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Saskatoon Police: 2005

Forget about planes, police need foot patrols

Saskatoon Police crest

City police got their airplane, for a few test flights, at least, but they did not get their horses. Too bad. Police on horseback, would have been visible. Flamboyantly so. Police in an airplane, however, are specks in the sky.

Police visibility is important. It reassures citizens. It deters criminals. That's why the crime rate within sight of a police officer tends to be very low.

In Saskatoon, we rarely have a police officer in sight. It figures that the crime rate here is very high.

Unlike police, the result is visible. The other week, for example, Mayor Don Atchison lamented the disinterest by developers in the city's south downtown. Especially disappointing to the mayor is the extent of housing development. In spite of three different kinds of development incentives, the in-basket for proposals is empty.

Of course, there are three things to consider when dealing with real estate: Location, location and location. That makes three strikes against the south downtown. Its location is not the best. People don't feel safe in south downtown, especially after dark. Developers would rather invest in areas where people do feel safe, because it's hard to sell condos if prospective buyers are afraid to get out of the car.

What would make the downtown more attractive is a visible police presence. Circling high over the city in an airplane doesn't qualify. Not even if the plane pulled an aerial banner declaring: "VISIBLE POLICE PRESENCE."

The problem with an airplane is that you can't see much from up there. From an altitude of several thousand feet, a mugging is indistinguishable from a chance meeting between old friends. To have any deterrent effect, a police plane would have to fly low enough that people would be diving for cover. This would not make anyone feel safer.

Officers on horseback would have been better. People feel safe with the cavalry on the scene. Also, it would be stylish to have police trotting about on horseback. Style is important. The RCMP figured this out about 132 years ago. But how many tourists get their photos taken with city police?

Well, they would if city police were on horseback. People love horses. Why is a mystery. Horses bite, they kick, they have shocking bathroom habits, and yet people can't resist them. I mean, horses have been obsolete for nearly 100 years, and we can't bring ourselves to get rid of them. Kerosene lanterns we got rid of. Wood-burning stoves we got rid of. But horses remain inexplicably popular. If city police can get some of that appeal to rub off on them, I say Hi Yo, Silver.

But no. There will be no horses. Only the plane.

"Look children, way up there. It's the police. Or possibly a fishing charter to La Ronge."

Better than a plane, better even than horses, would be police foot patrols. Certainly foot patrols would be cheaper, at least in theory. To lease a small plane costs about $150 an hour, not including pilot. Horses require constant feeding and attention. But most police officers come equipped with feet. So why do we never see them on foot patrol?

It's a matter of searching them out, apparently. City police reportedly are assigned to foot patrol, albeit only occasionally. That I've never seen one in 25 years of working downtown tells you how occasional it is. Police abandoned the downtown before developers ever did.

Police Chief Russ Sabo would like more foot patrols. He's constrained, however, by a union agreement that makes all but impossible the redeployment of officers according to demand. It's like trying to run an ice cream stand with the same number of employees summer and winter, Sabo says.

The difference is that the owners of an ice cream stand would never allow this to happen. Because if they did, they'd be out of business. How the city ever got into the position where paid staff says who works when is for previous city councils to explain.

As I understand it, police mostly work four, 12-hour shifts over four days and then get four days off. Their work calendars thus shows a repeating pattern like this: Days, days, nights, nights, off, off, off, off. You'll notice there are only two nights in there. To get an officer walking foot patrol seven nights a week, then, we'd have to hire at least four new officers. Bump that up to five or six to account for vacation and court time.

Something is seriously wrong when you need five or six cops to get the one you really need. Suddenly, crime begins to look more affordable.

The police association won these concessions fair and square. And yet its members seem chronically miserable. Perhaps they are made so by citizens who spend millions on policing and can't seem to get what they want.

Council may pass police budget
Cuts win over two dissenting councillors

Police budget cuts are receiving mixed reviews from the six councillors who demanded them, but the Saskatoon police commission appears to have slashed enough to win council's approval.

Two of the six councillors who rejected the Saskatoon Police Service budget this week say they'll now support it. Council reviews it again Monday.

The commission cancelled seven proposed police officer positions, three new civilian jobs and a mounted patrol unit pilot project Thursday, saving $354,600 this year.

Councillors Glen Penner and Maurice Neault say they'll now back the police budget, satisfied that the police commission worked hard at scaling it back.

"It works for me," Neault said. "At least they came up with $350,000. There are things they need (that shouldn't be cut)."

Other councillors aren't as impressed.

"If we're still talking about four per cent (tax increase), that doesn't cut it for me," said Coun. Terry Alm. "I want safe streets but my constituents are not going to write a blank cheque for the police service."

Coun. Bev Dubois is likewise not sure if the commission cut enough to satisfy her.

"I was hoping they would cut a little more," she said.

Coun. Tiffany Paulsen endorsed the cuts as a member of the police commission, although she tried to go further. Coun. Donna Birkmaier, the sixth councillor to reject the police budget, couldn't be reached for comment.

Chief Russ Sabo warned Thursday that the cuts will slow progress in responding to the Stonechild report. Justice David Wright flagged a shoddy police investigation into the 1990 freezing death in his report. Sabo maintains some of the proposed hirings would have addressed those shortcomings.

The five Saskatoon police commissioners approved hiring a constable dedicated to recruiting aboriginal candidates -- meeting one of Wright's key recommendations.

Commissioners Mayor Don Atchison, Paulsen and Donna Renneberg, who approved the cuts, are also members of a task force charged with responding the Stonechild report.

Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Glenn Johnstone, who's also a member of the task force, said Sabo makes a valid point about the cuts.

"I'm disappointed because . . . there's a chance for things like (the poor investigation) to happen again. I don't think it will be really detrimental, but it's not going to help. We'll have to find other ways to prevent things from happening again."

But Paulsen said Sabo's concern is "puzzling.

"I'm not sure what (Sabo) is talking about," she said Friday. "As a member of the task force, I was quite careful not to remove any budget considerations related to the Stonechild inquiry. If he's saying it will have an impact, then he didn't properly inform the board."

Michael Tochor, chair of the Saskatchewan Police Commission, which is charged with ensuring the Saskatoon commission and police service make changes, said it's too early to say how significant the cuts will prove.

"I'm sure this is a concern for the (task force) but we have to wait to see what's being proposed. Logically, I can see how it would be a concern, but I'm not sure how it affects the nuts and bolts."

Some of the blame falls on the NDP government, said Saskatchewan Liberal Leader David Karwacki. The Stonechild report will "gather dust" as long as the Calvert NDP fails to adequately fund police forces, he said.

"The Calvert NDP had plenty of nice words at the release of Stonechild," Karwacki said in a news release. "Words are nice. But budget numbers speak volumes about the province's commitment to implement Stonechild. Civic police forces need the cash now to make those recommendations real."

Coun. Owen Fortosky, one of four councillors who sided with the police budget this week, said he hopes there will be no further cuts when council takes a second look Monday.

"People want action now, not just years down the road. I'm not happy."

Penner said Sabo still has "adequate" funding to work with, but added he doesn't have enough information to know how the cuts will affect a response to the Stonechild report.

The Saskatchewan Police Commission expects a draft report from the Saskatoon commission in mid-May, with a final report becoming public as early as the end of May, Tochor said.

Police budget under fire
Council begins scrutiny of proposed civic spending

City councillors have their sights set on cutting the police budget to help stave off the biggest property tax increase Saskatoon could see in seven years.

Starting today, council's budget committee will begin debating the city's $202-million preliminary operating budget that currently proposes a property tax hike of 4.88 per cent.

"It's too high," Ward 4 Coun. Myles Heidt said Sunday. "People can't afford it, it's that simple."

The Saskatoon Police Service has proposed a seven per cent increase to their budget to cover increased costs due to inflation, hiring new officers and civilians and adding police on horseback and in aircraft.

Heidt, who also sits on the Saskatoon Police Commission, said if the police association won't agree to new hours to beef up patrols on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, he's hesitant to hand them more cash.

"It's going to be hard for me to take on this big a budget increase and really, quite frankly, not (see) any improvement in service," Heidt said.

If police don't agree to scheduling changes in a new contract, council is likely to send their budget back and ask for changes, he said.

"Why keep throwing money into something when we know it ain't working very good?" Heidt said.

Ward 3 Coun. Maurice Neault said he doesn't understand why the police need such a large increase when other civic departments are being frugal. Of the proposed 4.88 per cent hike, more than three per cent is for the police, Neault said.

Other city departments, which make up $158 million of the budget, account for only 1.53 per cent of the proposed 4.88 per cent increase, he said. Neault would like to see property tax increase by no more than 3.5 per cent.

"Is the (police's) need there right now today? Can they spread it over three, four, five, six years? Those are the hard questions that I'm going to ask," he said. "If civic administration can come in at 1.53 (per cent), which is well under inflation, can the police department come in at 1.53?"

Glen Penner, councillor for Ward 8, also has reservations about an additional $2.8 million for police.

"I'm not prepared at this stage to approve the police budget," he said. "There are some things in it that I don't think should be there."

Aircraft and a horse patrol shouldn't be a consideration when the front line needs resources, he said.

Ward 9 Coun. Tiffany Paulsen said as it stands, she will vote against the police budget.

Paulsen said she's worried about the magnitude of the increase. "The citizens of Saskatoon have not seen a comparable increase in service," she said. "The citizens of Saskatoon, with respect to policing in particular, are amenable to have extra resources put towards the police when they see more officers on the street and are being provided with more service. This hasn't happened."

Many councillors say they'll be going through the budget with a microscope, searching for small changes that could add up to bigger savings for taxpayers. Ward 2 Coun. Owen Fortosky said he'd like to take a closer look at what the city does with money they make off power and water.

"The budget process in the past, we kind of fly over utilities and don't get too in depth into them," he said. "My goal is to kind of see if we can't utilize the utilities maybe a little more in bringing down our mill rate."

Council will also consider whether the city will continue to provide Early Bird bus service to get workers to the far north and east parts of the city by 7 a.m., Fortosky said.

"I think that's one (subject) that there will be a fair amount of debate on," he said. "I think, in concept, it's a great idea, and I just don't know if in reality it's showing the dividends that we thought it would. I'd have to be convinced that that's something that needs to stay." The 2005 preliminary operating budget suggests a 7.5 per cent increase for the transit system.

Statistics gathered on the first six weeks after the early bus service began last December showed the city was spending more than $33,000 a month to run the morning buses.

Heidt said he wonders if council can make a more economical arrangement with the businesses whose workers use the Early Bird buses.

"Can we afford a Cadillac service for the few who are using it?" he said. "If people don't use it, we will yank it."

The city is in a difficult position because the latest provincial budget denied Saskatchewan municipalities a $10-million increase they had asked for, Heidt said. That package would have seen another $2 million flow into Saskatoon's coffers.

Councillors estimate that cash alone could shave two per cent off of the projected property tax increase.

"The most unfair tax in the world is property tax," Penner said. "When you can share revenues and share those with municipalities, it makes a huge difference in terms of what cities and towns can do."

The budget committee will vote on 41 components of the budget today and possibly Tuesday if debate runs long. Council votes to approve or reject the budget as a whole on April 18.

Cost puts police hirings on hold
Lack of police contract frustrates city council wish for more weekend officers

The Saskatoon police commission has pulled the Help Wanted sign for eight constables, delaying their recruitment over cost concerns and an unmet political condition.

The commission and city council approved their hiring a year ago, but the force never recruited them because of council's demand that the officers staff a bolstered weekend patrol.

Police administration and the City Police Association disagree on whether that's possible without officers agreeing to more flexibility in scheduling shifts, creating an impasse in contract talks.

The city is hard-pressed this year to draft its own budget without a big tax increase.

Delaying the constables' hiring from August until next January at the earliest trims $227,000 in wages and equipment costs from the police operating budget. It also sent a political message at the police commission meeting Thursday.

"Not until we have a contract signed," Atchison said of the hirings, with police association president Const. Stan Goertzen looking on.

Atchison said he considers the officers approved for hiring -- only the timing is in question.

"City council still hasn't changed its instructions to us. And the instructions were, 'You cannot hire the officers until you have them working on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.' "

Goertzen said in an interview that delaying the officers' hiring again just means keeping the status quo in police street strength.

"It isn't the police association that's responsible for making available a reasonable number of (officers), that's the police commission's job. They're trying to tie it into the contract negotiations but they're two separate things."

Pollice chief Russ Sabo said, realistically, the police service may not have been able to hire the eight constables by the end of this year, anyway.

The police commission also reduced a planned increase to reserve funds by $50,000. Depending on whether the commission reinstates the money in its next budget, that move could put in jeopardy police projects such as an in-car video system, an upgrade to the video system in the police station detention area and plans for a backup computer network.

"We're going to have to look at all our options," said acting deputy chief Bernie Pannell.

Police were requesting a $3-million funding increase. Two-thirds of that represent fixed costs, such as inflation, salary increases and the impact of paying officers hired part way through 2004 for a full year. By cutting a total of $277,000, the police commission shaved about one-quarter of the $1 million in discretionary new budget spending.

"This will give us a little more breathing room," said Coun. Myles Heidt, a member of the police commission.

The budget still faces scrutiny by city council during its operating budget talks next month. Council cannot change the budget, only accept it or send it back to the police commission to alter it.

Coun. Tiffany Paulsen, who could not attend the police commission meeting, said in an interview Wednesday that she'll weigh in on the budget when it reaches council.

"My displeasure with the budget was registered earlier. The (potential) seven per cent hike in taxes is unacceptable and the police service is no different from any other department. They'll have to tighten their belts."

Paulsen has been particularly critical of two pilot projects -- a mounted unit ($29,800) and airborne unit ($41,000) that have survived the commission's cutbacks.

The police budget still includes the hiring of six civilians (including a lawyer and media spokesperson) and eight other police officers, such as another homicide investigator and a constable to work on aboriginal recruitment.

With the cuts, the budget stands at $46.5 million, including about $3.5 million in senior government grants and general revenue. The city picks up the balance.

Police budget under review
Mayor asks for second look as way to reduce looming tax hike

The Saskatoon police commission will take a hard second look at the police service's $46.8-million budget at the request of Mayor Don Atchison, who hopes to rein in a looming property tax increase.

Commission members reopen the budget for debate on Thursday, almost two months after they decided to support it. That backing was lukewarm, with one of the five commissioners, Coun. Tiffany Paulsen, refusing to recommend the budget.

The commission needs to try "everything possible to make sure we're as efficient as we can (be)," Atchison said in an interview. "Not that we aren't already, but (get) even leaner if we have to."

Atchison, who is chair of the police commission, said he has no cutback amount in mind.

"I'm not a big supporter of having increases in taxes. . . . I want to put my mind at ease that we are doing everything we can."

The police budget is scheduled to go before city council next month as part of talks on the city's overall operating budget.

Police are requesting a $3-million funding increase -- the biggest single challenge to council keeping any tax increase low. But only about one-third of the funding request is negotiable. The remaining two-thirds includes inflation, salary increases and the impact of paying new recruits, whom the force hired part way through 2004, for a full year.

Atchison said the commission needs to know if the force can realistically hire eight new constables in one year as the police service intends, when it could only find 12 of 20 budgeted new recruits last year.

"Why would we bill it out to taxpayers if we're not going to have them?"

The new constables are not expected to be recruited until August, making the cost of their hiring minimal -- $130,500 this year. The police service also wants to hire a further eight officers to new positions and six more civilians.

An audit of police patrol strength suggested last fall that the force is already short at least 28 constables.

A new $150,000 top-up to police capital reserves will also be reviewed, Atchison said.

Police Chief Russ Sabo couldn't be reached for direct comment Tuesday. Through a police spokesperson, Sabo said that based on recent conversations with councillors, he expects two pilot projects -- airborne and mounted units -- to be considered for cuts.

The pilot projects would cost $70,800 combined.

Coun. Myles Heidt, a member of the commission, said he and council will have trouble supporting significant new hiring considering the impasse in collective bargaining between the force and its front-line members.

"We're going to have to give serious thought about expanding the force if we're going to continue to do things the way we always have," Heidt said. "Quite frankly, we need to see some movement there."

In approving the police budget last year, Atchison and some councillors said they expect bolstered weekend police patrols. Sabo maintains that's best accomplished by negotiating more flexible shifts.

City Police Association president Stan Goertzen says Sabo could already beef up weekend policing under terms of the expired contract.

Goertzen said he doesn't expect the bargaining stalemate to affect the police budget.

"That's kind of a separate issue from the budget."

Based on known cost increases alone, city council would have to trim $6.6 million in spending or find equivalent new revenue to freeze taxes, something Atchison has called unrealistic. Those costs, if unchecked, represent a seven per cent tax increase. Council informally asked administration about a month ago to re-check its draft budget numbers for potential decreases, Atchison said.

Strategy helps police track crime

Compstat trial project uses statistics, public input to pinpoint crime hot spots

Saskatoon police are adopting a philosophical change to crime-fighting, tracking where and when crime happens and deploying officers to these spots to prevent it.

Compstat (short for Computer Statistics) is a strategy of improved communication among police units and heavy reliance on statistics and community input to help police target crime hot spots down to the street, block and even address.

"If we're proactive and get to the root of the problem, hopefully we can reduce the number of calls (for help to police)," said Sgt. Brian Shalovelo, who is co-ordinating the Compstat project. "It's smart policing."

Compstat, a relatively new strategy credited with dramatic crime reductions in the U.S., began in Saskatoon in January as a six-month trial project in three police districts. For now, it's focusing on break and enters, armed robberies and disturbances.

The three districts are neither the highest-crime areas of Saskatoon, nor the safest. One northwest district includes Confederation Park, Massey Place, Dundonald and Westview; the second includes the neighbourhoods north of 33rd Street and east of Avenue I; and the third includes downtown and City Park.

The police service hopes to implement Compstat citywide as early as this summer.

The strategy is based on four principles:

q Getting timely, accurate information to officers. With Compstat, meetings among police management to share information and plot new crime-reduction strategies happen systematically and often. Previously, officers on patrol either checked only trouble spots they were personally aware of or drove around their districts randomly.

"Random practices produce random results," said acting deputy chief Bernie Pannell. "What we're trying to do is change our philosophy of policing. Instead of reacting to calls, let's deal proactively."

Before going on patrol, constables also review the most recent "hot spots" posted on a bulletin board in their briefing room and scan photos of Saskatoon's most wanted.

Crime stats and community input will be the keys to sharing information, Pannell said.

• Developing effective strategies to counter crime trends. Typically, police units, such as drug and major crime squads, for example, haven't shared information and resources.

• Rapid deployment of resources. This step is nicknamed "cops on dots" for the district maps dabbed with red spots that show police where crime is happening. Redeploying officers doesn't mean that quieter neighbourhoods will see fewer cruisers, Pannell stresses. But the force is bringing extra staff from other units into areas to work in plain clothes or on patrol to put an end to emerging crime trends.

• Relentless follow-up. Every two weeks, supervisors will have to answer for how they deployed their officers in light of the crime statistics available.

"The theme is, 'What have you done, what are you doing to reduce crime?' " Shalovelo said. "If we're not reducing crime, we're not achieving our mandate."

In response to complaints from Caswell Hill residents, police carried out a six-week operation late last year targeting rowdy bar patrons, handing out a slew of public urination charges. That operation now serves as a template for how to run Compstat.

In another Compstat example, officers noticed a string of thefts at a convenience store and are working with the owner on a new product layout and security measures.

Compstat is a close cousin of the "broken-window theory" policing model Mayor Don Atchison promised during the 2003 election campaign to implement, but Shalovelo said the strategy isn't politically driven. Neither does it run counter to community policing, since it relies on public input, Pannell said.

Atchison, who chairs the Saskatoon police commission, said Compstat fits with the policing philosophy he promised, along with formation of a street crime unit last year.

"Officers are exceedingly excited about that," he said. "It's putting the red dots where all the problems are. Hopefully, (Compstat) will make a significant difference."

Initially, Compstat's impact may be hard to measure. With more effective enforcement, it's likely numbers of charges will rise in the short term, Shalovelo said.

Compstat dates back to a 1994 initiative by former New York City police chief William Bratton. Within the next six years, the city saw serious crime, such as murder and other violent crime, drop by half, Shalovelo said. Bratton has since implemented Compstat in Los Angeles, where serious crime is down 39 per cent in two years, Shalovelo said.

About 500 American police forces are now using some version of Compstat, with four others in Canada, including Edmonton and Peel Regional, experimenting with it, Shalovelo said.

The Saskatoon police commission will hear a presentation on Compstat for the first time March 17.

Test weeds out many worthy police candidates

The following viewpoint was submitted by the writers on behalf of the Saskatoon Police Advisory Committee on Diversity.

The editorial, Aptitude test valid to test police recruits (SP, Jan. 29) got it wrong when it suggested that our committee wants to water down the qualifications for minority candidates trying to become police officers in Saskatoon. The committee is concerned that the Saskatoon Police Service is composed of the best candidates for the job and becomes a service that better represents the many diverse cultures that make up Saskatoon.

The SP claims that the SIGMA test assesses the communication skills of candidates. Nowhere in that test are there tools that can ascertain such skills. However, SIGMA tests cognitive abilities, although we still are confused why the Saskatchewan Police Commission mandates a test that has a section based on the American Criminal Code.

We would hope that candidates who may become police officers in our community are being tested with tools that reflect the diverse cultures that make up Canada and Saskatoon.

Our concerns revolve around the significant portions of the test which are based on spelling, grammar and the placement of commas. At a time when police reports are computerized, we hate to think we lose good candidates because they don't know the correct placement of commas.

Nearly 50 per cent of those who take the test fail. Among them are many who have grown up and been educated in Canada, although the spelling and grammar parts are probably less accessible to many from other cultures whose first language isn't English.

We wonder if Michael Tochor, chair of the police commission, has taken the test. He also claims that the test is an important means of determining candidates' communication skills. Communications skills are both written and oral. For a police officer the latter are extremely important. We're not sure how anyone could ascertain complete communication skills from a test that doesn't include mechanisms to test for those skills.

The SIGMA test is only the first step of many that candidates must pass before becoming a police officer in Saskatoon. There are many real and valid opportunities to test communication skills in the long process to becoming a police officer, including a number of personal interviews and 18 weeks of training at the Saskatchewan Police College.

Tochor says he hasn't heard any complaints about the test but we have. Frustrated Saskatoon police officers who work on recruitment have complained to us about candidates they have mentored and believe would make excellent police officers failing the first step in the process because their first language isn't English.

Many of those candidates have more than one university degree earned in another culture. Their oral communication skills aren't the problem, as many can effectively communicate in English and other languages -- a valuable asset to a police force that serves a growing diverse community. The problem is that they don't understand differences between written American and Canadian English or the complexities of English grammar.

We also hear about candidates who have grown up in Saskatchewan who fail the test and then apply to the police forces in Winnipeg, Edmonton or other prairie cities and pass their test on cognitive abilities. While they very much want to be police officers in the city or province where they grew up, they are thwarted because of an inappropriate test.

We agree with The SP and Tochor that police officers in Saskatoon must be able to effectively communicate with the various cultures that make up our community. The SIGMA test does not test for that and prevents many excellent candidates from serving all the citizens of Saskatoon.

The Saskatoon Police Service is working hard to change its culture and become more knowledgeable of the various cultures in the community. By the end of March, all officers and civilian employees will have participated in three-day workshops that expose them to various cultures represented in the city.

That work is hindered when an unfair test is used that prevents many excellent candidates of Canadian background or other cultures from becoming a part of the force and enabling it to better reflect the diversity of Saskatoon. Nine of the past 12 candidates who took the test failed. Something is wrong with that.

Dueck behind Sabo complaint
Allegations against police chief 'frivolous': police board member

Former police superintendent Brian Dueck filed the latest complaint against Chief Russ Sabo, several sources confirm. Dueck quit the force Dec. 20, weeks before he filed the complaint, sources close to the police service said on condition of anonymity.

Dueck spent 11 months on paid medical leave after a Queen's Bench justice found that he helped maliciously prosecute Richard Klassen and members of the extended Klassen family in the early 1990s. His retirement came the same day he was to meet with the chief to discuss his future.

Police commissioners have known for two months of Dueck's complaint, but none wanted to talk directly about it Wednesday, leaving its nature mysterious for now. Saskatoon police commission chair Mayor Don Atchison has said it doesn't involve criminal or sexual misconduct allegations.

Coun. Tiffany Paulsen, one of five commissioners, said she's frustrated there's little she can do to dissipate the cloud hovering over Sabo while waiting for the complaint to be investigated.

"I would prefer to release all the details of the complaint quite frankly, so the public knows how frivolous it is," she said.

Paulsen confirmed that the police commission has taken no disciplinary action against Sabo.

"It was never even a possibility, given the frivolous nature."

Atchison would neither confirm nor deny that Dueck filed the complaint.

"We as a board of police commissioners are to keep confidentiality and privacy (about complaints)," Atchison said.

Efforts to reach Dueck Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Sabo spoke about the complaint after wrapping up testimony Wednesday at deputy chief Dan Wiks disciplinary hearing.

"I believe there was nothing there (to warrant a complaint) but then the complainant does and only an independent investigation will determine if there was," he said.

"Whether you think you've done nothing wrong or not, it's still a concern because there's a complaint there. I'm hoping (the investigation) will be done in a timely manner," he said.

The Saskatoon Police Service was the subject of 68 public complaints last year.

"This is not new to us," Sabo said. "We are in the public eye, we're held to a very high standard and it's just part of doing business. The vast majority of complaints we receive are not substantiated."

Wiks' lawyer unearthed the complaint Tuesday while questioning another senior police officer.

The complaint is before the provincial police complaints investigator's office.

In 2003, Sabo's then-secretary and other staff levelled harassment complaints against the chief.

Of 42 incidents investigated, five were deemed by an independent investigator to constitute harassment. Sabo was allowed to return to the job after a paid leave.

Constable faces assault charge
Three-year member of Saskatoon Police Service to appear in court

A Saskatoon police officer is facing an assault charge after an altercation with a prisoner in the police service detention area last year.

Const. Robert Brown, a three-year member of the service, was charged with assault after an investigation and review by the police service and a recommendation by Saskatchewan's Department of Justice to lay the charge. The charge stems from an incident last December involving a prisoner in the detention area.

Police remained mum on the details Tuesday, saying they didn't want to jeopardize the court proceedings.

A process is in place to deal with a situation like this, Const. Stan Goertzen, president of the Saskatoon City Police Association, stressed.

"Robert [Brown] is entitled to fair access to that process," he said.

But Goertzen continued his call for improved conditions in detention-area cells, specifically for Plexiglas on the inside of the cells.

Officers have had feces and cups of urine thrown at them, and have had prisoners spit in their face, he said.

"This case is just one of many where a police officer has had something done to them," he said.

"We are going to see if the city is going to address this," he said.

The case is the second in two years involving a Saskatoon police officer and a prisoner.

A police officer who punched a man in custody at the downtown headquarters in 2003 was cleared of criminal charges in December.

The case surrounded Const. Andrew Johnstone's treatment of Neil Terrance Bear in April 2003.

Johnstone and a fellow constable arrested Bear, 21 at the time, on an outstanding warrant.

As they escorted him to the elevator in the police station detention bay, Bear turned to spit in Johnstone's direction, just missing his sleeve.

At a court hearing in the summer of 2003, Johnstone testified he believed the spitting to be a threat to his well-being and when he saw Bear preparing to spit again, Johnstone punched him twice in the face and shoved him into a corner of the elevator.

Police Chief Russ Sabo moved Robert Brown from his active street duties Monday to an administrative position.

He is scheduled to appear in provincial court March 1.

Police beef up street crime unit

Four new constables have bolstered the Saskatoon Police Service's front line against street crime.

Effective New Year's Day, the street-crime unit almost doubled in size to eight constables and one sergeant.

The unit is widely credited with helping turn around the city's crime rate in 2004 despite hitting the streets three months into the year.

It could make a greater impact in 2005.

"We're going to notice more of a difference when it comes to our crime rate," said Sgt. Randy Huisman, who heads up the unit. "No. 1 priorities with me right now are gangs, street robberies and vicious assaults."

The hirings free up the unit to crack down, for example, on a string of gang-related robberies against kids in one particular Confederation Park location.

More officers mean the unit can accompany witnesses to court and take other steps to protect victims from intimidation, Huisman said.

Armed robberies decreased by more than one-third in 2004, while there were one-quarter fewer other robberies than in 2003. Reports of sexual assaults and stalking also dipped significantly.

The number of homicides -- nine -- increased in 2004 over the previous year.

The street-crime unit tends to produce attention-grabbing statistics when it conducts major operations.

In July and August, the unit conducted street checks of 254 people, laid 110 criminal charges, checked 81 known or suspected gang members, executed 76 arrest warrants, seized two vehicles in an undercover operation targeting johns and seized five sawed-off shotguns.

Mayor Don Atchison, who chairs the Saskatoon police commission, expects adding officers to the street-crime unit's ranks will have an almost immediate impact.

"They don't just go out and patrol the streets, they check on curfews, court conditions on gang members and those out on probation. I attribute quite a bit of that (crime decrease) to them. They're doing a good job.

"To add help will be that much more beneficial."

Four new constables were hired last year, but didn't finish police college until late last month. The rookies will begin their careers on patrol, freeing up four veteran officers to join the street crime unit.

When the street crime unit carried out major operations last year, it used officers from vice and organized crime units.

Huisman began organizing the unit on April 1 and got his first four constables on June 1.

The beefed-up unit also plans to get involved in the battle against gangs. Huisman hopes to form a stakeholders group involving the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, Saskatoon Tribal Council and Metis groups to work on strategies to keep at-risk kids from getting into trouble and help others get out of gangs.

"Most of these young people never intend to be in gangs," said Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Glenn Johnstone. "A preventative program is really needed and I like the idea of having all the groups together."

Police budget may face heat from council over pilot projects

The Saskatoon police commission has backed Chief Russ Sabo's $46.8-million budget, including trial runs of an airborne patrol and mounted unit.

But those pilot projects may hit turbulence when the budget goes before city council for final approval next month.

Coun. Tiffany Paulsen, one of three council members on the commission, refused to recommend the budget Thursday because of the two pilot projects, which are among its smallest new expenditures.

"My problem with these projects is the timing of them," she said, suggesting that their introduction has weakened public confidence in the force. "We've come off a series of inquiries and incidents, officers of all ranks are on administrative leave, some dismissed. I get a lot of concerns from the public who say, 'Horses and airplanes? That's your solution?' The timing of this showed an insensitivity to the public's needs at this time."

Other councillors have publicly questioned the wisdom of branching into planes and horses. Unlike the police commission, which has the authority to tinker with the budget but didn't, council can only endorse the budget or reject it outright.

But Coun. Myles Heidt praised Sabo and the officer who came up with the idea, Const. Gary David, for trying something different.

"We keep throwing money at the same old thing," he said.

"I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt. You want to get morale better? This is one step."

Lockwood said he experimented with police radios during flights in the 1990s and found they don't work well in aircraft. A four-seat airplane wouldn't be able to easily land, as a helicopter can, would have limited visibility from the altitude it's permitted to fly and would have to navigate flocks of migrating birds in season, he said.

"It's just outright dangerous."

David said he's looked into all of those concerns. The airborne unit, called EAGLE (Enhanced Air Guided Law Enforcement) would take two officers off the street, but use them more effectively, he told the commission.

Paulsen disagreed.

"When we're in a time of policing crisis right now, I think it's important to have those officers on the street," she said.

EAGLE would fly sporadically June through August from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m., keeping an eye specifically on industrial areas prone to break-ins. It would cost $41,000 to lease a plane as well as fuel and insure it.

The $29,800 mounted unit would put officers on horseback from May through August at festivals, in parks and along riverbank trails.

The budget adds 16 new officers and six civilian positions. Eight of the constables had been approved for hiring last year, but Sabo said he held off because of a lack of progress negotiating scheduling flexibility with the Saskatoon City Police Association.

City council had warned Sabo it might roll back funding for those eight officers without the scheduling flexibility to beef up night weekend patrols.

The other eight new officers range from constables to staff sergeants in units such as canine, forensic identification and homicide. Civilian jobs include a communications specialist and the force's first in-house lawyer.

The budget doesn't take hiring far enough, said Const. Stan Goertzen, president of the police association.

"We still need more officers out on the street. The Prosser (audit) report indicated very clearly that they needed at least 28 new officers on the street. There's some stuff that I wonder why it wasn't asked for."

The impact of the total budget, which is offset by about $3.5 million in police revenue, such as senior government grants, will be $5.40 for the average household, Sabo said.

Two-thirds of the $3-million budget increase over last year is built in through salary increases, inflation and the impact of paying new recruits from 2004 for a full year.