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Sask. has highest per-capita ratio of police

Atchison maintains Saskatoon needs more cops on the street

Don Atchison

While Saskatchewan has the highest crime rate of any province, there should be a police officer around when you need one.

Saskatchewan, with an average of 201 officers per 100,000 people, had the highest ratio of police to citizens in the country, according to 2002 figures released by Statistics Canada on Friday.

The Saskatoon census metropolitan area (CMA) ranks fifth among 25 major Canadian urban areas, with 178 officers per 100,000 people. Officers include city police as well as RCMP detachments in the surrounding area.

The Saskatoon Police Service, however, has 168 officers per 100,000 people, according to the data provided by Statistics Canada.

"I still maintain we have to get more officers on the street," Mayor Don Atchison said in an interview Friday.

Atchison said that can be addressed in two ways: by "looking at what we have already" and by increasing the number of officers in the city.

"I'm still hopeful that the province of Saskatchewan will come along and help us in that area, as well," he said.

A Saskatoon police spokesperson has said the force is particularly short-staffed among its front-line officers on patrol who respond to calls.

The Statistics Canada report indicated the Saskatoon police service has fewer officers per 100,000 population than other police services in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Halifax, Windsor, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Regina.

However, with the exception of Regina, Saskatoon also has a higher rate of crime than any of those cities.

Regina's census metropolitan area (CMA) fared well, with the Queen City's CMA having the most police officers per 100,000 people -- 202 -- of any metropolitan area in Canada. Regina's police service has 182 officers per 100,000 population.

But Regina police Chief Cal Johnston said that while there is a high ratio of officers in the Regina area, the actual number of city officers per 100,000 people was only 174 last year and 182 in 2003.

That's just below the national average of 188. And while the city's crime rates declined by 12 per cent in 2002, Regina's officers have no shortage of work, he said.

"When you look at the calls per officer, Criminal Code complaints per officer . . . Regina traditionally has one of the highest if not the highest in Canada," he said.

On Friday, no political leaders were saying there were too many officers in the province.

The provincial NDP had pledged in the 1999 election to hire 200 new police officers in four years. The government has paid for 142 officers since that time.

Justice Minister Frank Quennell said there may be no increase in this year's provincial budget because of financial constraints. But the government is still committed to reaching the 200 target despite the high number of officers in the province, he said Friday.

"Adding more police officers isn't a silver bullet, it doesn't solve all our problems. A lot of our problems are related to addictions, they're related to unstable communities, which relates to housing and education and they have to be addressed in other ways. But I think there's a place for the police officer on the street who's doing more than just responding to a complaint or investigating a crime," he said.

Saskatchewan Party MLA Dan D'Autremont said its clear that more officers are needed in the province.

"The fact the province of Saskatchewan has the need is what is shown by those statistics. We lead the country in the number of violent cases, homicides, personal crimes . . . we're going to have to have more police officers."

City eyes Sutherland police post
Atchison opposes such stations, but says police board should decide

Mayor Don Atchison has backed the construction of a second community policing station, along with a majority of city council, despite his campaign promise to shut down the only existing community station in Riversdale and overhaul police strategy.

But Atchison said in an interview his policing views haven't changed -- he only wants to give the newly appointed board of police commissioners a fair chance to debate converting the former Sutherland fire hall on Central Avenue into a community station. Council approved the new station at its 2004 capital budget meeting Tuesday.

Atchison, the police commission chair, suggested the approval can be overturned when the new board of police commissioners begins sitting in January.

"Giving them an opportunity to discuss this does not mean I'm in favour of it. I don't believe in (community stations)," he said in an interview, adding Saskatoon is too small to need satellite stations.

"But it's not up to me to speak for the new police commission. They need an opportunity to discuss this first of all. . . . I am not in favour of that (station) at all. The four officers' (salaries at the station), that's $196,000 better spent out on the streets.

"This is not a dictatorship, this is a democracy. If we were running a dictatorship, you would say this is what we're doing."

Atchison urged council to support budgeting $92,000 to renovate the hall into a police station, despite concerns expressed by some councillors. It will take another $89,200 to hire four constables to staff one new position at the station.

"I have difficulty with this," said Coun. Donna Birkmaier, who questioned the cost of renovations. "My concern is we don't know this is going to work. Why wouldn't we do something on a more temporary basis and test the market?"

By contrast, three of the five new commissioners have said they support the community policing initiatives currently under way, possibly leaving Atchison with a fight on his hands over the Sutherland station.

The Little Chief station became an election campaign symbol for Atchison's planned police reforms. Atchison regularly repeated promises during and after the election campaign to redeploy the two officers working inside Little Chief and get more officers on the street -- calling the community policing philosophy supported by former mayor Jim Maddin ineffective. The Little Chief station, he said, receives on average 1.6 visits per day.

But police Chief Russell Sabo offered numbers to the contrary, saying there were 280 complaints filed in November alone.

Atchison said he stands by his numbers, which he said accurately reflected visits in the fall, and questioned whether Sabo's statistics include phone calls.

The Sutherland police station would likely attract more visits than Little Chief, Sabo told council, because transportation is more readily available to east-side residents. He said police have poorly marketed the Little Chief station, with some residents not aware they can report crimes there.

The Sutherland station would be open 10 hours a day, seven days a week, staffed by one officer.

Giving residents a place to report minor offences frees up policing "street strength," Sabo said. Police don't have an option of placing civilian staff in the stations because of contractual issues with the city police association.

Those officers who would staff the Sutherland station cannot leave the station to respond to an emergency in the neighbourhood, Sabo said, because locking the station even temporarily would run contrary to its purpose.

"This is an additional place police can gain access to the public," Sabo said.

The station is just one project in an approximately $100-million capital budget -- a record high for Saskatoon.

New neighbourhoods Hampton Village on the west side and Willowgrove on the east combine for about $11 million in land development costs alone. The city is beginning a 10-year, $150-million upgrade of its water treatment plant.

Upgrading of Preston Avenue from 14th Street to the CPR crossing will go ahead, including additional lanes on some stretches. Council is expected to decide on proceeding with Phase 2 of the Preston Crossing shopping mall next month.

Council will consider final approval for the capital budget at its Monday meeting. The operational budget, which determines the property tax rate for 2004, is debated in March or April.

S'toon mayor proposes closing inner-city police station

SASKATOON -Saskatoon's new mayor told business leaders Thursday his top priority right now is to cut down the city's crime rate.
As part of that, Atchison told about 300 people from the North Saskatoon Business Association he will close down the Little Chief community police station on 20th Street because it wastes officers' time.

It will be more than a year before the city can hire more police officers. In the meantime, inner city residents would be better served if those police officers were out walking a beat, he said.

"When I hear of an elderly lady being hit over the head and her purse and package being stolen, I call those type of people, those criminals, thugs. And they need to damn well be stopped in this community, let me tell you that right now," he said to applause.

Atchison compared Saskatoon to New York, which used to have one of the highest crime rates in the world.

"Nine years later it was rated the safest major city in North America. And they went through zero tolerance. And I think that's where we have to go."

Atchison said he wants to become the next chair of the city's police commission. He wants to cut the commission from six members to four.

"We have serious work to do," he told his audience. "Public safety and security is near the top of the list. A new board of police commissioners with the mayor as the chair will bring new leadership to our professional police service, and a new vision to attack crime."

Leanne Bellegarde-Daniels resigned from her post as commission chair last week, saying she disagrees with Atchison's ideas about fighting crime.

Police chief Russ Sabo said it would not be a wise idea to close the inner city station, adding he hopes Atchison will consider a "more balanced" approach after he spends some time with Saskatoon's police commission.

"We are out here to try and fight crime. But you have to do it from a balanced approach. You cannot focus all your resources into one area. Because if you do that you are not addressing crime perhaps at the root cause," Sabo said.

Hubcap stolen off tough-on-crime mayor's car

Not even being Saskatoon's new tough-on-crime mayor could prevent Mayor Don Atchison from getting targeted himself.

If Atchison needed a sign to convince him of the need to crack down on minor criminal offences and bylaw infractions, he says he got it early Saturday.

Atchison says a thief made off with one of the hubcaps on his wife's 1992 Ford Mustang while they attended a church function off Primrose Drive.

"It proves to me we've just got to crack down on crime," he said in an interview. "It can happen to anyone, doesn't matter who you are.

"If you look after the little things, the big things take care of themselves," said Atchison, adding he hasn't yet reported the missing hubcap to police.

The vehicle was parked less than two metres from the church door, Atchison said. He left the function at 1:30 a.m.

It's unlikely thieves targeted Atchison because of his position, since the mayor was more visible during October's election campaign in a half-ton truck.

Thieves also stole four hubcaps from a Cadillac parked outside a fund-raising auction for Christian Centre Academy, which Atchison had attended, said school principal Duff Friesen.

Volunteer security had taken a pipe from several youths roaming the parking lot earlier in the evening, Friesen said.

"It's fairly unusual," he said of the thefts.

Atchison, who chairs the city's board of police commissioners, has promised to get more officers on the street, cracking down on offences such as vandalism, mischief and public urination.

That approach has raised concerns about straining trust between aboriginal people living in the core area and police officers.

Saskatoon Police Service have implemented a greater focus on community policing since 2000, targeting the root causes of crime with initiatives such as the Little Chief community station in Riversdale.

Atchison has promised to reassign officers from the station.

Saskatoon mayor rescinds dress code for visitors

SASKATOON -- Before it ever had a chance to go into effect, Mayor Don Atchison has rescinded his rule requiring visitors to his City Hall office to wear a shirt and tie or business attire.

A story in Wednesday's StarPhoenix indicated Atchison would not meet with anyone in his office who was not sporting semi-formal dress.

But Atchison said he changed his mind early Wednesday morning after reading the story and receiving a few calls from concerned citizens.

"Gee, you sound awfully arrogant in the paper," Atchison said one unofficial adviser told him.

Atchison said another message read "You're not elected to sell suits and ties," perhaps in reference to the men's clothing store he runs in addition to his duties as mayor.

Atchison also mentioned that until he read Wednesday's story he was unaware the rule would effectively put an end to City Hall's casual dress Fridays.

"I guess what I thought was a good idea perhaps wasn't such a good idea," Atchison admitted, adding he also never intended to come off as arrogant, as someone striving to sell more suits and ties or as someone seeking to exclude people from his office.

"I ran (for mayor) on the basis that I was going to have an open-door policy and that people could see me and that is certainly the intent all the way along and I'm certainly not getting (away from) an open-door policy."

Fred Hamm, owner of Hamm's Barber Shop, said he wore a tie to work Wednesday "because Atch told me I had to wear it if I wanted to get into his office."

But Hamm found himself all dressed up with nowhere to go after a customer told him of Atchison's about-face regarding the rule. "We've solved a lot of the world's problems in the barber chair," joked Hamm, who's been cutting hair for 54 years.

Hamm, who was also joking about visiting Atchison's office, was serious when he said the dress code would have been unfair to many city residents who may not even own a tie.

Atchison said he was surprised by the attention his enforced dress code received and future visitors to his office can use their own discretion when choosing their outfits.

"I don't know if coming with swimming trunks on and sandals -- I think that's what was in the paper this morning -- I don't think that's appropriate either," Atchison said, apparently in reference to a Jim Maddin quote in Wednesday's story claiming visitors sometimes wore "shorts" during visits with the mayor.

Atchison, who will "live and learn" from his change of heart said, "We ask that

Wanna see Atchison?: You gotta wear your Sunday best

A shirt and tie are now dress requirements for visiting Mayor Don Atchison in his office, under a rule he designed to increase respect for the position.

Atchison, who has been in office for nine days after campaigning to be the "People's Mayor," confirmed Tuesday that everyone from councillors to city staff, reporters and members of the public will have to don semi-formal wear to visit him in his second-floor City Hall office.

Women are required to sport business attire, but not necessarily ties.

"It's respect for the position, not Don Atchison," the mayor said. "I've always said, 'Casual dress, casual thoughts.' "

The rule is already in effect for everyone but councillors. Atchison plans to discuss extending the rule to them at an executive committee meeting on Monday.

"I think when people come to see the mayor, they should have their thoughts ready to deal with him," Atchison said. "As much as it might be nice to sit down and chit-chat about different issues, we need to get down to what you've come here to see the mayor for. By doing things like (imposing a dress code), people put their thoughts together well before they get here so we're well on our way."

Atchison, who owns a men's dress clothing store, said he's not trying to force anyone to buy business attire. He plans to stock ties in his office to give visitors the choice of dressing up or meeting with him elsewhere in the building.

The code will not discourage access to the mayor, he predicted.

"In the past few years, things have become very casual," Atchison said. "City hall business shouldn't be taken casually. It's serious business and we're dealing with taxpayers' dollars. When we're discussing things to do with the city, I think we need to be in a business-like mode."

The man Atchison pushed out of the mayor's office, Jim Maddin, calls the rule "silly" and contrary to Atchison's campaign promise to be more accessible.

"When I was in there, I had people coming in casual clothing, blue jeans, shorts. My experience is people who came into my office showed respect."

Atchison said he'll decide himself the appropriateness of a visitor's clothing. However, he said his secretaries have been informing visitors of the rule and have not told him of any negative responses.

"If you were going to see the premier of Saskatchewan, would you walk in with a T-shirt on?"

The change raises concerns for Coun. Owen Fortosky, who represents the ward that includes some of Saskatoon's poorest neighbourhoods.

"I understand the intent but I've heard him say many times he wants to be the 'People's Mayor.' "

The new rule could become particularly contentious among aboriginal people, Fortosky said, for whom formal dress might have a different meaning.

"I'm hoping there is some leeway."

The new dress requirement could act as a "barrier," according to one city source who didn't want to be named.

"There are people in this town from all economic backgrounds. So attaching significance to people's attire is not appropriate."

Ann St. Denis, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 59, which represents the city's inside workers, said it would be rare for a city employee to speak privately with the mayor. She was not aware of the new dress requirement.

There is no dress code in effect for indoor city employees in any situation, she said, adding that imposing one would be a bargaining issue.

City clerk Janice Mann said senior administrators have been briefed on the dress requirement in Atchison's office, resulting in some adjustments.

"Basically, casual Fridays are out because you never know when you'll be called into a meeting (in the mayor's office)," she said.

City staff have tended to dress more casually in the last few years, Mann said. In earlier times, mayors would likely never have considered an office dress code because staff voluntarily dressed more formally within City Hall and perhaps society, she said.

Another step aimed at showing respect for office will see councillors and the mayor address each other with the formal titles of "Your Worship" for Atchison and "Councillor" for other members moreoften.

Atchison plans to encourage use of the titles whenever council members discuss city business, including at closed-door meetings.

"I don't want us to get down to the personal level. Titles separate you from the person. When it's said and done, people can go out and have a coffee together and disassociate the two of them. Because when we do our discussions, it should not be on a personal level. It should be on a philosophical level of politics."

Accepted practice has been to refer to each other by first names at closed-door meetings, although Atchison said he personally has always used titles.

Outside of conducting city business, "it's just good old 'Don,' " Atchison said.

The most public change Atchison plans to bring to city council chambers will see a recording of the national anthem played before public meetings of all council.