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Keith Gerein: Edmonton Community Safety Strategy Forgets Strategy


You would think such details are important, especially for a strategy whose overarching goal is to make Edmonton the safest city in Canada by 2030. Yes, you read that right.

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As I try to understand my reaction to the city’s new Community Safety and Wellbeing Strategy, I wonder if my expectations are too high or if the strategy just isn’t good enough.

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A third option, also potentially valid, is that I missed the point, but if so, then I’m sure I’m not alone.

Indeed, having skimmed through some 200 pages spread across multiple reports, I remain perplexed and pity anyone in the public who similarly tries to understand what the city is really offering here in terms of action and accountability.

In this sense, the strategy appears more like the shell of a strategy. It has a broad structure built on principles and goals, as well as ambitions to study outcomes, but lacks sufficient connective tissue to show how everything is supposed to work together seamlessly.

(A press conference on Wednesday did little to help, as did the city managers’ decision not to release the strategy in advance so reporters could ask detailed questions.)

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You would think such details are important, especially for a strategy whose overarching goal is to make Edmonton the safest city in Canada by 2030. Yes, you read that right.

It’s the latest in a tedious trend of governments and organizations making vague and grandiose statements that are left open to interpretation and almost never carried out. Yes, I see value in setting ambitious goals, and I even appreciate a good branding opportunity trying to build a reputation. And let’s face it, Edmonton’s reputation for safety could use some help.

But in this case, I don’t know who was actually asking for such a lavish goal in an imaginary competition with other Canadian cities.

Remember how it all started. Over the past few years, council and community discussions have resulted in the realization that the police are too blunt an instrument to tackle a variety of complex social issues, particularly those involving vulnerable people.

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It was decided that the role of the police should be reformed and reduced in certain areas, in order to invest more in other social interventions – housing, addictions, mental health, community development, anti-racism, poverty, etc. – which might have a better chance of addressing the root causes and producing higher quality results.

That was the central idea, and I supported it — and yet that’s where the possibility of unreasonable expectations comes in. Because it is complicated to put in place the right mix of interventions, especially when there are not many other municipalities that have designed a roadmap. Likewise, the city lacks the resources and jurisdictional authority to tackle each issue as it sees fit.

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It should also be recognized that the strategy has a handful of strong pieces.

One of the main ones is the plan to create a community safety “dashboard” which will bring together data from a number of sources and should provide a more comprehensive window into the city’s performance. This is likely to have the usual indicators like crime rates, but also survey results on, for example, the connection Edmontonians feel with their community – what we’re starting to learn is pretty critical to keeping people accommodated. If done correctly, the dashboard could be a game-changer.

I also like the plan for a joint dispatch center, where police and community groups decide together who to send in a crisis, whether it’s officers, social workers, addiction counselors or a combination.

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Additionally, efforts to start an Indigenous-run shelter and a partnership with the Royal Alexandra Hospital to provide a “relay healing centre” – to temporarily house recently vulnerable patients – seem like worthwhile additions.

That said, the majority of the strategy still seems less than fully formed, like a series of experiments to fill in the gaps rather than a complete recipe. A little money for this, a little more attention to it, and we hope for the best.

When I opened these 200 pages, I was hoping to see a detailed plan identifying the highest priorities, specific roles assigned to different actors with clear responsibilities, expected results, and an idea of ​​how all efforts would fit together. . Some of it exists, but the picture is incomplete.

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An essential accompaniment to this, in my view, is the need to have an evaluation system for social service agencies. The community safety ecosystem is somewhat of a mess, filled with actors who don’t always work effectively or cohesively, and it would be helpful for the city to know which ones produce the best results.

The city says this needs to be included in the new scorecard, but the strategy doesn’t make it obvious.

What roles currently primarily performed by the police are best left to someone else? Which programs have the best chance of success? Which players should deliver them? How do you make sure these players work together? Who is responsible for coordinating and supervising all of this?

The fact that I cannot clearly answer these questions after reading the strategy tells me that the city still has work to do.

Yes, it’s possible my hopes are too high for what this plan would or could be, but I’m not the one the city needs to impress. On this front, there are a considerable number of marginalized Edmontonians for whom expectations have been much higher.

kgerein@postmedia.com

twitter.com/keithgerein

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