Edmonton's police chief says he needs more officers on the street to battle a homicide rate that has the grisly distinction of being the nation's worst.

With more than two months to go in 2011, the city has posted an all-time record of 40 murders. The previous record was 39, which occurred six years ago.

Perhaps more alarmingly, however, is that the city of 752,400 leads the country in the number of homicides. Calgary, which is 300 kilometers to the south and has a population of 1 million, has recorded six murders this year.

Edmonton's 2011 murder rate has been blamed on many factors, including high-risk lifestyles, drugs, organized crime and the city's youth.

While police are grappling with how to handle the problem, two new potential cases landed on the desks of investigators this week. Police say that two bodies were found inside a vehicle parked at a city graveyard, and the deaths have so far been labelled as "suspicious."

Here is how Edmonton's murder rate compares to other Canadian cities

  • Vancouver, for an urban area of about 700,000, has 11 murders
  • Winnipeg, with a population of about 684,100, has 32 murders
  • Toronto, with a population of 2.5 million, has 37 murders

Responding to the statistics, Edmonton police Chief Rod Knecht is asking for 100 more uniformed officers in order to implement a new anti-crime plan.

"The severity of the violence continues to be an issue for us here in Edmonton, and that has led to our high homicide rate as compared to the rest of the country," he said.

Drugs and alcohol have been linked to many of the deaths, and many of the victims and suspects in the deaths skew toward younger age groups.

Criminologist John Winterdyk said that age and demographics could be playing a role in the homicide rate.

"They have a slightly larger proportion of young people, between the ages of 18 and 24," compared to other cities, Winterdyk said.

He added that the city has a more transient population than other Canadian cities, meaning some residents may not feel settled or at home.

"If they are alienated, isolated in some capacity, then they pose a potential risk," he said.

While locals have expressed concern about the problem, many believe that their city remains a safe place to live. Many of the homicides have taken place in the gritty urban corridor surrounding the city's downtown core, and Edmonton police say that 80 per cent of people involved in this year's homicides knew each other.

Still, some of the crimes have jarred even the city's most ardent supporters.

In one shocking incident, a homeless man was fatally stabbed to death by a passerby while lying on a bench near the city centre. Police say the attack occurred without provocation.

But some in the city are concerned that the media attention is simply making the problem worse.

Grant MacEwan University criminologist Bill Pitt made headlines earlier this year by stating that Edmonton residents are, on average, poorer and less-educated than Calgarians.

Pitt also angered many locals when he told the Edmonton Sun that "everybody in this city is armed."

That prompted Mack D. Male, a local resident, to launch the website everybodyisarmed.com, which offers a counterpoint to the heated rhetoric surrounding the crime problem.

"Hopefully it's a call to action for local media, to go from simply recording what has happened and lamenting the growing number, to digging into why it has happened and what we can do about it," Male writes on his website.

"I hope it's also a call to action for Edmontonians, to demand more meaningful coverage of crime in our city."

With a report from CTV Alberta Bureau Chief Janet Dirks