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New Calgary police program uses proactive approach for complex issues


The Calgary Police Service has launched a new program that not only targets public safety concerns but also works to identify long-term solutions to complex issues like addictions, homelessness and mental health. 

The Community Engagement Response Teams (CERT) program started in four city districts (one, four, five and six) in April 2024, sparked by violence and drug use downtown and along CTrain lines.

Reacting to public safety concerns is important, but those in CERT aim to do more than that. 

"Our goal on the CERT teams is to take that proactive approach and deal with those issues before they lead a citizen to call police," said Const. Paul Langford, a CERT member in district six.  

The new teams patrol areas with a statistically high number of calls for police, and officers look for social disorder.

"Somebody loitering or somebody committing a criminal offence or somebody that's simply in need of assistance and access to resources," Langford said. 

CTV News headed out with CERT teams in districts one and six last week, watching as officers interacted with dozens of people.

The officers found everything from bylaw offences to someone wanted for assaulting an Edmonton police officer and a newly-homeless woman who they helped connect with resources.

"We know the policing side if we’ve had previous interactions with them, but we don’t necessarily know the humanity side, how they’ve ended up here," said Sgt. Kristian Thorpe.

"We’re dealing with a lot of individuals who are dealing with mental health, addictions or homeless issues."

In the first month of deployment (April 1-30), CERT officers attended 901 situations requiring service. Officers discovered 68 per cent of those.

Downtown, in district one, the team is not just officers but also a dedicated clinician such as a social worker or registered nurse. 

"We are taking those matters seriously, and then we're trying to deal with those subjects in a compassionate way," said Langford. 

"(We're) looking to solve the core issue, rather than show up, deal with a call, move on to the next.'"

There are some people that police and partner agencies see quite often.  

CERT identified 23 of them in the first month, and have officers dedicated to developing strategies for them.

"We really need to understand what's driving some of their behaviors and the choices that they're making, and then work with our partners to find collaborative solutions," said Thorpe. 

In their first month, CERT officers charged 32 people with 77 offences and executed 712 arrest warrants.

While many warrants were for less serious charges, officers also uncovered people with outstanding warrants for offences such as aggravated assault, drug trafficking and sexual assault with a weapon.

"Making Calgary a safer place to live, work and visit is our goal, and respecting the people that we deal with as well," said Langford. 

One interaction with CERT made a difference for Cori-Ann Crowchild. 

"I feel like a person again," she said, explaining the officer stopping to check her well-being and buying her lunch changed her day. 

CERT officers say connecting with the community is a huge part of their job. 

"Everybody is one bad thing away from ending up on a downward spiral, and it literally can happen to anybody," said Thorpe.

"I've dealt with people that used to run successful companies. I've dealt with people that used to have multimillion dollar bank accounts, professional athletes on the cusp of becoming signed to teams, and one accident, one loss, one bad experience has led them down a road that they're struggled to get out."  

Provincial funding covers the bulk of the CERT teams.

Future provincial funding might expand the CERT program to all city districts later this year. Top Stories

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