On January 15 of this year I wrote a blog post challenging some dubious assertions made about the connection between the oil sands industry and the development of terrorists. Unlike many assertions made about this region, though, these ones did not come from external media or those with an interest in doing harm to our community - they came from the police chief in our closest neighbouring city: Rod Knecht of Edmonton Police Services. I followed that post with a letter to Edmonton mayor Don Iveson, and this morning I find myself sitting in a hotel in Edmonton, ready to pen a letter once more to Mayor Iveson, because it seems Chief Knecht has done it again.
This time Knecht, speaking about the troubling increase in crime in Edmonton, has once again pointed a finger north and said the increase in crime in his city is due to displaced oil workers from cities like Cold Lake and Fort McMurray - you know, my hometown. When I read this interview I could feel my blood beginning to boil as I fail to see what Knecht hopes to accomplish by engaging in some sort of blame game.
The economic downturn has affected communities across the country. Should Knecht wish to indicate he feels this has an impact he could speak to the number of those residents from Edmonton and surrounding area who work in the oil industry and who have felt the impact of this decline. He could speak about how economic downturns can be accompanied by an increase in crime rates (although interestingly it seems we have not witnessed this effect in Fort McMurray) but he can do so while acknowledging that this is a complex issue. He could do any number of things, but his choice to blame other communities for Edmonton's current crime issue speaks volumes about his disinterest in owning his own problem. It is much easier to say "hey, it's not Edmontonians engaged in criminal activity, it's those guys from other places!". It's the olly-olly-oxen-free of policing, absolving yourself and your community of any blame while conveniently finding a scapegoat.
I could likely pull Fort McMurray press releases and news articles from the last two years showing a number of arrested individuals claiming an Edmonton address and make the case that drug trafficking in Fort McMurray originates in Edmonton and is therefore a problem coming from Edmonton - but I would not, and our local RCMP have never claimed this as the truth is that if it happens in our community it is OUR problem, and the origin of the perpetrator matters very little. We need to own our problems to address them, and fobbing them off on someone else does nothing to actually resolve the problems (and does a great deal to harm our relationship with our neighbouring communities).
We could also talk about the fact that many of the displaced oil workers have gone back to their home communities as people often do when they are laid off. If this is true we should be seeing increased crime rates in cities across the country, and yet I am not hearing any other police chiefs claiming that any increase they are seeing is due to displaced oil workers - especially since those workers are often residents of their own communities to start with, ones who have come home after the economy has failed them.
As a communications professional I have to wonder if anyone is actually helping Knecht to develop key messages so he stops damaging the relationship Edmonton has with Fort McMurray. I am sitting in an Edmonton hotel, shopping at Edmonton businesses and eating at Edmonton restaurants - and Knecht's comments make me feel disinclined to do this again, choosing to instead bypass Edmonton next time and head to Calgary instead where the police chief doesn't feel the need to throw Fort McMurray under the bus every few months. Surely Edmonton Police Services has a communications team of some sort - and if it does they need to help Knecht to recognize that his comments have an impact that go far beyond Edmonton, and far beyond policing. To put it bluntly, EPS Communications: Your boss is out of control. Time for some damage control measures and some frank talk.
Frankly, I am tired of it. Edmonton Police Services Chief Knecht seems to have a penchant for saying damaging and unkind things about my home city and about the tens of thousands of people who work in the oil sands industry. If Knecht has statistics showing a direct link between displaced oil workers from Fort McMurray and Cold Lake (incidentally the people who keep the Albertan economy going) and the increased crime rate in Edmonton then he should produce them immediately, because he is starting to look very much like an individual who shoots his mouth first and asks questions later - not an appealing quality in an individual holding his office. His smack talk is not conducive to building a strong and resilient relationship with other communities in this province, something I would consider a key goal for policing that enables police forces to work together to address crime and protect our communities.
The relationship between Fort McMurray and Edmonton has historically been a strong one and I hope it continues to be, as it benefits us all in the end. Edmonton happens to be one of my very favourite cities and I would regret if the comments of their police chief damaged this neighbourhood relationship any further.
Acknowledge you have an issue, own it and work to address it. It's the responsible, professional and respectable way to deal with anything - not trying to foist the blame on others. I expect the smack talk from certain factions, but from the police chief of a neighbouring community with which we have strong ties? That I don't expect - or accept, either.
Strike two, Knecht.