Saskatoon

Saskatoon crime prevention patrol becomes permanent

The men and women of the Community Support Program will now be a permanent fixture on Saskatoon streets, dealing with minor disturbances, in an effort to make people feel safer.

The main goal is to make people feel safer

Community Support Officers spend some of their time simply talking to people they meet in downtown Saskatoon. (CBC)

The men and women of the Community Support Program will now be a permanent fixture on Saskatoon streets, dealing with minor disturbances, in an effort to make people feel safer.

It's been operating as a pilot program, but on Tuesday, with the backing of many, the CSP became a permanent program with a budget of up to $450,000 a year.

"They certainly fill a gap that police officers cannot," said Saskatoon police Chief Clive Weighill.

The overwhelming majority of the calls community support officers deal with involve addictions, and often public intoxication. The small team of officers patrol downtown, Riversdale and the Broadway areas.  

The Community Support Officers (CSOs) keep an eye out for people who might exhibit signs of distress, and they respond to complaints of suspicious or minor disturbances. They also get to know many of the people who spend a lot of time downtown and offer help for people who need housing or health care.   

"Well it fills a gap of people suffering from substance abuse, mental health issues that are living on the streets of Saskatoon," Weighill said. "It's a conduit for the CSOs to reach out, actually take them by hand to get some help that they need."

Over the three years of patrols, the number of calls for help is up.

Alan Wallace, director of planning and development with the city, spoke in favour of continuing the CSP program at city hall today.

"There's strong evidence that there's a need in the community for this program. In all cases the number of occurrences went up between 2014 and 2015"

Councillor says homelessness is the issue

"The [Community Support] program is a good one," said Councillor Pat Lorje.

But at the same time, Lorje added, deploying a handful of well-meaning crime prevention officers is not the ultimate solution in reaching out to people on the streets.

"Developing a compassionate humane and responsible program for homelessness should not fall only on municipal government," she said.

It's a sentiment echoed by Randy Pshebylo with the Riversdale Business Improvement District. Pshebylo said merchants often see the same people on the street.

"The police and CSOs do what they can," he said. "What we're talking about is bad policy."

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