Rise in hard drugs, guns on streets led to more officers using force: Saskatoon police inspector

Saskatoon police say crystal meth and guns are becoming more frequent on the city's streets.

Majority of police shootings involved putting down deer, other wildlife

Members of Saskatoon's Tactical Support Unit surrounded a home on Avenue C N. this morning. (Dan Zakreski/CBC News)

Saskatoon police say an increase in crystal meth and guns on the city's streets has led to officers using more force, more often.

"The chance of a weapon being involved now is more so than in the last two decades for police officers," said Saskatoon Police Service Inspector Patrick Nogier. "That's real."

Overall, police used more force in 2017 then in years prior, according to a new report by the service. The total number of police incidents involving force rose by 31 per cent, with 264 in 2017 compared to 201 in 2016. There were 186 incidents in 2015. 

The number of times officers fired guns was also up, but Nogier said the statistics can be deceiving. Of the 14 times officers fired their guns in 2017, 11 were animal-related. Most of those cases, Nogier said, involved officers having to kill wildlife like deer or coyotes who'd been hit by vehicles. 

More police chases in 2017

The largest spike in the report was in the number of police chases, which rose to 180 from 149 the year before. Incidents where police used Tasers, physical strikes or takedowns were all more frequent than the previous year as well.

Nogier said all of that is a response to what is happening on the streets and that his officers have to be constantly on alert, even during something as minor as a traffic stop. 

"It's no longer a knife or a pipe. It's being elevated to a gun or a homemade gun," he said. 

The report says armed robberies are up 29 per cent year-over-year and weapon offences are up 27 per cent. 

Number of suspects, officers injured also up

More suspects and officers were hurt during police incidents, the report says.

In 2017, 110 suspects were injured compared to 101 the year before and 60 in 2015. 

The number of police officers injured more than doubled — there were 30 officers injured in 2017 compared to 14 the year prior.

"It's not your fight that goes on in the back of a school yard. These are individuals who have a lot to lose by being apprehended and they are going to put up a fight," Nogier said. 

Force used in less than 2% of arrests

Nogier said despite the overall numbers going up, police still use force sparingly. He said of the nearly 11,000 people who were arrested last year, only about two per cent required use of force. He said that doesn't include the over 30,000 times officers issued traffic tickets last year. 

He said he understands that use of force get a lot of public attention, but that it's only a small part of what the police do everyday. 

"It accounts for a very small proportion of the interaction we have with the public," he said.