08/10/2011 06:42 EDT | Updated 10/10/2011 05:12 EDT

Deadmonton: Alberta Capital Suffering Highest Murder Rate In The Country


EDMONTON - Edmonton's mayor and chief of police have pitched a wide-ranging plan to tackle the underlying violence they believe is behind the highest homicide numbers in Canada.

More than a dozen parts of the plan -- additional social workers, family violence prevention, community police teams, support for the homeless and immigrants -- were announced at a joint news conference Wednesday.

No price tags were mentioned, but Mayor Stephen Mandel said the city will need some cash from the provincial government.

He said he expects city council will do what it can to pay for new programs and to help police with their stretched budget.

"We're not going to penny-pinch on issues of safety and security of the city," Mandel said. "But there's a role for the province to play in this too."

Candidates vying to replace Ed Stelmach as premier and leader of the Alberta Conservatives have bickered in recent weeks over the homicide rate and what kind of police programs are needed.

Edmonton has recorded 33 homicides so far this year, compared with a total of 27 in all of 2010. Toronto has had 27 homicides, Winnipeg 24 and Calgary four.

Some media have gone so far as to dub the Alberta capital "Deadmonton."

Rod Knecht admitted he hasn't been getting a lot of sleep since he took over the job as police chief two months ago.

He emphasized that the plan does not target homicides because killings are impossible to predict and difficult to prevent. And there are no common factors among those homicides that stand out.

"This is a violence reduction strategy, not a homicide strategy," Knecht said. "We cannot arrest our way out of this."

Because 21 of the 33 homicide victims had at one time sought help from a homeless shelter, Knecht said a street safety guide will soon be put out with advice on how to keep safe.

Mandel said a new social program will provide help 24 hours a day for people at risk, especially the homeless, immigrants, aboriginals and victims of domestic violence.

Enforcement will be bolstered around bars and events that serve alcohol as well.

Knecht said half of this year's homicides involved knives, so he is meeting with Crown prosecutors about weapons legislation and how officers can improve investigations for convictions in court.

"We would certainly advocate for new legislation if the current legislation isn't going to work," he said.

In the meantime, community police teams will blitz the five city neighbourhoods with the most violence. Officers will brainstorm with residents and community leaders on more strategies to curb crime.

A reorganization of officers began back in June when Knecht pulled police members from across the board -- robbery, patrol, traffic -- and sent them to help the overloaded homicide unit. They will remain there until the end of the year, he said.

The entire violence-reduction plan will be rolled out over five years and could continue longer.

"The entire service is going to be involved in delivering on this strategy," Knecht said.

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