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Metro talks: Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht on tackling drugs, terror and hate crimes

Knecht looks ahead to 2018 with skepticism around supervised consumption sites

Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht spoke with Metro on Wednesday about the past year, and the year to come.

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht spoke with Metro on Wednesday about the past year, and the year to come.

Edmonton Police Service chief Rod Knecht says police have had a good but "extremely busy" year. Metro asked him about some of the year's biggest stories and what to expect in 2018. Answers have been edited for space.

Q: Cannabis will be legal on July 1. Has EPS backed off marijuana related arrests since legalization was announced?

A: “We’re busy. Obviously there’s lots of crimes, and we enforce crime on priority. For example, the fentanyl issue. That means a lot of our resources that are involved in drug enforcement are focused on the fentanyl issue, getting out the traffickers and manufacturers of fentanyl, because the costs and the risks are so high.

“So are we focused on marijuana? No, we’re not really focused on marijuana. But it’s still illegal.”

Do you know if there has been fewer arrests for possession of marijuana this year?

“I would say probably there’s fewer arrests, but I don’t know that for sure.”

Supervised consumption sites are coming in in 2018. What does EPS need to prepare before those open?

“We’re going to watch that area to see if crime goes up in the area, we’re going to see if there’s impact on community safety, we’re going to see if it is actually helping people.

“I’m not against supervised injection sites if these people that are using those sites are getting to a better place – that they’re getting treatment, that they’re getting help, that their addictions or their mental health issues are being addressed.

“To just facilitate drug use, I don’t get it. I don’t think that’s what a responsible society community should be doing, is just facilitating drug use.

“I think what we should be doing is, these people are coming in, injecting at a site authorized by the government, then what are we doing to help these people get off drugs? What are we doing about their mental health issues, their general health issues?”

But the intent of the consumption sites is to offer those wraparound services so that people do go in and, ideally, get help and either get off the drug eventually or get to a point where they can still function in society.

“Yeah. I think – I would hope that’s the purpose. I’m not totally convinced of that, because I think that argument came out sort of after the fact. And again I worry that we’re facilitating drug use as opposed to helping people. And I think that’s the tipping point right there.

“My job is to maintain public safety for all Edmontonians – not just addicts but all Edmontonians. I’m OK with it if we’re getting people to a better place. If we’re just saying, 'Come on in, use your drugs and go back out,' what does that do for the individual, what does that do for society? Nothing. All you’re doing is prolonging that individual’s misery. And I’ll argue that with anybody.”

EPS initially referred to the September U-Haul attack as a terrorist incident. The accused has so far not been charged with anything terrorism related. Would you have done anything different in that respect?

“I wouldn’t have done anything different.”

“First of all, I think the front-line had a broad awareness of what could we potentially be dealing with, based on other incidents in other countries and other communities.

“I think our folks did a tremendous job of putting that all together. The tipping point where it becomes a terrorism investigation is when the ISIS flag is found in the vehicle that strikes a member, and the guy gets out and stabs a member.

“For me, I think they did a tremendous job. For us to label it as a terrorist investigation, I think that’s responsible.”

(The deadly vehicle attack in) Charlottesville drew a lot of attention to the rise of violent white supremacist groups in the U.S. What is EPS doing here to deal with anti-immigrant groups like Sons of Odin, for example?

“That is an issue for us. We have a dedicated Hate Crimes Unit, we monitor the activities of all those folks. We monitor them both on social media, online, as well as obviously in the real world. We gather intelligence obviously on that and we try to get ahead of it. We’re very aggressive when we see any act of hate. We actively investigate it and we charge folks accordingly. But it certainly is an issue.”

Would you say it’s a growing issue, in terms of white supremacist groups?

“I was just at my chief’s advisory committee meeting a month ago, and I can tell you that we’re actually at fewer hate crimes this year than last year. That’s year-to-date.

“The short answer is, we’re not seeing an increase.”

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