Police advising the public on how to conduct safe functions at community halls

Edmonton Police Service Sgt. Michelle Horchuk with the EPS Hospitality Policing Unit speaks about steps promoters and community leagues can take to prevent violence and to work better together during a Crime Prevention Week event at Mayfield Community Hall in Edmonton, on Wednesday, May 15, 2019. Ian Kucerak/Postmedia

Edmonton police Sgt. Michelle Horchuk attended her first homicide at a community hall. Seventeen years later she’s working with the service’s hospitality policing unit to reduce violence at community hall parties in an effort she says is a “great success.”

The police service, in partnership with the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues and Foster Park Insurance Brokers, held a series of public information sessions Wednesday to promote safety, property protection and violence reduction at social activities, family functions, or other special events at community halls.

Horchuk said her team’s mandate is to reduce the risk of violence and increase public safety at entertainment venues. They are seeing a trend where “illegitimate users” rent community halls for “travelling nightclubs” and “pop-up parties” that are promoted through social media.

Many events don’t have a set venue and the address is only sent out just before the event begins, creating a challenge for police.

We found we were in a reactive position where we’re responding to community halls who were full of people, often very intoxicated with 400 or 500 people in the room. Not an ideal situation for anybody,” Horchuk said.

Often, those renting the halls lie about the reason the venue is being rented and have improper licensing and security, increasing the risk of a violent situation.

What the community leagues have seen, said EFCL senior director Joanne Booth, are promoters advertising an event and bringing in music and entertainment from outside the city.

“They’re not getting the correct liquor licence, they’re operating after allowed hours, and as a result, it attracts a very negative element,” said Booth. 

Horchuk said there have been several homicides at community halls over the past two years and a number of calls for “major violence.” She said the unit reached out to the EFCL after a shooting at the Royal Gardens Community League hall in October 2018 left a 37-year-old man dead.

“We want everybody to be safe because these community halls are in residential areas,” said Horchuk. “They’re in areas that are surrounded by homes and families and community members and we didn’t want the violence to spill out and impact those communities.”

Over the last eight months, there has been education and community outreach and a standardized rental agreement was created. The aim is to ensure the events all have proper licensing, insurance and security.

It’s great that we’ve been able to decrease the violence at the hall parties, but the hazard to that is a lot of the community leagues were hesitant to rent to people if they weren’t sure if it was legit or not,” Horchuk said.

Booth said the rental agreement safeguards leagues around insurance and liability and empowers hall rental co-ordinators, who are often volunteers and may not know what they should and shouldn’t ask for from potential renters.

Hopefully between the sharing of information … the new hall rental agreement template that’s standard across the city, it will continue to be quiet,” Booth said.