Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners approves ask for 8 more officers
City council will now decide if request becomes reality
It will now be up to Saskatoon's City Council to determine whether or not the city's police service gets an additional eight officers, as Saskatoon's Board of Police Commissioners unanimously voted in favour of the ask on Wednesday evening.
The additional officers will be used to ensure Saskatoon's supervised consumption site has a smooth opening, while addressing issues in Saskatoon's Central Division, which includes the city's downtown, Pleasant Hill, Meadow Green and Riversdale.
Council will now have to decide whether or not to approve the additional officers, which come with a price tag of $828,000 in 2020 and $807,600 for 2021, as research conducted at 12 other supervised consumption site indicated the additional resources will be needed.
Board chair Darlene Brander said the background research "certainly" played a role in the board's unanimous vote, as this type of an out-of-budget ask is something she hasn't experienced in her time on the board.
"We want to get best practices. We want to get data. We want to get a business case for this," she said. "That was provided, so that helped us make an informed decision."
Brander said what they've been hearing through consultation with community groups and individuals was also a factor, as more people have community safety as an issue they'd like to see addressed.
"It's ticking up," Brander said, noting it was a "common theme" among many of the consultations the board held in recent months.
AIDS Saskatoon's supervised consumption site is already offering outreach, education and a drop-in service, but supervised consumption services are set to start in the new year.
The additional eight officers would be on top of proposed budgets of $99 million in 2020 and $103 million in 2021, which includes seven new police officers and various support staff.
The additional officers would be part of a Community Mobilization Unit which will focus on both the supervised consumption site, but also work to address issues in the surrounding communities.
Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark, who sits on the Board of Police Commissioners, said while it's important Saskatoon play its part in helping to address issues around substance use, he said the matter goes well beyond Saskatoon's City council and must involve all levels of government, as it's a health and public safety issue as well.
"We are not going to arrest our way out of some of these challenges," said Clark. "The police cannot do this on their own."
Clark said he's reached out to Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter and MP Bill Blair, who is the federal minister responsible for organized crime reduction, to see what kind of funding or support they might be able to offer the city.
"We all are going to have to work together to make sure that we can get at some of the root causes at what's driving these challenges," he said. "Even in the opening of the supervised consumption site, it's not going to work if we don't have the right resources in place to direct people to break the cycle of addiction."
Police Chief Troy Cooper was pleased the recommendation was approved by the board, saying it shows they're listening to community members.
"They actually reached out a number of different occasions, they asked the community what it is that you'd like to see, and they listened to them," said Cooper. "So when we presented this to the board this evening, they were aware of what the community wanted to see, and they were able to support our motion."
Cooper said the ask for more officers would have been coming with or without the opening of the supervised consumption site as police resources are stretched thin.
"We already needed additional staffing, so this meeting was appropriate, regardless of whether a supervised consumption [site] opened or not."
City council will discuss and debate the ask from police during budget deliberations later this month. Cooper said if the funding is approved, they expect to have the officers in place in the first quarter of 2020.