Griesbach’s Crime Increase May Be the Byproduct of Downtown EPS Crackdown

Police plan to increase presence in the north-side neighbourhood by next week

A police crackdown in Edmonton’s core may have pushed crime north, where some Griesbach residents are complaining about a spike in thefts and vandalism.

Griesbach Community League president Carl Knowler says residents have been posting frequently on social media about crime in their neighbourhoods, and some are at the point of questioning whether they want to stay in the community.

“There’s a lot of frustration,” he says. “You know, residents saying they’d love the community … but they’re getting tired of the crime and the theft and just wondering whether it’s worth it, staying there.”

Knowler says residents are seeing thefts from garages in particular, as well as food from community gardens. The community has also seen some of its military monuments vandalized, with plaques being stolen by people who think they can “get money for the metal,” he says. Community mailboxes are regularly getting pried open, Knowler adds, and Amazon packages stolen off front porches.

“Personally, this past Christmas, somebody dropped off a box of chocolates in our mailbox, and before we could get to it, they had been taken,” he says.

Knowler says he’s noticed an uptick in crime in the past year and a half, particularly since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, which is not unique to Griesbach.

But the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) crime map shows a current hotspot in the community, especially along 137th Avenue and around the Northgate transit centre on 97th Street. EPS North West Branch Inspector Kevin Berge says nuisance crimes, like car break-ins, bicycle thefts, and theft from sheds and backyards, are up this year.

“It’s spiking as far as we can tell for calls for service, nuisance calls and stuff like that. It truly is,” he says.

Berge says crime has been on the rise in the area since last fall, after EPS launched the Healthy Streets Operation Centre (HSOC) unit that brought a massive increase in police presence downtown. In addition to police officers, the HSOC teams – created largely in response to the killings of Ban Phuc Hoang and Hung Trang in Chinatown last May – include peace officers, Alberta sheriffs, a paramedic, firefighters and a community safety liaison.

HSOC teams connect people in need with housing and health resources, but have also executed hundreds of warrants and seized thousands of dollars worth of stolen property and drugs. While the teams drove down crime in the core, Berge suspects some of that criminal activity has been displaced to the north, via the LRT.

“We look at our analytics and we typically follow heat maps to try and again displace the crime and just spread it out. If there’s enough police presence, then the criminals seek other areas or they get caught,” Berge says.

North Edmonton Business Association president Kim Schmidt says she’s noticed an increase in panhandling and homelessness in the area, but nothing that has raised major concern for her members. Berge, however, says he hears stories daily from his daughter, who works at a restaurant near 137th Avenue and 97th Street and has called 911 when fights have broken out, including one involving baseball bats.

Knowler suggests the abundance of detached garages and back alleys might encourage thefts, as well as the presence of some houses that are bigger than those in surrounding areas. He says people have recently been camping out in tents in some of the community’s treed, undeveloped areas.

EPS will start moving additional resources into the Griesbach area next week, particularly after hours, using funding released for overtime shifts through the summer. In the meantime, Berge’s advice to residents is to lock their doors and sheds and lock up their bikes, and not be complacent with their belongings.

“Because this is one geographical area where the concern is, we (will) flood the area with a little more presence, a little more police intervention and stuff like that,” he says. “It’s not rocket science, but it does help.”