POLITICS

Edmonton police service moves officers out of Project Kare sex trade task force

08/14/2012 02:51 EDT | Updated 10/14/2012 05:12 EDT
EDMONTON - The Edmonton Police Service is moving its officers out of a provincial task force originally dedicated to investigating the cases of missing and murdered sex-trade workers.

The force announced Tuesday that the three officers assigned to Project Kare will be redeployed this fall to its cold case unit.

Insp. David Spiers said investigations of missing persons have evolved over the years and police agencies have improved the way they communicate and share information.

He said the move is a "more efficient and effective use of our people" and Edmonton police will still provide information and support to the RCMP Kare team.

"We believe the public, the families of missing persons and of deceased persons will not notice any change," said Spiers.

Project Kare, established in 2003 as a permanent unit within Edmonton's RCMP branch, created a registry identifying hundreds of sex-trade workers in case they should go missing.

Its work also led to at least two successful murder convictions in court. It became a model for other police agencies across the country investigating such crimes.

In June, Winnipeg police contacted Kare about a suspect charged in the murders of three women believed to have been dumped in garbage bins. Shawn Lamb had previously lived in Alberta and Kare is working to see if he is connected to any of its unsolved cases.

RCMP acting Supt. Jerry Scott said it's important to investigate the cases of missing people, especially those who are vulnerable members of society.

The unit, which has since shortened its name simply to Kare, has also broadened its mandate to include all missing persons.

Scott said roughly 20 Mounties remain on the team and the departure by Edmonton police doesn't cause him concern.

"The RCMP understands, respects and supports the decision by our partners and colleagues at the Edmonton Police Service to reallocate their resources in a new way," Scott said.

"We are and remain very committed to Kare. Kare will continue to exist."

Jo Gunning of Tumbler Ridge, B.C. said he's disappointed the size of Kare is shrinking.

The remains of his missing 19-year-old daughter, Rene, and those of another girl, 16-year-old Krystle Knott, were found last year near Grande Prairie, Alta. They had talked about hitchhiking to B.C. when they were last seen at West Edmonton Mall in 2005.

Their cases, under investigation by Kare, remain unsolved.

"I hate to even think things get put off just because of funding and that sort of thing," Gunning said.

He said he appreciates the work Kare is doing and thinks the team should have as many resources as it needs.

"There's so many unsolved cases out there. I mean, my daughter's only one of them."

Spiers said Edmonton police Chief Rod Knecht wants the move evaluated on an ongoing basis. In addition to the three officers pulled from Kare, another seven are to be shuffled over to the homicide unit.

Edmonton recorded the highest homicide tally in the country last year with 47, beating Toronto's 45. At the time, Knecht said he wanted to permanently expand the unit and hire more officers.