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Chief Russell Sabo

Sabo willing to work with Atchison
Mayor-elect to 'clear the air' with platoons

Chief Russell Sabo

Police Chief Russell Sabo says he's not convinced a new policing vision is warranted, although he's willing to work "co-operatively" with mayor-elect Don Atchison and a new board of commissioners.

Atchison has promised to relieve police of "social worker" responsibilities and come down harder on minor offences in hopes of curbing crime overall.

"We can't jump to conclusions that the direction of the police department is going to change at this point," Sabo said in an interview. "The mayor-elect has indicated a desire to introduce some changes and I understand all that. I think once he's had an opportunity to be fully familiar and briefed on issues facing the service, then jointly the board and service will adjust strategies where necessary."

Atchison said he hopes to meet with Sabo next week.

"I'm very hopeful that he'll buy into it. We're going to start off on a positive note and think nothing different."

Sabo said he intends to serve the remaining three years of his contract and seek an extension.

He said he believes in a holistic approach to policing that doesn't produce instant results.

"If all you're doing is focusing on prevention, then you're not solving crimes. If all you're focusing on is the problem-solving, then are you answering calls for service? If all you're doing is arresting people, it becomes a revolving door.

"Community policing is not a pill you take and it changes things overnight. This is a long-term commitment."

The mayor-elect's first order of business will be meeting, along with other police commissioners, with police platoons to "clear the air," Atchison said.

The board would then carry out small steps arising from those meetings to show the public the police service is moving in the right direction, Atchison said.

The real change happens when council appoints new members of the board, replacing citizen appointees whose terms expire Dec. 31.

"The current commission has said their beliefs are in a different direction than where I want to go right now," Atchison said.

That direction is the broken-window theory, a policing approach used in New York City to clamp down on minor crimes in hopes of discouraging more serious ones.

"This is what works and Don is right on. I hope he has the courage to carry through with it," said former chief Dave Scott.

Scott said the police service had implemented two related initiatives prior to his termination in 2001.

Police began logging all crimes into a database to track trends and deal immediately with offences of various degrees of seriousness. They also tracked which weekends and locations around the city were repeatedly scenes of bar fights and out-of-control parties and staffed to meet expected demand with officers on overtime.

That practice has since been abandoned, Scott said.

"If you don't begin to deal with the small things on the street, crime will start to override safety in your community. . . . When you have a police presence at even a minor incident, often the attitude changes right there."

Police under Scott's direction also attempted to tackle underlying causes, he said, by taking high-risk youth to sporting events and on canoe trips.

"I feel so wonderful that we have taken the city of Saskatoon back," Scott said of Atchison's win.

But current police board member Leanne Bellegarde-Daniels said some of Atchison's statements, promising to close the Little Chief community station and patrol 19th to 21st streets more aggressively, trouble her.

"That's a rather disturbing approach to policing that I think will unfairly target those who are economically, socially and culturally disadvantaged. That's why community policing has tried to take into consideration that there are other factors that contribute to crime."

Sabo said police already crack down on minor offences, but sometimes chase bigger priorities.

Key to carrying out the new policing direction are the plans of the next provincial government, which Atchison said he's counting on to fund more police officers.


Saskatoon is moving in the right direction although the province can't seem to get with the program

  • Our time by the Bandstand in Saskatoon was productive. It was Treaty Day when we first arrived so we had the opportunity to speak to many people and got a good sense of what people are thinking.
  • We attended the vigil and have posted pictures.
  • Saskatoon Police Commission: Fire Dueck, Apologize to Darrell Night
  • Let Chief Sabo do his job: He has just taken a giant first step by inviting an independent agency to come in and investigate the Saskatoon Police Service
  • Mayor Maddin challenges police union to come clean
  • New on Neil Stonechild inquest

From this moment on, no more police files should be destroyed. (We have been told it is automatic to destroy inactive or closed files after five years) interview with retired Saskatoon cop Rusty Chartier | The first day of our campaign this summer was tremendously successful. Many signatures of support were gathered, many people read the signs and many productive conversations were held.


Mayor Jim Maddin and Chief Russell Sabo are in talks to try and resolve the police chaos in Saskatoon. Saskatoon has yet to apologize to David Milgaard and by failing to do so they have allowed his reputation to continue to be defamed. They have failed to fire Dueck. They also failed to handle the attempted murder of Darrell Night by two members of their force with any grace. Did they forget that Darrell Night is a member of the community?

Since 1994, Saskatoon has been paying for Dueck's defence in the Klassen/Kvello lawsuit. This has included taking city solicitor Barry Rossmann away from other matters for a time, before hiring private (expensive) lawyer David Gerrand. It includes a bill for hiring a private investigator to try to entrap Richard Klassen last June and was followed by an unethical attempt to have his claim against the city struck. These are the same tactics Dueck used along with Murray Zoorkan against Kim Cooper. We do not forget. The Internet does not forget.

Dueck is no longer responsible for Criminal Investigations as he was for a while. His job description, from the City of Saskatoon website, now reads: "Under the direction of the Deputy Chief of Police, the Human Resources Superintendent is responsible for the management and administration of recruitment, selection, civilian staffing, employee appraisal, training, personnel records, the Police promotion process and the supervision of the section staff. The Superintendent is responsible for overall supervisory control and management within the Division, ensuring the Police Service provides an effective and efficient service to the public."

Too much power for a corrupt cop!


Saskatoon's police chief in turmoil

SASKATOON - Saskatoon Police Chief Russell Sabo stretches his arms out in a gesture of helplessness as if he's being tugged in opposite directions.

He's trying to explain why his own officers have overwhelmingly told him they're dissatisfied with his leadership, just 18 months after he was hired to overhaul the troubled force.

"We've got the citizens over here," he said, shaking one hand. "And the [police] association over here," he added, indicating his other hand. "And we're trying to balance things. You can't have it all one way or another. It's very difficult."

The word "difficult" is a gentle adjective for the recent turmoil at Saskatoon's police department. Tensions have been building between Mr. Sabo and his officers ever since the charismatic Calgary police officer became chief in December, 2001.

When he arrived, Saskatoon had garnered international infamy over a series of incidents in which native men were dumped by police on the outskirts of the city on cold winter nights. A new mayor was elected on a platform of reforming the force, and Mr. Sabo was picked for the job.

Under the slogan of "community policing," he has recruited more native officers, rejigged the command structure and hired liaison officers to represent the service in each of the city's neighbourhoods.

But many police feel that the reforms haven't had much effect, and even those who support the idea of community policing say it has diverted too much money from the more urgent need for regular officers to patrol a growing city.

Officers became so unhappy that about 320 of the 380 members of their union, the Saskatoon City Police Association, voted 90 per cent against the chief and 95 per cent against the board of police commissioners in a non-confidence motion last month.

The chief was scheduled to meet with the union, the police commission and a veteran municipal staffer acting as mediator to talk about their differences last week, but the meeting has been postponed until July 17.

In the meantime, everybody involved with policing the city is left to wonder how a series of initiatives meant to improve the department's public image have caused such an internal revolt.

Union president Stan Goertzen said the officers' main frustration isn't with the community policing idea itself, but with its expense. The force hired 10 new community liaison officers in January, he said, at a time when positions for front-line officers aren't being filled as quickly as officers are retiring.

"It would be nice to slap those 10 people out there on the street to stop the pressure on everybody else," Sergeant Goertzen said.

Unlike other areas of the province, Saskatoon is growing. The population increased 3.1 per cent between 1996 and 2001 to 226,000 people, according to the latest census. But when Mr. Sabo took over as police chief in 2001, the number of officers on patrol hadn't changed for more than a decade.

On some shifts, Sgt. Goertzen said, just 14 officers have been on duty to respond to as many as 300 radio calls.

Mr. Sabo said he has added six new front-line officers to the force over the past two years, but community policing took priority. "I don't disagree that we need additional resourcing on the street," he said. "But we can't focus just on the reactive side of policing. We have to break the cycle we've been caught in."

Beyond those philosophical differences over how to allocate resources, Sgt. Goertzen said there is also lingering unhappiness among the officers about how the old chief, who rose through the ranks, was replaced by an outsider.

The trigger for the non-confidence vote, he added, was the fact that the police board recently allowed Mr. Sabo to return to work after he was investigated for the alleged harassment of his secretary. An independent investigator found that five of the 42 complaints had merit; the chief was required to take sensitivity training.

Jim Cox, a former union president who retired from his job as staff sergeant last year, said some officers are also resentful about Mr. Sabo's recent comments on television that suggested the practice of dumping natives in the cold could have been more widespread than previously admitted.

Leanne Bellegarde-Daniels, chairwoman of the police commission, said the root of the discontent might lie in the new police administration's determination to change its ways.

"When you move to being more open and forthcoming and putting things on the table that maybe formally didn't, for whatever reason, that creates discomfort for people. . . . I think this is an organization that probably has some degree of resistance to change. That whole chain of command and paramilitary style of organization has some pretty unique challenges to overcome."


Saskatoon police confirm officer abandoned aboriginal woman in 1976

SASKATOON (CP) - The smouldering issue of police abandoning aboriginal people outside the city limits flared again Monday when a new case dating back more than 25 years was revealed.

Saskatchewan justice officials immediately asked the RCMP to conduct a criminal investigation into the abandonment of an aboriginal woman on Saskatoon's outskirts in 1976. "This is the first that we have heard about this case, but we have asked the RCMP to . . . investigate it," Justice Minister Eric Cline said.

Earlier Monday, Saskatoon police Chief Russell Sabo acknowledged a city officer had abandoned the woman.

Until that revelation, the police service had insisted that the 2001 conviction of two former officers, Ken Hatchen and Dan Munson, for abandoning an aboriginal man on the outskirts was an isolated incident.

RCMP spokesman Cpl. Brian Jones said he didn't know if the 1976 incident had already come to the attention of a Mountie task force that has investigated several alleged cases of abandonment, or whether it would be a new case for the RCMP.

"We are checking to see what requests he (Cline) has made and we will be following up accordingly."

Sabo has refused further comment on the issue. But acting Insp. Al Stickney said the officer involved in the 1976 case was dealt with through an internal disciplinary process.

"There were some findings and punishment," Stickney said.

He said he couldn't elaborate since details are sketchy, but did say the woman was abandoned during the summer. He wasn't aware of what happened to her later.

Former officers Hatchen and Munson began serving an eight-month jail sentence in March after being found guilty of unlawful confinement for driving Darrell Night to the outskirts of Saskatoon in January 2000 and dropping him off in minus-22 C to walk back.

Night's case drew national attention and focused attention on tensions between Saskatoon police and the aboriginal community.

Perry Bellegarde, chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, said he wasn't aware of the 1976 case until Monday but wasn't surprised to hear about it.

The federation has received many reports from aboriginal people who recounted similar experiences with Saskatoon police, Bellegarde said.

"This was quite common," he said.

But he was pleased Sabo admitted that it happened. It's a good start to bringing the issue out into the open and dealing with he called "fundamental human rights violations."

Even if police are admitting to only two incidents a quarter-century apart, Bellegarde said he believes there is a pattern.

"There are more than two - no question," the FSIN chief said.

The Saskatchewan government has already called an inquest into another similar case - the death of an aboriginal teen in November 1990.

Neil Stonechild,17, was found frozen to death in a remote field on the outskirts of Saskatoon.

The justice minister said Monday that the whole matter needs a thorough public airing. If the 1976 case isn't dealt with during the Stonechild inquiry this fall, Cline said he would be open to holding a broader public inquiry.

Const. Stan Goertzen, president of the Saskatoon City Police Association, said he was saddened to hear about another case, but he was heartened to hear that the officer involved was disciplined at the time.

Goertzen said he was only aware of the Hatchen-Munson case prior to this.

"I'd like to see anyone with complaints come forward," he said.

He pointed out that police want to get to the bottom of the issue, noting that Night came forward to a police officer, his complaint was investigated and Hatchen and Munson were brought to justice.

Goertzen said more than 300 officers have retired since 1976 so it is not likely the officer who abandoned the woman is still in the police service.


Saskatoon police chief points out systemic gaps

SASKATOON - Saskatoon's police chief Russell Sabo says he wants his staff to get out of the business of being jailers. He says police should not be doing the jobs of other agencies by holding drunks and those accused who are waiting for court appearances.
"Police officers are highly trained," he says, "but our focus is not and should not be in the supervision, care and custody of accused persons."

Sabo says that provincial corrections workers should be performing these kinds of duties and wants people who are accused of crimes kept somewhere other than police holding cells.

Sabo is also calling for greater numbers of properly trained medical examiners to help out with investigations because police officers are not trained to perform forensic pathology.

Sabo's says having a medical examiner at a crime scene would help with an investigation.

"Some of the deaths which have occurred here, that there are questions outstanding, I think some of those questions may have been answered if we had investigations done that had properly, medically-trained medical examiners that attended those scenes," he says.

The comments came among several recommendations the police chief is making to the aboriginal justice commission that was hearing submissions in Saskatoon on Monday.

Sabo is also calling for a night court and he wants an expansion in the provincial police complaints investigators office.


Police set on healing old wounds: Sabo

The Saskatoon Police Service has operated under a "cloud of suspicion" for several years, which has severely affected the morale of its members, Chief Russell Sabo told the aboriginal justice reform commission Monday.

However, the service wants to move beyond the past, and is dedicated to working with all citizens, he said.

"Slightly more than three years ago, the community and our service personnel were shocked and deeply distressed by the news that two of our members, constables (Dan) Hatchen and (Ken) Munson, had failed to live up to their oath of office," Sabo said in his speech at the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre.

"I can assure you our department and the community of Saskatoon has paid a heavy penalty as a result of their actions. For the past three years, our members have been under a cloud of suspicion.

"It is our deepest hope that we will all learn from the mistakes of the past, and will begin to focus on making things better for the future," he said.

In 2000, Darrell Night complained that he was ejected from a police cruiser on the outskirts of the city on Jan. 28, 2000, when the temperature had dipped to a frigid -22 C.

Soon after, the bodies of two other aboriginal men who had frozen to death were discovered in the same area.

Night's complaint sparked the creation of an RCMP task force and led to unlawful confinement convictions against Hatchen and Munson, who later lost their jobs. They began serving eight-month jail sentences earlier this year.

In February, the province also announced a public inquiry into the 1990 freezing death of 17-year-old Neil Stonechild, whose body was found on the edge of Saskatoon. That inquiry will be held this fall.

During a question and answer period, commission members pointed out that despite some changes within the police service, there are outstanding concerns.

Commission chair Willie Littlechild wondered why there were no comments about racism in the police service's presentation, which referred often to recent successes.

"Maybe it's just not a word we want to use anymore. The fact of the matter is it still continues," said Littlechild, adding that the Saskatoon police service has worn "a black eye.

"We can't sit here and underline good things that came after the fact. We should've done this years ago," said commission member Joe Quewezance. He said admitting to "factors of wrongdoing" is a way of beginning the healing process.

"Had things gone so good, I don't think we'd be sitting here today."

Of the police service's approximately 400 sworn members, only about 32 or 33 are aboriginal. Sabo said the service hasn't participated in a healing circle with members of the First Nations community since he's become chief, but he pointed out the organization is actively trying to recruit from specific groups, including the aboriginal community.

"If the interpretation that the board had was that we're promoting racism, that's not what we're doing. We are actually trying to promote unity, trying to draw us together and highlight those things where we are the same as opposed to those things where we are different," Sabo said.

"We recognize that all of us, everyone of us in this room -- I don't care who you are -- you're a racist. We are. Everybody has that little segment, we just don't recognize it until it hits you in the face.

"What we have to do is we have to understand where we have those feelings and overcome them and provide the training," he said.

Sabo said the police service continues to struggle every day with the negative media attention it has received. However, numerous people "write in, send letters, come in and tell us how absolutely thrilled they are with the service we're delivering" on a weekly basis, he said.

Sabo said the police service has "great expectations" that the commission's deliberations will act as a catalyst for much-needed change.

"I think many people would say that the creation of this commission to introduce change into the justice system and potentially other related systems is long overdue," he said.

The five-member, $2.5-million justice commission was set up in late 2001 to address concerns about the high number of aboriginal people involved with the justice system, and the way they are treated.

Throughout Monday's presentation, Sabo and other police officers highlighted the police service's successes, such as its aboriginal liaison program. The aboriginal liaison officer position was created in 1994 to improve relations and build trust with the aboriginal community.

The police officers also told the commission about the Peacekeepers program, which was created in 1996 to address a lack of follow-up services for youth, and to provide officers with a better understanding of young First Nations people and cultural solutions to crime. Peacekeepers' activities have included day trips to Prince Albert, where youth, adults and police collect firewood to be brought back to Saskatoon for elders to use in sweatlodge ceremonies.