Edmonton police audit suggests $7.5B spent annually on social services, better collaboration required

Edmonton’s police chief is calling on the province to create a framework that will oversee and audit social service supports.

Based on the direction of city council, the Edmonton Police Service engaged HelpSeeker, a social technology company, to analyze how much money is spent on social supports.

The audit identified an estimated $7.5 billion in investments is made annually into social support and community services in Edmonton.

Edmonton police said the audit looked at publicly available data on funding from government, donations and fundraising for the city’s social safety net system.

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Digging deeper into the funding, the audit suggests $2.1 billion goes towards community social service charities, $298 million is dedicated towards public and private foundations, $1.3-$1.5 billion goes to addictions and mental health services, $782 million towards first responders and $3 billion is directed to government cash transfers to individuals requiring social assistance and considered low income.

The audit also found there are 2,033 charities, non-profits and other human services providing about 12,900 services in the city. EPS said $3.2 billion was traced to 460 of the entities, but the remaining financial information was unknown.

“We’ve been working in silos for so long that it’s time to look at the structures that create the silos,” EPS Chief Dale McFee said. “The reality is we’ve all lost sight of the bigger picture because we’re pre-occupied with our individual roles within our community.”

“Edmonton has a tremendous opportunity to rethink its approach to social challenges, especially in light of the inequities precipitated by the pandemic,” HelpSeeker co-founder Dr. Alina Turner said.

“This is the time to dig deeper and transform the whole of the social safety net to be human-centered, integrated, and efficient.”

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EPS said the audit shows a lack of coordination, resulting in duplication and overlap of services, which has caused public confusion about what supports exist and how they can be accessed. The inconsistency creates challenges in understanding funding impacts due to limited varied data collection and reporting practices, according to Edmonton police.

“Despite all the funding channeled into Edmonton’s social safety ecosystem, we still have countless citizens falling through the cracks,” McFee said.

“We see this play out in our communities as rising domestic violence, increasing emergency room visits, a growing homeless population and higher calls for police service.

The EPS said it wants the provincial government to create an Integrated Investment Framework to coordinate funding and change services toward a “recovery-oriented structure with clear, measurable outcomes.”

“This is no longer a discussion about moving money from one organization to another, but about recalibrating the system to bring all service providers, police included, into alignment under increased accountability,” McFee said. “Our citizens deserve better outcomes for the considerable amount of money being invested.”

READ MORE: Task force calls for Edmonton police funding freeze, more anti-racism training for officers

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said he agrees funding can be better used to support vulnerable Edmontonians, using homelessness as an example.

“There are better ways to get better results that taxpayers are putting in at all levels,” Iveson said. “I think some of the information police have collected is compelling and adds to that case in my view.”

Iveson said he has reached out to the mayors of Lethbridge and Calgary in an effort to collect additional data on the primary issues driving crime and disorder in major cities. Iveson said the data would then be used to present suggestions to the province on how to use funding to reduce crime and disorder.

In a statement, the Alberta government said it will review the report and examine the recommendations.

“Ensuring programming and services are effectively providing Albertans with the critical support they need, when they need it most, are always top of mind for Alberta’s government,” the statement read. “This includes reducing red tape to maximize program funding and avoid duplication of services to provide better outcomes for Albertans.”

The release of the HelpSeeker audit comes two weeks after a 68-page report from a task force recommended EPS funding is frozen and that police officers required more rigorous anti-racism training, among other recommendations.

The task force was created by Edmonton city council with the intention of bringing forward new ideas to make people of all backgrounds in the city feel safer.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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