Saskatoon police officers 'exhausted' after busy summer, chief says
Chief Troy Cooper says officers feeling pressure
Saskatoon's police chief is hoping the winter months bring a drop in call volume that will help "exhausted" police officers recharge.
Over the last five years, the call volume at the police service has jumped by 12 per cent while staffing has only increased by 6.7 per cent.
This year has already been Saskatoon's deadliest on record. The strain on resources is starting to trickle down into the community, said Saskatoon Police Chief Troy Cooper. The service is now turning to officers normally in community-focused positions to support other divisions.
"When we have the front line needing additional resources to respond, of course we have to pull back from some of those positions," he said. "Over time, that sort of erodes our ability to reach out into the community."
Cooper said officers have been dealing with more and more pressure coming off a busy summer that saw a rash of homicides throughout the city. He said it's hard to quantify burnout, but that he thinks "all of them are exhausted."
"Right now, every officer that works here feels the pressure."
Cooper said that while the service hates to take people away of community-focused assignments, it is a necessity.
"Over the course of the summer, what we had was people being called in on their days off and called in on their days off to the point where they were exhausted," he said. "It became more and more difficult to find people who are willing to come out on some of those emergency basis."
Supt. Randy Huisman, who oversees patrol in the service, said there are still more than a dozen officers working in cultural, community and school resource positions, but they've now been told they have to be deployable and service-ready while fulfilling community duties.
Traffic officers have also been told they'll have to assist patrol if the situation merits it.
"It hasn't really changed in the mandate of their jobs,"he said. "It's just they're expanding their abilities."
Huisman said the change will help prevent officer fatigue moving forward.
"We don't want to burn out our officers," he said.
During a community safety consultation meeting earlier this week, Cooper presented stats outlining what police are facing.
He said Saskatoon has 173 officers for every 100,000 people, compared to a national average of 185.
In September, the Saskatoon Police Service enacted an emergency clause that would see officers with the Combined Traffic Services Saskatchewan unit — which teams up local officers with RCMP members to enforce highway traffic laws — work near or around Saskatoon during night shifts on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The Saskatoon Police Association (SPA), which represents Saskatoon's roughly 500 frontline officers, said the shuffling of staff is a temporary fix to the issue and called for more officers to be hired.
Dave Larocque, with the SPA, said the union is considering surveying its members to seek feedback and ideas.
"We have the ability to send out surveys on our secured website to our membership, so it's something we can do, as long as we can craft one that has some meaningful questions and that the results are meaningful," he said.
Jonathan Naylor, president of the Varsity View Community Association, said people in his neighbourhood regularly witness bikes being stolen and drug drop-offs. He said they need more direction on how and when to report these types of incidents to police.
"When we see somebody dropping a package in a play pit, we could photograph that car, we could call that in. But is that what you want? Will you respond? Who knows?" he said.
Cooper says the police service is doing everything it can to keep the community safe, noting consultations held with community organizations over the last few months will be critical in the development of a five-year plan.
For now, he said the service is looking forward to the winter months, as it could be a chance to focus on things like officer training and officer well-being.
"It's not that it's a downtime for us," he said. "But it is an opportunity for our officers to recharge hopefully from some of the trauma that they are exposed to over the busy summer months."