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Saskatoon Police: Lots of them

Police action on Eighth upsets some cruisers

Sgt. Neil Wylie

Sgt. Neil Wylie

Saskatoon police are taking a new approach to policing Eighth Street in an effort to eliminate illegal activity by a small number of cruisers along the strip.

"The vast majority of people that are involved are just kids out there enjoying the evening, but we get a few that are drinking and want to cause trouble and break bottles on private property and some of the business owners get upset," said Staff Sgt. Neal Wylie of Saskatoon Police Service.

Police have stepped up patrols of the parking lots commonly used by cruisers after receiving frequent complaints from property owners.

"It would be like somebody parking in your driveway. I don't think you'd appreciate (it) if they broke beer bottles and threw garbage on your lawn and left," Wylie said.

He said the goal is to teach cruisers respect and that officers will use their discretion and not crack down on parking lot gatherings as long as they stay friendly.

Richard Klassen, who recently settled a malicious prosecution lawsuit with the province in an unrelated matter, spoke to city officials and police Thursday on behalf of the cruisers.

A protest took place Tuesday evening with cruisers parking in a side lane on Eighth Street, but ended after Klassen informed them police plan to use discretion if cruisers act with respect.

Police did not crack down on the cruisers that evening and Klassen said he hopes that approach will continue.

"You can't paint all the teenagers with the same brush," he said. "They're better off to let them park and visit, and the ones that are getting rowdy, nab 'em."

Many young cruisers are upset with the increased illegal behaviour on the strip as well.

"We want Eighth Street back to the way it was, none of this beer everywhere and alcohol and baseball bats," said Stephanie Inglehart. "We park in the parking lots because it saves on gas," said the 23-year-old. "We've been doing it for at least five, 10 years."

Mayor Don Atchison said he used to participate in the decades-old practice himself.

"I don't think there'll be any rush in the future to ticket people that are on private property, (unless) they are drinking or doing any other illegal criminal acts," he said.

Cruisers should try to discourage illegal activity among themselves so that it isn't ruined for them all, said Wylie.

"The bottom line is the police cannot turn a blind eye to willful acts of violating provincial statutes, which include the illegal use of alcohol, vehicle act infractions and things along that line," he said. "We're obligated to act."

Police levels highest in nation
But numbers misleading, police officers say

The Saskatoon and Regina areas have some of the highest rates of police officers per capita among Canadian cities, but police say the numbers are misleading.

The Saskatoon census metropolitan area (CMA), with its 436 police officers, ranked third among Canadian cities with 181 officers for every 100,000 people as of June 15, says a Statistics Canada report released Thursday. The Saskatoon area includes the city force as well as police working in Dalmeny, Langham, Warman, rural Warman and rural Saskatoon.

When the city police force is compared to other large municipal forces, Saskatoon drops to ninth place with 358 officers or 177 per 100,000 population. The national rate was 188.

Saskatoon police have complained about chronic understaffing for years.

"As (officers) become more involved in community services, then of course you need more officers involved in other areas. That's sort of a trend that's happening with policing now," said Saskatoon police acting Insp. Craig Nyirfa.

"We have the community liaison positions. We have school liaison positions. We have aboriginal liaison positions, cultural relations positions. Then at the same time, you're seeing the higher crime rate," he said.

Regina and its surrounding area had the highest rate of police officers per capita, according to the report.

The Regina CMA had 207 officers per 100,000 people, while the city's police force ranked sixth with 187 officers.

"Because we have (RCMP) F Division headquarters here and we have the Regina rural detachments here, those officers are included in the count," said Regina police Chief Cal Johnston.

"We have those additional officers and a sparse population so it looks like we are the largest census metropolitan area. We're not."

Statistics Canada also found that Saskatchewan had the highest rate of officers per capita among all Canadian provinces, with 202 officers for every 100,000 people.

Manitoba was second highest with 194 officers per 100,000 population and Quebec was third with 191.

Peter Prebble, minister of corrections and public safety, said the results are "very positive."

Prior to the 1999 election, the NDP promised to add 200 new officers to Saskatchewan's police services. Prebble admitted his government has 49 positions to go before the commitment is fulfilled.

"It is our intention to keep working to keep that promise. This will be a major topic of discussion in the budget deliberations that are coming up basically over the next two months.

"I can't tell you how long it will take for us to keep the commitment, but we'll keep working on it throughout the next couple of years," said Prebble.

The report noted Saskatchewan also had the largest increase in police strength, with the number of officers per capita rising 7.5 per cent during the last decade.

Johnston said the province has unique policing needs, making the number of officers a necessity.

"In Saskatchewan, you only have to visit our inner city or look at some of the social issues we face. We have a growing youth population emerging from very difficult conditions — poverty, incomplete education, some family dysfunction or breakdown — and the opportunity for those people to effectively join in our economy and our communities isn't as strong as it should be so that gives rise to crime," said Johnston.

The cost of policing in Saskatchewan was $186 per person in 2003, significantly less than the national price tag of $263 per person. In total, policing cost Canadians $8.3 billion in 2003.

Police pitch station upgrade
Space problems force $55-million expansion plan

The Saskatoon Police Service is asking for an expanded, $55-million police station as it copes with a severe space squeeze.

Work on the project would start next year with the leasing of temporary space for $1 million in the downtown post office building, allowing renovations to begin on the station for another $1.4 million.

Expansion, lasting four to five years and costing a further $52.9 million, would start in 2006. It would meet the police service's space needs for a decade, said Chief Russell Sabo.

The board of police commissioners will consider today approving the force's 2005 capital budget, including the leasing and renovation costs. The project would then face city council's scrutiny.

"We are at a point where we have staff with no desk, no place to sit," Sabo said. "We have turned what was our lunch room into office space, our old library into office space. We've taken a lounge area for senior executives and turned it into a lunch room because of insufficient office space."

Once 10 new recruits who are studying at police college arrive for duty at the end of the year, the station will have one spare locker left, Sabo said.

The project would extend the police station north over the existing police parking lot. Police vehicles would be housed in new underground parking stalls.

The police station was built 27 years ago and has since been renovated but never expanded. Some officers already work in the adjacent Saskatoon Tower, while the force houses its canine unit at Innovation Place and leases some storage space in the postal building.

Expansion would allow the police service to consolidate in one main building, as well as the Riversdale community station, Sabo said.

The expansion is the most costly project by far in the 2005 police capital budget. The force won't formally request the expansion funds for another year.

The project would dominate police capital spending for the next decade. Leasing and renovations eat up 83 per cent of the force's proposed 2005 capital budget and of its 10-year capital budget.

The cost estimate is more than double the $27-million working number city finance officials had been using for a smaller-scale expansion.

The project is based on the findings of a 2002 police facilities plan completed by architects Carruthers Shaw and Partners Ltd.

The report found that in 2004, the force would be operating with a space deficiency of 46,000 square feet. To accommodate growth during the next 10 years, the police service needs an additional 85,000 square feet, the firm reported.

"This isn't a luxury, it's a necessity," said Const. Stan Goertzen, president of the city police association.

The space crunch has over the years generated concerns about safety and the station's weight capacity, when files were stacked in hallways by a fire exit. Those files are now in leased space at the post office, but office supplies are still piled in hallways, Goertzen said.

During the last decade, files that later became critical were inadvertently shredded to save space, he said.

"There's a lot of inefficiencies," he said.

Mayor Don Atchison, who chairs the police commission, is convinced the police service is "bursting at the seams."

But he's unsure whether the city can afford such a costly expansion, which is smaller only than the $70-million completion of Circle Drive and the $100-million water treatment plant upgrade also included in capital budget spending proposals.

"My question is, 'Where's it all going to come from?' " Atchison said. "I sure don't see the taxpayers coming to the table for all that money. There's a lot more work to be done."

The city may have to examine the pros and cons of new financing options, such as spreading mortgages over more than 15 years, and needs support of senior governments, he said.

Atchison said it's no certainty that the board of police commissioners and city council will ante up for even the smaller leasing and renovation request for 2005.

Police commissioners will also need to consider the comparative cost of building a new police station and whether approving the expansion project will shortchange the force when it needs to replace cars and equipment.

Ultimately, approval may depend on how the public perceives the force in general, Atchison said.

"If they see a perceived improvement, I think the public will be more accepting to pay more."

Mayor's changes to policing philosophy slow to happen

A year in the mayor's chair has blurred the lines between policing philosophies for Mayor Don Atchison, who was elected on a promise to make Saskatoon safer.

Atchison pledged during last fall's campaign to rid police officers of "softer" responsibilities and flayed police commissioners who "don't understand policing."

He promised to trade the existing policing approach for the New York City "broken-window theory" model, involving a crackdown on relatively minor offences, such as vandalism, hoping the tough message would discourage more serious crimes.

Now an overhaul sounds less likely.

"In a lot of ways, I think broken-window and community policing are quite similar," Atchison said in an interview. "Broken-window theory also involves the community as a whole to report to the officers things that they see."

City council has approved a bylaw against spitting, urinating and defecating in public, but there have been no public discussions about a different police philosophy.

Atchison has not yet moved officers out of the Little Chief station in Riversdale, as promised, and has even endorsed the planning of a community centre in high-crime Pleasant Hill.

"I haven't seen a whole lot (of philosophical change)," said Coun. Myles Heidt, who has served on police commissions with both Atchison and former mayor Jim Maddin. "It's a hard thing to measure, I guess. There are eight murders already this year, so it's hard to believe you're winning."

Community liaison officers are still performing the same duties they did a year ago, Heidt noted.

The most public new police initiative in the last year was starting up a street-crime unit.

Despite keeping the status quo on policing approaches, police association president Const. Stan Goertzen gives Atchison and city council high marks.

"I'm encouraged with the leadership that's starting to show, (from) him and city council in general," said Goertzen. "What's different is some of the supports that we've needed are finally in place. This is going to take awhile."

City council approved a police budget earlier this year that authorizes hiring 20 more constables this year and additional civilian staff to clear a backlog of record-entering.

Atchison said he still wants to get Little Chief's officers on the street.

"We're still working on that."

Atchison is also eager to see more officers on evening and weekend patrol, which is subject to negotiations with the city police association. That move could be seen as either a broken-window theory or community policing initiative, he said.

"It's the public coming forward and telling us we have these problems, we need them solved right now. That's all part of it. When the community comes out and gives us feedback, that's all part and parcel of community policing."

Twelve months isn't long enough to make it all the way down a politician's list of promises to keep, Atchison has found.

One-third of the way through Atchison's mandate, the longstanding debate over the Gathercole building is over, smoking is illegal in most public places and big projects like retail development at Preston Crossing and a joint-use soccer centre in University Heights have been approved.

On the other hand, Atchison didn't come close to freezing taxes this year and hasn't noticeably sparked the unprecedented downtown population growth he targeted.

Atchison said his personal aim each year remains a tax freeze, but said he can't promise to hold the line in either of his two final budgets before the 2006 election.

Atchison has kept his promise in part to change how the mayor works with the public and senior administrators. The city is holding public meetings with each ward, with Atchison in attendance.

A job title change for city manager Phil Richards hasn't materialized. Atchison had said he wanted to switch to a city commissioner system that would allow the mayor to be more hands-on.

Atchison said he has been more directly involved anyway.

"We've changed more towards that (commissioner system). Still not as far as I had wanted to go. But I guess there are compromises that have to be made. Right now the system is working very well."

The second year for Atchison and city council will be just as eventful, he promises. Key decisions are ahead on building two new bridges, extending 25th Street to encourage development in the warehouse district and overhauling Saskatoon's transit department, following a consultant's report.

Officers investigated for actions during arrest

Saskatoon Police Service is investigating the actions of some of its officers amid allegations that they used excessive force.

"There was obviously a confrontation," said Saskatoon Police Inspector Jeff Bent in describing the incident which began just before 9 p.m. on Oct. 9.

Two officers were called to an apartment on the 3700 block of Eighth Street in response to a complaint that three young children weren't being cared for properly, he said in an interview.

When the officers arrived at the apartment, they spoke to a 37-year-old man who in turn assaulted one of the officers, according to Bent. He wouldn't say if the man was related to the children because the case is still before the courts.

Other officers were called to back up the first ones on the scene, although Bent didn't know how many officers were eventually involved.

The man, arrested for assaulting the officer, was taken from the building.

"Prior to being placed in a police vehicle, he smashed the back window of one of our patrol cars," said Bent.

The man was taken to Royal University Hospital so his injuries could be treated. While there, another incident occurred and the man damaged a doorway at the hospital, said Bent.

A television news story broadcast earlier this week included two people who said the officers used excessive force in restraining the man.

Saskatoon Police Service internal investigators have contacted the man who was arrested and are in the process of interviewing him and other witnesses, says Bent.

"We have also received a number of phone calls from individuals saying that the incident as described on CTV that particular night was not what took place. So, we have some contradictory accounts of what took place," he said.

After Saskatoon police finish the internal investigation, the report is reviewed by the provincial police commissioner who will decide if charges should be laid against the officers involved.

Bent didn't know how long it would take to complete the local investigation. The report will become public only if the officers are charged under the Police Act.

Bent says in addition to the internal investigation, the actions of the officers will come under scrutiny when the man who is facing one charge of assaulting a police officer and two charges of mischief causing damage under $5,000 goes through the court system. He will appear in provincial court next week.