Such details matter, you would think, especially for a strategy with the overarching goal to have Edmonton become Canada’s safest city by 2030. Yes, you read that right.

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In trying to understand my reaction to the city’s new Community Safety and Well-Being StrategyI am torn as to whether my expectations are too high, or whether the strategy simply isn’t good enough.

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A third option, also potentially valid, is that I have missed the point, though if this is the case, then I am certain not to be alone.

That’s because after slogging through some 200 pages spread over several reports, I remain confused and feel pity for anyone from the public similarly trying to understand what the city is actually proposing here in terms of action and accountability.

In that sense, the strategy comes across more like the shell of a strategy. It has a broad structure built on principles and goals, along with ambitions to study outcomes, but lacks sufficient connective tissue to show how it’s all supposed to work together in seamless fashion.

(A news conference on Wednesday did little to help, as did city managers’ decision not to release the strategy ahead of time so journalists could ask detailed questions).

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Such details matter, you would think, especially for a strategy with the overarching goal to have Edmonton become Canada’s safest city by 2030. Yes, you read that right.

This is the latest in a tiresome trend of governments and organizations making vague, grandiose pronouncements that are left open to interpretation and almost never achieved. Yes, I do see value in setting ambitious goals, and I even appreciate a good branding opportunity that tries to build a reputation. And let’s face it, Edmonton’s reputation around safety might need some help.

But in this case, I don’t know who was actually asking for such a lavish objective in some imaginary competition with other Canadian cities.

Remember how all this started. Over the last few years, council and community discussions arrived at the realization that police are too much of a blunt instrument to throw at a variety of complex social issues, particularly those involving vulnerable people.

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It was decided that the police’s role should be reformed and reduced in certain areas, to put more funding into other social interventions — housing, addictions, mental health, community building, anti-racism, poverty, etc. — that might stand a better chance of getting at root causes and producing higher quality outcomes.

That was the central idea, and I supported it — and yet this is where that possibility of unreasonable expectations comes in. Because putting together the right mix of interventions is complicated, especially when there aren’t many other municipalities out there that have designed a roadmap. Likewise the city is short of resources and jurisdictional authority to tackle every issue in the way it might want.

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It also must be acknowledged that the strategy does have a handful of strong pieces.

A major one is the plan to create a community safety “dashboard” that will bring together data from a number of sources, and should provide a more comprehensive window into how the city is performing. This is likely to have usual indicators like crime rates, but also survey results on, say, the connectedness Edmontonians feel to their community — which we are starting to learn is pretty key to keeping people housed. If done the right way, the dashboard could be a game-changer.

I similarly like the plan for a joint dispatch centre, with police and community groups together deciding who to send to a crisis situation, whether that be officers, social workers, addiction counsellors, or some combination.

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As well, efforts to begin an Indigenous-led shelter, and a partnership with the Royal Alexandra Hospital to provide a “bridge healing center” — to temporarily house recent vulnerable patients — seem like worthy additions.

That said, the majority of the strategy still feels less than fully formed, like a series of experiments to fill gaps rather than a comprehensive recipe. A bit of money for this, a bit more attention on that, and we’ll hope for the best.

When I opened those 200 pages, I was hoping to see a detailed blueprint identifying the biggest priorities, specific roles assigned to various players with clear lines of responsibility, expected outcomes and a sense of how all the efforts would mesh together. Some of that exists, but the picture is incomplete.

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A vital accompaniment to this, in my view, is the need to have an evaluation system for social service agencies. The community safety ecosystem is something of a mess, filled with players who aren’t always working effectively or cohesively, and it would be helpful for the city to know which ones are producing the best results.

The city says this is to be included in the new dashboard, but the strategy doesn’t make that obvious.

What roles primarily handled now by police are better given to someone else? What programs stand the best chance of success? Which players should be delivering them? How do we ensure those players work together? Who is accountable for co-ordinating and overseeing all of this?

The fact that I can’t clearly answer those questions after reading the strategy tells me the city has more work to do.

Yes, it’s possible my hopes were too high for what this plan would or could be, but then I’m not who the city needs to impress. On that front, there are a considerable number of marginalized Edmontonians for whom expectations have been raised a lot higher.

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