News / Edmonton

Edmonton Police Service crushed for space in downtown jail cells

The number of people coming through Edmonton police cells has never been higher, leading officers to more frequently close the doors to the downtown facility.

Numbers Metro obtained show more than 16,000 people came through the detainee management unit in 2013 compared with just 9,316 people passing through in 2005 - a roughly 72 per cent jump.

Sgt. Mark Farnell said it’s the collision of a growing city with a unit that hasn’t expanded since first opening in 1982.

“Realistically, apart from a lick of paint here and there, we have had no real change,” he said. “Our cell capacity has always remained status quo.”

Those pressures have forced the unit to declare code reds more often, an internal term for when new prisoners can’t be accommodated.

In the first three months of 2014, the unit was under code red for more than 73 hours, and since April 1, the unit has been in that spot for an additional 43 hours.

Farnell said the unit spent most of the recent long weekend in a code red, but he stressed that doesn’t mean total closure.

“Did it mean we stopped taking prisoners? No, it just meant we had to control them coming in,” he said.

He said the unit also has to deal with code yellow situations where the unit is still open, but they're selective about prisoner types, based on mix of current prisoners.

Edmonton police have requested $17.5 million more for the proposed Northwest Police Campus, which would include a new detainee management unit. The total project cost would climb to $99 million and police Chief Rod Knecht has said without the increase the detainee management unit would be dropped.

Coun. Dave Loken said the budget decision will be difficult, but it’s helpful for council to understand just how much pressure the force is under.

“That's good supporting information and that's the kind of stuff that council is looking for,” he said.

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