Police chief says there have been 'no more' encampment related deaths since the service began cracking down on criminal activity

“The reality is the navigation centre has only been up for this little over two months and what I can say is, there’s been no deaths in encampments, there’s been no overdoses, there’s been no people burning to death in encampments”

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Edmonton’s police chief says that since the province’s navigation centre for displaced homeless-encampment residents has been up and running and the service began taking the criminal element out of camps, there have been “no more” encampment-related deaths.

Chief Dale McFee told reporters on Thursday activity around encampments have gone down significantly, and said more people outside of Edmonton Police Service officers are dropping off vulnerable people at the province’s new navigation centre.

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“The reality is the navigation centre has only been up for this little over two months and what I can say is, there’s been no deaths in encampments, there’s been no overdoses, there’s been no people burning to death in encampments,” McFee said.

McFee said when it comes to providing a series of action plans to combat overdoses, encampments and crime, there needs to be more forward-thinking changes to the system, which means looking at more than a “one-dimensional” approach to solutions.

He pointed to the navigation centre opened by the province in January, where people evicted from encampments or experiencing homelessness can go to access a number of services, including health services, showers and food on-site, and connect with workers from social services to get new Alberta identification, emergency shelter, housing and cultural supports, and access to detox centres.

“We can’t think that this is a one-dimensional solution and I think that’s part of the problem. There’s people that say we need more housing, but housing is not even a social determinative of crime. Then some say we need more harm reduction. What we’re saying is a little bit different. We need a system, all those things play in a system,” McFee said.

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When it comes to non-emergent calls, Edmonton’s 24-7 crisis diversion team dispatched 77 mobile teams in February, five fewer than in January but double the average number of mobile teams, compared to the same time in 2023, the Edmonton Police Commission heard on Thursday.

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There was a 14.5 per cent increase in contacts made in February compared to January, bringing the number to 5,247 for the month.

Mobile teams connected with 3,619 individuals during 1,354 “proactive engagements” throughout the city in February.

The program experienced a 93 per cent increase in opioid overdoses in February compared to January.

Non-emergency 211 calls are generally made when someone is intoxicated or impaired, sleeping in a lobby or unsafe space, dressed inappropriately for the weather, when a person feels unsafe or if someone is confused, disoriented or may be experiencing a mental-health crisis.

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Deputy Police Chief Warren Dreichel said police are no longer taking as many people to the province’s navigation centre and are working towards integrating 211 into their dispatch centre.

“We started working with the 24-7 crisis diversion team this past couple of weeks on having them do direct drop-offs to the navigation centre. One of the things we’ve been working on over the last couple of months is integrating with them at a dispatch level. So generally 211 is the primary method for people to get a hold of them — we’re trying to get them integrated right into our dispatch centre, just to kind of shorten the curve there,” Dreichel said.

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