Edmonton police face spike in crime calls due to energy industry woes

Edmonton police are linking the downturn in the oilpatch to a spike in crime.

Edmonton police are linking the downturn in the oilpatch to a spike in crime.

Chief Rod Knecht said officers have responded to 9,000 more calls for service this year, compared to the same time in 2014.

Violent crime is up 12 per cent, property crime 18 per cent and the number of 911 emergency calls is up by almost 14 per cent.

Knecht said the calls for service are not all serious crimes, but added this “significant” jump means that sometimes his officers take longer to respond.

“When oil is up, we are busy, and when oil is down, we are really busy,” Knecht said Monday.

“And that is just because a lot of folks are coming back to Edmonton from, say, Fort McMurray, Cold Lake, other points north, and they are staging here in Edmonton waiting for the price of oil to go back up so they can go back to work.”

Knecht said it was almost like someone threw a switch last November. That’s when the price of oil tumbled to below US$70 a barrel after the OPEC cartel declined to cut oil production.

“We saw a (crime) spike occur then and it has continued on since then. You can say the crime rate is linked, to a certain degree, to the price of oil.”

Oil was trading not much above $44 US on Monday.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimates that 35,000 jobs in the oil and gas industry have been shed so far this year. Last week, Calgary-based TransCanada told its workforce that more staff cuts are on the horizon.

To deal with the increase in calls, Knecht is asking the City of Edmonton for 80 more officers and support staff.

He also plans to assign more police to work crime cases instead of other duties, such as responding to minor traffic accidents.

Another staffing challenge is recruiting people who can meet qualification standards.

He said the Edmonton Police Service gets plenty of applications, but some people can’t pass the physical fitness requirements.

The city has experienced this crime “hangover” in the wake of an energy boom before, the chief said.

He said no one knows how long this downturn is going to last, but he believes it is early in the game.

Knecht, who is a former deputy commissioner of the RCMP and former head of the Mounties in Alberta, said this is his fourth time riding a boom-and-bust cycle in the province.

“We will get through this one as well,” he said. “This is life.”

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