Saskatoon

Police want more officers to ensure smooth opening of supervised consumption site

The Saskatoon Police Service is asking for an additional eight officers to help ensure the opening of a supervised consumption site in Saskatoon goes smoothly.

Ask comes on top of proposed budgets already submitted

Saskatoon Police Chief Troy Cooper said the risks are very real if the city's police service isn't prepared ahead of the opening of Saskatoon's first supervised consumption site. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

The Saskatoon Police Service is asking for an additional eight officers to help ensure the opening of a supervised consumption site in Saskatoon goes smoothly.

The ask for the additional officers comes with a price tag of $828,000 in 2020 and $807,600 for 2021. The new officers would make up a Community Mobilization Unit concentrated around the supervised consumption site and Saskatoon's Central division.

That's 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. 

Discussion about the eight additional officers was first mentioned at a Board of Police Commissioners Meeting in August and now the police service has made the ask official. The board's budget committee will discuss the request next week.

"The officers are going to be tasked with co-ordination of safety around the supervised consumption site, but they're also going to be the response to some of the existing challenges that are there now," he said.

The request for additional officers is based on research conducted at 12 supervised consumption sites in Canada.

Cooper said the new unit will help reduce the amount of times officers are called away from surrounding neighbourhoods to respond to issues around where the Supervised Consumption Site will be operating.

AIDS Saskatoon executive director Jason Mercredi at the needle exchange office on 33rd Street. He says the organization fully supports the Saskatoon Police Service's request for more officers. (Alicia Bridges/CBC)

There will be three options presented to the board next week: try to deal with the opening of the supervised consumption site with existing resources, hire an additional four officers or hire an additional eight officers. The latter is the option the SPS is recommending.

The report indicated sites in Calgary and Lethbridge tried to open a supervised consumption site without having additional resources in place and as a result, both sites experienced a "spike in criminal related activity" in the area surrounding the site.

Cooper said there are very real risks if the police service is not prepared.

"We just don't have the resources, so the risks are that call volumes would increase in that area," he said. This would require pulling officers from the surrounding neighbourhoods, or even other parts of the city. 

Cooper said the SPS would closely monitor activity around the supervised consumption site in the first year to see if resource levels need to be adjusted.

The site will be operated by AIDS Saskatoon and will serve as a space where drug users can consume drugs under supervision, but it will also provide them access to social supports and addictions services.

AIDS Saskatoon executive director, Jason Mercredi, said he's been working closely with the Saskatoon police on the opening of the site and said the ask for additional officers is something his organization is in favour of.  

"There's issues in Pleasant Hill whether we're there or not and so we're fully supportive of the Saskatoon Police Service's ask," he said. 

"We fully expect that the province is going to have to kick in some of the money for it, but the reality is there's issues in Pleasant Hill and Saskatoon police are going to need additional officers to address them." 

When asked what he thinks city council's response will be to the ask, he said he doesn't think it will come as a shock to anyone considering Saskatoon is currently below the national average of police officers per capita. Saskatoon has 173 officers for every 100,000 people, compared to a national average of 185. 

Even if approved by the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners the additional requests will have to be approved during budget deliberations at city council scheduled to start on Nov. 25.

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