If police pick you up for public intoxication in Saskatoon, the chances are about 50/50 you'll spend the night in a detention cell.
On Tuesday, the Action Accord — which consists of Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners, Saskatoon Tribal Council, Saskatoon Health Region, the Saskatchewan Federation of Indian Nations (FSIN), and Saskatoon Police Service — released new detox numbers in the city.
'We now have a place we can take people' - Clive Weighill, Saskatoon Police Chief
In the past, people detained for public intoxication had an eight in ten chance of landing in a police cell.
Numbers changing "dramatically"
In January 2013, about 80 per cent of people in detention for being intoxicated were put inside Saskatoon Police cells. The other 20 per cent were taken to the Brief Detoxification Unit (BDU) or Saskatoon's Lighthouse Emergency Shelter.
By December 2013, the number of people detained in Saskatoon Police cells for intoxication was reduced to 50 per cent, with the remaining 50 per cent split between the BDU and the Lighthouse.
According to Saskatoon Police Chief Clive Weighill, the opening of 20 stabilization beds at the Lighthouse accounts for the change.
“The police are still coming into contact with the same amount of intoxicated people as we have over the past few years,” Weighill said. “The game-changer here is we now have a place we can take people to house them with dignity rather than bringing them to the police detention cells.”
Weighill said the reduced number of people in police cells also means officers can focus on other duties. And, he said it reduces liability issues.
“It has happened in the past, we arrest people, we have no idea what they've ingested, they go to sleep in our detention area and they don't wake up and we have a death in our cells," Weighill said, “So we're hoping that the fewer people that we house, the better facilities to take people to, we eliminate that risk as well.”
Simon Bird, vice-chief of the FSIN, said it's time for others to do the same.
"We are putting pressure on other cities and other mayors and other health regions to make sure that this is taken as a model to be copied," Bird said.
Police, First Nations leaders, and the Saskatoon Health Region also want to open a centre where people can get immediate help to break their addictions.