The Edmonton Problem

February 1st, 2012 - D. Stone 

Edmonton wrapped 2011 with the highest murder statistics in Canada. Toronto, nearly triple the size in population, had 46 murders. Calgary, just slightly more populous than Edmonton, wrapped 2011 with only 8 murders. Edmonton's total murder count for 2011 was 47.

In the first weeks of the new year, Edmonton's city councilors voted to increase their salaries by 5%. Calgary's city councilors did the same. The difference: 38 more people died in Edmonton because the city's council failed to protect its citizens.

Calgary's homicide unit was bolstered in 2008 when Calgary ranked 4th amongst cities like Winnipeg and Vancouver in murder rates. City councilors agreed to significant funding increases for the police force and several investigative units. Since then, Calgary's murder rate has dropped to historic lows. Edmonton has been at the top of the list of Canada's most dangerous cities consistently since early 2003. Somehow, the city's mayor and city council have failed to successfully address the city's crime problems with anything more than empty rhetoric.

Edmonton's mayor, Steven Mandel, declined a pay raise for the fourth consecutive year. He was joined this year by two other councilors. None of them acknowledged the city council's incompetence on crime.

Kenny Stevenson, a long time Edmonton resident, told Poletical, by phone, that he is confused as to how the council can justify a 5.35 % pay raise. “What have they been doing? I can't even walk to the store on the corner without being worried for my safety and these people are paying themselves more. I wish I could give myself a raise for doing nothing.” Mr. Stevenson lives in Edmonton's Abbotsfield neighborhood. “They should let us decide,” he said, regarding pay raises for members of city council. When asked how to fix Edmonton's crime problem, Stevenson said, “Pay the police more. Get more police out here.”

Cities like Calgary and Edmonton use formulas based on inflation rates and often hire panels and committees to make recommendations on pay increases.

One third of a councilor's salary is tax exempt.

Homeowner taxes in Edmonton will rise by $93 this year due to a 5.4% tax hike that was voted on by city council. Utility costs are expected to rise by over $80 per household. Edmonton's record murder rate will be addressed by a higher police presence in some neighborhoods, but only 2013 will be able to offer any insight on the police department's new strategy and its effectiveness. Following nearly a decade of high crime and murder, residents like Kenny Stevenson are wondering if it's too little, too late. “Why now finally?” asked Stevenson. “I guess it's a good thing, but I'll believe it when I see it.”

According to the Edmonton Journal, Edmonton's police chief, Rod Knecht, plans to use new strategies this year in an effort to crack down on crime. His strategy includes social media and a more community based approach to policing. He also plans to allocate more resources to the homicide division. Knecht was also quoted as saying that he hopes the city's record murder rate was just an anomaly.

Edmonton city councilor's that accepted the pay raise: Bryan Anderson, Jane Batty, Tony Caterina, Kerry Diotte, Ed Gibbons, Ben Henderson, Dave Loken, Linda Sloan, and Amerjeet Sohi.