Police chief says Edmonton doesn't have enough officers to police downtown when arena opens

Edmonton police Chief Rod Knecht says he may not sleep easy, uncertain if adequate police resources will be available once the new downtown arena district opens for business.

Rogers Place has hired 300 security guards, compared to only 33 new downtown beat officers

An artist's rendering of Rogers Place. The arena is set to open to the public for the first time Sept 10. (Rogers Place)

Edmonton police Chief Rod Knecht says he may not sleep easy once the new downtown arena district opens for business because he's uncertain if adequate police resources will be available.

Knecht told reporters Thursday he doesn't know if the extra police officers being hired to patrol downtown will "make a big dent" in the expected increased demand for service once the arena opens next month and then more condos and bars start opening downtown.     

"Are we concerned? Yes we are," Knecht said, citing the need for more officers to police downtown streets. 

"Am I going to get a sound night's sleep?" he added. "Not necessarily, because we don't know everything that's going to happen, but we know our resources are stretched."

The Edmonton Police Service now has 66 downtown beat officers, double the number from a year ago, in addition to regular patrols. The officers will be responsible for roughly a 20-by-20 block area.

But Knecht said that only equates to about seven or eight new officers on shift at a time. The strain on police officers will only grow as more bars, hotels and condos are built in the core, he said.

"We're going to see how things unfold."

Staff Sgt. Christopher Edge, who is in charge of the downtown beat program, said extra officers will be brought in on overtime for arena events, similar to how the police service staffs parades, Canada Day and other major events.

"We're in a good place for Day 1," Edge said. "We have to wait and see what the unknown looks like and adjust on the fly, but that's not unlike policing any other day in Edmonton."

Police to work with Rogers Place, transit system

In addition to police, Rogers Place has hired 300 security guards for the new arena.

They will patrol inside and outside the buildings on the arena land, as well as the pedestrian path through the arena district to the MacEwan LRT station.

On event nights, the LRT stations around downtown will have extra transit peace officers on duty. The Edmonton Transit System currently aims for six to eight officers at Coliseum station on game night, but for Rogers Place those resources will be spread across four downtown LRT stations.

Transit security operations coordinator James Ewatski would not say how many peace officers to expect at each station during major events at Rogers Place. But he said deployment will be "enhanced."

That leaves police with the most ground to cover with the fewest resources. The police service says it will try to make sure officers are assigned where they're most needed.

Police Chief Rod Knecht said Thursday he will not sleep easy thinking about the limited number of officers his department can afford to patrol downtown when Rogers Place and other new developments open. (CBC)

Police will have their first big test Sept 10, when Rogers Place expects 60,000 to flood the new arena for an open house.

Kevin Kobi, head of Rogers Place security, said he is confident about the plan set out by his team, the transit system and police.

"This is about having a layered approach," Kobi said. "And it's working collectively and understanding what the mission is on event day, and having all those groups work together to provide that level of service."

All groups said they will make adjustments throughout September, as they learn from the first few concerts at Rogers Place.