On the beat: inside look at Edmonton police on patrol

EPS is set to increase the number of beat officers downtown, doubling the team of 28 constables and four sergeants by the end of the year.

Inner-city residents fight for living space amongst surging condo construction, arena traffic

An evening on the Shelter Beat


6 years ago
Downtown beat officers take CBC for a walk-a-long in the fast-growing arena district 3:32

Through air softened by spring blossoms, a woman's voice screeches.

"I have nothing against you!"

She throws her words across the street at another woman who is eating what appears to be a paper cup filled with sugar. That woman is yelling too.

"What the f--k you screaming at me for?"

The woman with the paper cup crosses the street, mutters a few things and wanders away.

Koreen Cardinal settles back on the ground, refocusing on the business of panhandling. There's a dilapidated mattress in front of her and and her partner. A shopping cart filled with empty bottles sits just beside.

"I'm homeless, I have friends here," says Cardinal about what draws her to this downtown neighbourhood.

"There's nothing else to do."

CBC was invited to ride along with Edmonton downtown beat officers for a closer look at the challenges facing the arena district. (Marion Warnica)

More crime than police know

The pair spent the afternoon hanging out with "new acquaintances". Their voices slur. They're trying to collect enough money for another bottle. And they don't seem worried about an arrest in progress on the opposite curb.

Police are a frequent sight in this neighbourhood. So are beatings, stabbings and rapes.

"There are more of them than police know," says the older woman. She's afraid to give her name.  

In this map supplied by the Edmonton Police Service, the red lines outline the downtown beat routes. (Edmonton Police Service)
"If you f--kin' rat, you're better than f--kin' dead," she growls, matter-of-factly. "You can't say stuff because if they find out, you're next. That's the code of the street. You shut your mouth."

The Edmonton Police Service officers who walk the downtown beats see addiction and poverty behind many of their interactions with the people here each day.

Those officers wonder how this community will mesh with the new influx of people drawn to the arena quickly rising above the downtown skyline.

And they're already preparing for it.

EPS is set to increase the number of beat officers downtown, doubling the team of 28 constables and four sergeants by the end of the year.

In part, it's because they've already started to see an upswing in crime in the area. So far in 2015, the downtown division has seen a 20.7 per cent rise in violent crime and a 30.7 per cent increase in property crime.

'It's like herding cats'

"It's like herding cats," says Const. Terrance Jakubowski.

On a hot afternoon in May, Jakubowski and partner Jason Ror walk the beat in the so-called shelter district.

Mostly, they ask people to pour out their drinks and move away from public parks, sidewalks and facilities. Alcohol and drugs typically contribute to more serious crime such as assaults and property crime, they say.

A man lies on the sidewalk along one of the downtown beats. (Marion Warnica)
"People walk around with open alcohol, open booze and there's open air drug use as well," says Ror after pouring out a mickey of vodka.

It's near the end of the first hour of their shift and the pair has already cleared known members of the Red Alert aboriginal gang out of a makeshift camp at Mary Burlie park, moved a group of drinkers from a public street and arrested a 14-year-old boy for violating his curfew

In a few minutes, a man calls out to them: "Can't you hear that man beating up his girlfriend? It's a block away."

And they're off to what will be their second arrest of the evening, less than two hours into their shift.

'Family-oriented downtown core'

"We're going to try to create a very family-oriented downtown core and entertainment district," says Sgt. Tony Parrotta, after he drives the 14-year-old suspect to the police station.

"The downtown core needed [more officers] anyway," he says. "It's long overdue to have that presence in the downtown core."

EPS has been researching the impact of other major arena projects in big cities like Toronto and Vancouver. Parrotta thinks the population near the arena could double — as could the potential for conflict between the core community that lives there now and the new people coming in.

"The arena definitely compounds our issues," Parrotta says.

Meanwhile, those who work in the shelter community insist the arena's arrival is a positive step.

"I see it as an opportunity, not a threat," says Julian Daly, executive director of Boyle Street Community Services.

He admits that optimism is shadowed by a fear of displacement. But his group and other support services in the area have made sure they will continue to be part of the community.

The Boyle Street centre purchased its building from the city a few years ago. So did the Hope Mission shelter. The George Spady Society signed a long-term lease.

'Center of community for over 20 years'

"This is a community centre, and it's been a center of community for over 20 years," Daly says. The Boyle Street centre alone assists some 12,000 people each year — most homeless or living in extreme poverty.

Once on the periphery of the downtown, new development has pushed the agency closer to the centre, he says.

Daly refuses to believe that the new people who will be attracted to the new downtown developments cannot relate to or get along with the people who already live there.

"The assumption always is that it's going to be the community like we serve at Boyle Street that are going to be 'the problem,'" he says.

"We want to be part of this community, not apart from it," he says. "A world class city is a city that has a place for everybody."

The Edmonton Police Service says it doesn't believe that either.

It has reassured the inner-city agencies that displacing their clients is not part of the plan.

The EPS has invited Julian Daly along when it speaks to police services in Vancouver and Toronto next month about the impact of arenas on downtown cores.

But it's difficult to predict exactly what the impact will be.

Officers like acting Sgt. Steve Barager, a beat officer on Jasper Avenue, say they've noticed an increase in traffic downtown recently, but they don't know where that will lead.

"There are going to be more businesses, more people working down here, more people coming down here for pleasure. How much more? I don't know," he says.

Barager is taking a break while his partner processes the paperwork for their latest arrest.

Four arrests on two downtown beats in less than three hours, what his supervisor calls a typical night.


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