Saskatoon

Saskatoon police advocate for hiring new personnel during city council budget talks

Saskatoon police chief Troy Cooper defended plans to hire five more special constables as councillors debated the 2021 budget at a special meeting on Wednesday.

Money would be used to pay for 5 special constables, would allow police sergeants to return to field

The Saskatoon Police Service is asking for an increase to its already agreed-upon budget. (Albert Couillard/Radio-Canada)

Saskatoon police chief Troy Cooper defended plans to hire five more special constables as city councillors debated the 2021 budget at a special meeting on Wednesday.

The Saskatoon police are asking for more than $104 million for operations next year, an increase of 4.74 per cent from 2020.

That number is also an increase of $412,500 from the previously agreed-upon police budget, which was set out in multi-year budgeting last year.

The increase is mainly due to plans to hire five more special constables, mainly in communications, which would then free up police sergeants to work out in the field, according to Cooper.

Cooper said the plans to hire the constables came up in collective bargaining with the Saskatoon Police Association. He said not moving forward would complicate future plans for the police.

"We were able to do some things that improved patrol ability factors, so we were able to make more officers available," he said.

"For us to delay the addition of these five special constables would create expenses in other areas."

Cooper said the special constables are also filling roles that would normally be done by police officers, and the move will ultimately save the force money.

"I would have had to add a police position or two police positions anyway with growth of the city," he said.

"It allowed us to have that change now and to see some real benefits now."

Cooper said the redeployment was needed to tackle growing violent crime in the city.

Mental health

Cooper was also asked about the city's Police and Crisis Team (PACT), which pairs police officers with mental health officers to help deal with people in crisis.

The chief said community consultations over the last few months showed the public wants police to re-examine their role in the community, especially when it comes to mental health and addictions.

"One of the best ways to do that is to use co-responder models such as PACT," said Cooper.

Cooper told councillors there are two PACT teams on the street right now, covering roughly 40 per cent of the week. 

He said police are searching for ways to add two additional teams, which would provide 80 per cent coverage.

"The resources we apply are only half the team," he said.

"We're working with our partners in health to see what we can do in securing their funding."

Despite the request for additional money, Cooper said the force was able to stay within its budget during COVID-19.

He said COVID cost the force about $1 million, between lost revenue from criminal records checks and enhanced cleaning. That money was made up by restrictions on travel and training, as well as delayed recruitment of new officers.

The $412,500 budget increase is included in the proposed 3.87 per cent property tax increase for next year.

Council will continue budget deliberations at a meeting on Thursday afternoon.

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