. We don't throw each other under the bus."

EPS documents track crime rate changes from 2013 to 2015

Police released tables and charts on Sunday that it claims show monthly crime statistics in Edmonton climbing over the past 12 months as oil prices drop to record lows affecting the economy.

A news release that accompanied the information said the data was provided in response to a request from Blake that Knecht back up hisclaim that low oil prices and crime were connected.

"The price of oil is not the only factor behind a higher crime rate — population growth in the city and the local unemployment rate are also contributing factors," the news release states.

"However as the statistics show, the connection between the price of oil and crime rates in the city is clear."

Criminal incidents in the data included four violent categories — assault, robbery, homicide and sexual assault. It also included four non-violent property offences — break-and-enter, vehicle theft, theft from vehicles and theft over $5,000.

The figures released by police stemmed back to January 2013 and ended in August 2015.

While the crime figures rose after oil prices began to plummet in the fall of 2014, it appears to be a seasonal trend where crime is worse in the summer.

With files from The Canadian Press

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