The city’s Public Security Unit (PSU) will continue to operate until the end of the year.
City council granted $710,000 in additional funding to the PSU on April 17 at the regular council meeting.
“A big portion of their work is focused on the downtown area dealing with social disorder,” said Mike Lefebvre, city Enforcement Services director.
“The PSU works closely with and in support of enforcement services peace officers, RCMP, mobile outreach and other social service providers to improve the level of safety for both their staff and the clients.”
The PSU started as a pilot project in August after council approved $500,000 in funding from the Future Expenditures Reserve in December 2021.
The additional funding is expected to fund the PSU’s current work until the end of December.
“In the City of Grande Prairie, we’re leading the way in Alberta for having a tiered response to policing and making sure that we’re sending the appropriate resources to the appropriate calls,” said coun. Dylan Bressey.
The pilot project started with eight security officers contracted by a local security company.
The security officers were given training in non-violent crisis intervention, de-escalation, Naloxone and mental health awareness.
Lefebvre says the PSU is more cost-effective than using police officers.
“The PSU has demonstrated the ability to respond to and effectively manage low levels of social disorder, allowing other police and enforcement assets to engage in high-priority areas of concern and public safety,” he said.
Since its launch, the PSU has responded to 2,611 occurrences, including complaints of trespassing, encampments, and wellness checks.
Lefebvre noted the number of occurrences the PSU responded to decreased in the winter months.
“The total occurrences for October was 566 compared to November through to February, which was anywhere from 250 to 380 per month.
“In March, we had an increase to approximately 474, which is approximately a hundred over the average during the winter months.”
Lefebvre believes that occurrences will increase over the summer months, noting in recent weeks the PSU has dealt with encampments in Muskoseepi Park.
He says a strength of the PSU is its proactive work, which is challenging to capture as statistics.
Lefebvre said the unit being present and ensuring people move along and from an area prevents occurrences.
The PSU started delivering 24-hour coverage in October 2022.
Bressey noted that he is unsure if 24-hour coverage is needed and that maybe mid-day coverage could be cut.
“I think that their (PSU) presence during the evening is actually very crucial to the program,” said Lefebvre.
Bressey said council will discuss if 24 hours of coverage is needed this fall. He noted the police commission would be involved in the conversation.
Coun. Wade Pilat also said he would struggle with supporting 24-hour coverage in the winter months, especially with the Coordinated Care Campus opening soon and other resources being available in the city.
“We’re about to open up a lot of doors that are supposed to help the vulnerable groups in our community.”
PSU coverage for 24 hours daily is expected to cost $900,000 annually.
A city report gives alternatives, including 20-hour coverage costing $690,120, 18-hour coverage $622,080 annually, and 16-hour $554,040 annually.
Town & Country News requested the city for further information on the PSU, but none of its requests for an interview were met as of press time.
By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jun 01, 2023 at 12:48LJI-Alta-PSU-GP