Later this month, the Alberta Sheriffs will be deployed downtown in an effort to increase safety, but according to a political scientist, this move may be more about appeasing voters than criminals.
Professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University Lori Williams speculates that the deployment of provincial sheriffs to assist the Edmonton Police Service ahead of the May provincial election is political posturing.
Minister of Public Safety Mike Ellis recently announced a 15-week pilot programme, with the participation of 12 sheriffs, to assist police officers working with the Healthy Streets Operations Centre.
Teams of police, peace officers, paramedics, firefighters, and community safety liaisons respond to incidents from that centre to provide a comprehensive approach to public safety.
Police Chief Dale McFee has stated that with the help of the new deputies, the centre will be able to increase its already extensive coverage from five days per week to seven, and from 12 hours per day to 20.
Although Williams acknowledges that the government’s emphasis on boosting public safety is a major talking point, he suggests that it is not the only incentive worth considering.
These days, she said, “you have to read just about everything that’s happening with the provincial government with an eye towards the election.
She thinks the province is trying to drum up support for the United Conservative Party in the metro area because they are in power there.
She said to CTV News Edmonton, “I’m not sure this is just about what’s happening in Edmonton.” Given that the UCP does not enjoy support for the Alberta Provincial Police, even though they enjoy strong support in rural Alberta.
“I think this particular move can also be seen as an attempt to generate more support for the provincial police force,” Williams said. Possibly this is a step towards convincing the people of Alberta who are possibly opposed to the idea that it is worthwhile.
People worry that too much direct influence by the provincial government on any kind of policing is not a good idea, especially when you combine some of these activities with some of the allegations around prosecutorial interference. That there needs to be more space, more checks, and more walls between the government and the police.
While MLA for Edmonton City Centre David Shepherd acknowledges that his constituents may feel safer with an increased sheriff’s presence, he calls this a “short-term band-aid of a solution.”
“What we have seen from this government is that they have dragged their feet, they have ignored problems here in the heart of our city for years,” said Shepherd, who is also the NDP health critic.
The $5 million promised to our downtown in the budget last year “took them over a year to come up with,” he continued.
Shepherd argues that the province should invest in a wide range of services to ensure public safety in urban areas, not just law enforcement. These services include harm reduction, crisis diversion, mental health support, and affordable housing.
We need the government to “step up to the table” and provide the social supports that they have cut, as Shepherd put it.
We need to be doing a lot more than just police work, which is only a band-aid.