Alberta’s three-month pilot deployment of sheriffs in Calgary’s core received lukewarm reception from the downtown business community, says a post-mortem report on the program.
And the report should be a guiding light to provide more wraparound services in collaboration with police, said the head of the Calgary Downtown Association.
The five-page Calgary Police Service report dated Aug. 14 found that despite increased public awareness of the sheriff program, there was not a “marked decrease” in social disorder that would typically be seen during increased enforcement and patrols.
When the 76 downtown businesses and residential agencies surveyed were asked why their perceptions of safety didn’t change, several “reflected frustration with ongoing open-air drug use, generalized social disorder, and safety on transit.” (Fifty-six per cent of the respondents said their perception of safety didn’t change during the pilot, but many said it wasn’t long enough to make an impact and would welcome future sheriff support.)
The 12-week pilot program, unveiled in February, was deployed by the UCP government in an effort to deter crime in problem spots through downtown and the transit system.
It ran from Feb. 27 to May 31, wrapping up days following the provincial election.
The program saw Alberta Sheriffs join Calgary police downtown beat officers on patrols through the core, and charged the officers with addressing social disorder.
Councillor would anticipate ‘significant’ changes if program was reintroduced
Coming out of the pilot, Mark Garner, executive director of the Calgary Downtown Association, said his organization wants stronger enforcement on public drug consumption and additions to mental-health supports.
“There’s layers that need to be addressed, but I think the first was increased visibility. This report did what it needed to do, but now we get to the complicated issues,” he said, adding business owners’ concerns around open consumption and safety “still need to be addressed.”
Open consumption remains the most pressing issue in downtown Calgary, with 27 per cent of respondents citing it as their top concern. A quarter said social disorder was the most pressing issue downtown.
Public reports for crime and social disorders showed little to no reduction, the report also found; calls for service in the East Village hit five-year highs and the downtown commercial core didn’t see substantial decreases.
“The surprise for me is it didn’t net a bigger gain around the criminality of things,” Garner said.
He also said he hasn’t had follow-up meetings with the Calgary police or the province since the program wrapped up.
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Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott, who represents a portion of downtown, said he hasn’t “had a conversation with anyone who suggests it made a material change in safety concerns.”
Noting support for mental health and physical health care programs and additional housing, Walcott said he would anticipate “significant” changes to the program should it return.
“If it’s helped community members in any particular way, of course (I’d support it),” he said. “I just got to admit, I didn’t see any of that when the program was designed in the first round.”
The Calgary police report said social disturbance problems need “further involvement by social-sector partners to address, outside of a police response.”
Only 14 per cent of Calgary police members want future partnership with sheriffs
In a Wednesday press conference in Lethbridge, Alberta’s minister of Public Safety said he hopes the Calgary police turns to the province for more help.
“I certainly wish that the Calgary Police Service would ask us again for more assistance — we’re happy to provide the assistance because officer presence matters,” Mike Ellis said.
Ellis’ office had not replied to a request for comment on the CPS report by publication time. Calgary police officials were unavailable to comment on Wednesday.
The report notably revealed divergent opinions between Sheriffs and Calgary police members’ perspectives on the pilot: 100 per cent of sheriffs said they would like to participate in another partnership, while 14 per cent of Calgary police participants said yes.
Ninety per cent of sheriffs also said they benefited professionally from the pilot, compared to 14 per cent of CPS members. It noted the short implementation time led to decreased effectiveness and resulted in “an increased workload of CPS members.”