The Canadian Review of Policing Research (2005)

ISSN: 1710 6915


Monica Pauls

The full report, An Evaluation of the Neighbourhood Empowerment Team (NET): Edmonton Police Service, is available on the website of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada (, under Policing, choose Publications. The views expressed in this report are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, or the NET Program, Edmonton Police Service.


Owing to increasing demands, budget constraints and community pressure, many police agencies are reflecting on their current crime fighting models and, in an effort to adapt to a changing context, are implementing new initiatives with a commitment to community-based policing. New programs, partnerships and technologies may lead to changes in the way policing is done by an entire police organization, and in turn may affect policing in all of Canada.

The Neighbourhood Empowerment Team (NET) Program of the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) is an example of a policing initiative based on community partnership and social development, where police work closely with community partners to prevent and reduce crime. The program was developed out of the realization that policing systems alone cannot combat crime; community participation is also needed.


An evaluation of the NET program was conducted in 2003-2004 by the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) in response to a request from the Solicitor General of Canada.1 The evaluation is one piece of a larger study by the Solicitor General, exploring and documenting integrative and comprehensive approaches to policing, based on crime prevention through social development.


While the NET program has been monitored since its inception within the police organization, for the most part, internal evaluation has been based on analysis of crime statistics. This is a valuable tool in assessing the impact of NET on crime, but it is not reflective of other ways the program affects the community. Application of multiple evaluative methods leads to greater confidence in the reliability of findings and provides a more comprehensive understanding of the program.

The evaluation consisted of four components:

  1. Review of program information
  2. Seven key informant interviews
    1. a. with the NET administrative team
      b. with senior management of the Edmonton Police Service
  3. with community partners
  4. Four focus groups
    1. a. with the NET team
      b. with community residents
  5. Analysis of crime statistics
    1. a. crime rates and calls for service in participating communities over time
  6. crime rates and calls for service in participating and non-participating comparable communities (comparisons based on demographic variables)


1. Program Description
NET was designed to combat communities feeling disempowered by high crime rates, inadequate social services, and lack of community leadership. The program approaches crime reduction and prevention from both a policing perspective and a social work/community development perspective, combined into one deliverable model. NET views traditional policing as an important, but not sole component of the fight against crime. Collaborative relationships between the police and the community form the foundation upon which effective strategies and programs are built.

The NET program is delivered in two phases: 1) Community intervention, and 2) Community capacity building, each phase lasting two years. Program activities include: establishing a store-front office in the community; developing community partnerships with agencies, businesses and residents; and implementing programs that address community wellness.

The Solicitor General was particularly interested in challenges faced by the program, so that they could be considered in expansion and replication efforts. The NET program has been faced with a number of challenges, such as: support from the police organization as a whole; community participation; consistent funding; maintaining balanced partnerships; sustainability; and effective measures of success.

2. Focus Groups and Key Informant Interviews
There were two main objectives in conducting focus groups and individual interviews. The first was to collect descriptive information on components of the NET program; and the second to gain a greater understanding of the impact of NET on the community. This went beyond just looking at crime rates. It involved talking with people at all levels of involvement to learn how NET was affecting individuals and organizations.

Through this process, the strengths and weaknesses of NET were identified from a number of different perspectives. Analysis of this information involved highlighting common themes and issues that best described the impact of NET, and noting points of incongruence. These are highlighted below.

The role of police was the strongest and most recurring theme. The importance of the police component in the partnership and the benefit of having a “uniform” in the community were emphasized in all discussions. Police respondents explained that community policing is not always supported or accommodated by the greater police organization and believed that the thinking behind community policing needed to be accepted and incorporated into the entire police organization.

Community residents were supportive of NET and believed it was making a positive impact on the communities involved. Decreased fear of crime, positive relationships with the police, and improved community wellness were highlighted as examples of program success. Only police respondents mentioned reduced crime rates as a measure of success. Sustainability was consistently identified as being the biggest challenge for the program.

3. Crime Trend Analysis
Calls for police service in NET and non-NET communities were analyzed from 1995 to 2003. Calls were analyzed by rates (number of incidents per 1000 people) in the following crime categories: violence, assault, property, residential break and enters, motor vehicle theft, other crime, and mischief.

Three main patterns were identified in the data:

  1. An initial increase in rates, followed by a decrease during the first phase of the program was seen in a number of crime categories. The NET team explained that increased police presence in the community and positive relationships developed with the NET team encourage residents to report incidents of crime, where before they may have been reluctant to do so (e.g., cases of mischief). A decrease in rates was expected to follow the initial increase as the program began to affect actual crime in the community.
  2. Crimes that are consistently reported by people (i.e., visible crimes) may be affected by programs such as NET, but this may be seen in decreasing, rather than increasing, rates. This happened in the rates of motor vehicle thefts in all three communities when police presence was strengthened with NET.
  3. In certain crime categories, increasing crime rates were seen in Phase 2 of the NET program; the time when the original NET team is phased out of the community.

Some similarities in patterns of rates across communities, and across crime categories, were found, but there was no single pattern that was consistent in the analysis of calls for service. The lack of consistent patterns does not mean that NET is not having a positive effect on the community. Considering all indicators of success, specific to the community at hand, provides a clearer picture of the impact of NET.

4. A Combination of Findings
Differences and similarities between the qualitative and quantitative data provide valuable information for making conclusions. In some cases, crime statistics mirrored the information provided in the focus groups and interviews. In other cases, crime rates were not indicative of the accomplishments reported by community members. The findings, considered in combination with each other, are reflective of the impact NET is having on the communities in which it operates. It is important to note that when a community is healthy, a reduction in crime may follow, but this is only a by-product; community wellness, as understood by community members themselves, is the ultimate goal.

Implications and Conclusion

Strengths and weaknesses of NET identified through the evaluation can be used to inform changes and improve program effectiveness. A number of police organizations across Canada have expressed interest in replicating such a model in their own cities. Several recommendations were suggested at the conclusion of the evaluation, which should be kept in mind when considering expansion and replication.

NET approaches policing in a unique way. In partnership with the community, the NET team works to fight crime and improve community wellness. The NET team does not see one objective as more important than the other, but rather as one and the same with the ultimate goal of a healthy community.

NET has achieved success that traditional policing has never seen, far surpassing what had ever been done in these Edmonton communities before. The EPS, particularly the NET team and the North Division, should be commended for their efforts to “think outside the box” and take an innovative approach to policing from a community level. Perhaps this will encourage other police organizations to implement similar community-driven initiatives. Whether NET impacts one Edmonton community, or inspires the entire policing culture in Canada, the program should be considered a success.

End Notes

1. The evaluation was funded by the Solicitor General Canada. The services of Monica Pauls, Coordinator of Alberta-based Research Projects, were funded by the Alberta Law Foundation. The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family is supported by a grant from the Alberta Law Foundation. The Ministry of the Solicitor General of Canada has been reorganized and is now known as Public Security and Emergency Preparedness Canada (PSEPC).