CALGARY (660 NEWS) – To say it has been a busy first few weeks on the job for new Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld would be an understatement.
He is joining the force when there are several important topics to tackle, including the opioid crisis, domestic violence issues in the city and upcoming budget cuts.
Neufeld sat down with CityNews to discuss all these topics and more as he adjusts to being the man in charge.
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Neufeld has been a police officer in several locations for the last 28 years and has even done external secondment for the government.
He thinks he can bring a lot to the CPS, especially since he is coming from outside the organization.
“But having been through that myself I actually do think it is healthy from time to time,” said Neufeld. “New chiefs come in, new leadership comes in, bringing in experiences from the outside, and that usually turns out to be a good thing.”
A big problem the country has been dealing with has been the opioid crisis, and that has been magnified in Alberta and Calgary.
Neufeld realizes how big of an issue this has been in the city, but he also thinks the police have been doing a good job combating the crisis.
“So I think we are fully engaged in the crisis obviously because the Calgary zone and Alberta has actually been the top area in numbers going back a little ways. I’m hopeful, fingers crossed that we have hit a plateau here, it looks like we may have, but I guess we won’t know until going forward whether, in fact, that’s the case or where we go from here.”
“We have been in engaged with our partners in this, us working on the supply side obviously, our members are carrying naloxone out there to try to help out as are many of the other first responders. The supervised consumption sites are there, we are supporting the harm reduction approach to this, I think this is going to be a long march in the same direction.”
The safe consumption sites have been a hot topic, especially the one near the Sheldon Chumir in the Beltline, as many in the area are concerned about safety.
There has been an increased police presence near the site, and Neufeld thinks it is making a difference.
“It is probably too early to celebrate yet, although the numbers I have seen from the last period of time since the initial report show that the disorder calls are down. We have had an increase in police generated calls, but we attribute that to the fact we have had more police in the neighbourhood, so I think that’s probably a good thing.”
Neufeld has come to Calgary in a time where the economy is a major topic of conversation, and the city is making cuts to the budget.
City council has asked the fire department, and police to both find some ways to save some money.
Neufeld understands the economic issues that are facing the city and says the police want to help, but he notes it is difficult.
“Coming in from the outside as the new chief and part of the mandate is to look at the issue of morale, budget cuts at that particular time aren’t necessarily the most timely, but at the end of the day we understand what’s happening and we are going to be good corporate citizens around that,” said Neufeld. “We are looking at a number of different scenarios through the police commission of ways to tackle the budget issue.”
Eighty-seven per cent of the police budget is salaries and benefits, and Neufeld says it can be hard to find cuts when they don’t want to reduce jobs in the process.
“It’s very hard to manage budget cuts through the 13 per cent that is left over, so it does come down to people quite frankly. At the end of the day, we are looking at a bunch of different ways that we could lengthen out equipment life cycles and that sort of thing that would actually get us some savings, in the short term anyway’s, but not have to get into people.”
Domestic violence has also been an issue in that city that seems to be on the rise.
Neufeld says there has been a 48 per cent increase since last year, but he wants to remain careful because it could be a blip and then come back down to normal numbers.
Either way, he says they are working on ways to fix the problem, but it presents a different issue as most of these incidents happen at homes, where police don’t patrol.
“There is a lot of work to be done to understand where and when that is happening. Domestic violence is also a big bucket if you will, it includes intimate partner violence, it includes parents on children, which we have seen, children on parents, which we have also seen,” said Neufeld. “It is a really diverse area to look and we are just looking right now at where that 48 per cent increase is coming from so that we can target our interventions better in terms of how we move forward with it.”