Meth, gun violence, high-powered firearms behind increase in Regina SWAT calls, says team member

According to a report prepared for Wednesday's board of police commissioners meeting, the SWAT team was used 31 times in 2017, up from 19 times in 2015.

SWAT team used 31 times in 2017, up from 19 times in 2015.

Regina Police Service Sgt. Casey Ward has been on the SWAT team for the past 13 years and says there are now more firearms in the city. (CBC News)

A 13-year-member of Regina's special weapons and tactics, or SWAT, team says a rise in gun violence and methamphetamine use, and the prevalence of higher calibre firearms is behind an increase in the unit's calls for service. 

In a report presented to Wednesday's board of police commissioners, the service says there has been a "steady" increase in calls for the SWAT team over the last three years. 

The report says the team was used 31 times in 2017, up from 19 times in 2015.

"If you track back to when we saw a rise in methamphetamine seizures it actually correlates pretty quick to the rising gun violence and the rise of, you know, our special weapons and tactics teams being deployed," Sgt. Casey Ward told reporters after the board's meeting.

Ward also said a few years back police were seeing drug organizations move west from Ontario and into Saskatchewan during more economically prosperous times, bringing in a different type of criminal element. 

More firearms

Ward said police are now seeing more firearms within in the city. 

When is SWAT used?

According to Regina police, the SWAT team is deployed for high-risk situations. These include:

  • Armed and barricaded suspects.
  • Hostage takings.
  • Active shooter situations.
  • High-risk warrants.
  • High-risk prisoner transport.
  • Witness protection.

"And I'm not just talking on SWAT. Our patrol officers are pulling over a vehicle to issue a ticket and finding a sawed-off shotgun in the passenger's seat," he explained. 

For example, earlier this week, the SWAT team was used to help carry out a search warrant on McTavish Street.

Police say they found a loaded sawed off rifle, a homemade zip gun and a taser, as well as ammunition and stolen property.

As a result of the search, two Regina residents are facing numerous charges.

Automatic weapons on streets

On top of just seeing more firearms in Regina, Ward says the weapons they're seeing are more sophisticated. 

He said the unit used to see a lot of modified rifles like sawed-off shot guns, but are now running into handguns and automatic and semi-automatic assault weapons, as well as more ammunition. 

Ward said in one arrest, a suspect had more than 500 rounds of ammunition along with magazines, and had a concealed holster on him. 

"Stuff that we looked at going, 'that's stuff police officers usually have,'" he said. 

Ward said the use of drugs, particularly methamphetamine, is changing how people are responding to police. 

He said instead of surrendering to police if and when surrounded, people using meth could barricade themselves inside, which Ward says is a new phenomenon in the past few years.

Ward said many SWAT calls are related to gangs and drugs, which are often linked.  

The board heard there are two or three active gangs in Regina. 

First look at new armoured vehicle

Ward said by fall, he hopes the police's new armoured vehicle will be ready to hit the streets.

The board got a look Wednesday at the new purchase, a Gurkha from Terradyne Armored Vehicles. The new vehicle is part of $750,000 worth of equipment upgrades approved in this year's police budget. 

On Wednesday, Regina's board of police commissioner got a look at the new tactical armoured vehicle police plan to purchase. A SWAT team leader hopes it's operational by fall 2018. (CBC News)

Ward said police reviewed models across Canada and the U.S, but landed on Ontario company now building a  custom tactical vehicle for the service. 

"The nice thing about this vehicle is it's truck. It's a Ford F-550," he said.

"I have a Ford truck myself. When I get into [the armoured vehicle], it's just like driving a truck," he said, adding specialized equipment is being built into it, like the service's own lighting and computer system. 

No firearms will be installed on the vehicle and about 10 people will be able to fit inside.

"We're able to send all our equipment down to them and they outfit it just like any other police vehicle within the service."

Police will continue to release murder victims' names

Police board chair Mayor Michael Fougere said Wednesday the board hasn't received a formal opinion from Saskatchewan's privacy commissioner on the issue of whether the Regina Police Service should automatically release the names of murder victims. 

Regina Mayor Michael Fougere says he's waiting to hear what Saskatchewan's privacy commissioner has to say about RPS's policy around naming victims of homicide. (CBC News)

Regina police initially ushered in the new policy, deciding not to release the names of all homicide victims, but then hit pause after the policy was met with criticism, including from Saskatchewan's justice minister.

Fougere said until they have a look at what the commissioner says on the matter, the policy will be to name homicide victims. 

About the Author

Stephanie Taylor

Reporter, CBC Saskatchewan

Stephanie Taylor is a reporter based in Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC News in Regina, she covered municipal politics in her hometown of Winnipeg and in Halifax. Reach her at stephanie.taylor@cbc.ca