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Community Policing, graffiti and the new mayor

Former Mayor Jim Maddin continues to champion community policing

Editorial, November 2003

Little Chief Police Station

The Little Chief Police Station, shown above on a peaceful spring night, has become a rallying point for those who wish to deal constructively and humanely with Saskatoon's violent, decaying west side.

Former Mayor Maddin has a lot of credibility. He was a cop for 25 years and rose to the rank of Superintendent. In a mayoralty campaign which where the silliness was upfront (Atchison won support by waving at morning traffic and dragging his mom to meetings) and the seriousness went on in an effective get-rid-of-Maddin because-he's-soft on Natives whispering campaign among those who persuaded one another that the influx of criminal aboriginals must be stopped, but Jim Pankiw's upfront racism was something they weren't quite ready for.

Maddin went to the city council meeting last night as a citizen with concerns. Not just any citizen, but one with a lot of experience. He gave his pitch for community policing and a silent council accepted his report as information.

This is what they do. I know, because I have had letters, which outlined deep concerns "accepted as information."

The city administration does not know what to do when someone actually tries to communicate with them directly. In Saskatchewan tradition, business is more comfortably conducted behind closed doors, where deals are made and the turning gears of the machine remain invisible.

Getting rid of Dave Scott, the former police chief who knew all about greasing those invisible gears, was Jim Maddin's first major public move. Establishing the Little Chief Police station was the next.

Little Chief Police Station

Getting the police union on side was something he had not yet accomplished. Nonetheless, it was clear from discussions we had with cops around the police station last summer that many had an open mind to the concept of community policing and were looking for leadership.

Chief Russell Sabo, the replacement for Scott brought in from Calgary, has missed many opportunities to explain just what community policing is and has instead adopted a defensive attitude, explaining what it is not.

"Police officers are highly trained," he told CBC last spring, "but our focus is not and should not be in the supervision, care and custody of accused persons." He went on to say that was the responsibility of corrections.

Yes, Chief Sabo. In a perfect world. Unfortunately, if there is any jurisdiction which needs cleaning up and education in community attitudes as much as the Saskatoon police, it is the department of corrections where the real sadists hang out and collect their pay.

We all know what community policing is not. It is what we do not have.

One thing that the Saskatoon Police Service needs to get its panties untwisted about is free speech and charter rights. It has not ever had any problem picking up dissenters exercising their charter rights. On the first day of the second week of the Klassen/Kvello civil trial, they picked Johanna Lucas up at the court house, handcuffed her and transported her the full two blocks to the police station with full siren blaring and lights flashing. (She was released two days later). Earlier, in August, John Melenchuk had been arrested during a peaceful demonstration in front of the police station.

Queen Elizabeth II Power Station

The police service is definitely not the personal heavies for crown prosecutors, but some crowns have got it into their heads that that is exactly what they are. By saying "just following orders" or "not my job" (see sermonette below) the Saskatoon Police Service is most definitely overstepping its boundaries. It has yet to be properly determined just how Hatchen and Munson got it into their heads that taking Darrell Night to the Q. E. Power station four years ago was a legitimate function.

At council last night, Maddin pointed out that social work is most definitely part of the police role.

He also expanded on the absurdity of a "zero tolerance" policy, noting that as a limited campaign, with specific goals and over a short time, the slogan "zero tolerance" makes sense and can be effective.

During the short three years he was mayor, Jim Maddin developed his communication skills from the shy man of few words who first presented himself to the city. He learned that slogans and visions have to be fleshed out and explained to people and he became very good at doing it. He still has lots to offer.

It is possible that Chief Sabo didn't properly understand what community policing really meant when he was hired to bring the slogan to life in this city.

Here is an idea for all of them. Combine the skateboard park with the Little Chief Police Station. Dip into the kitty (maybe the fund which is paying for Brian Dueck's defence?) or get donations and buy a couple dozen skateboards and some paint from the merchants on 20th Street. Invite young people down to the police station and let them decorate them. Then take them on a supervised outing, to the beautiful skateboard park and hang out. Once or twice a week.

The new mayor, Don Atchison, who has seemed at times to be no more than a mouthpiece for the downtown Partnership, has made several blunders regarding his particular vision for the police which would seem to be little more than keeping down town open for business. He has referred to New York City under Rudy Giiliani as a model he aspires to. I would scorn this comparison except that four years ago, I made the same comparison for completely different reasons.

Central Park 5

Five false confessions extracted from boys by NYC cops. Convicted by over-zealous DA

Now, anyone who watches Law and Order, or other shows set in New York City, has some familiarity with the corrections system there. Occasionally there will be a person who has rotted in remand for months without ever appearing before a judge. Of course, since television shows are often morality plays, such incidents are presented as "isolated" and since most of the cops we see are "good cops", we see them being read their rights and being offered access to legal counsel.

There is no TV show like Law and Order set in Saskatoon, or in any Canadian [or American] city, for that matter. Occasionally we get a story like the Kingston riots or some other lockdown on the news. And every few years a film maker will go take the trouble to follow a story featuring a particularly egregious case.

The truth is this: Corrections people are answerable to no one. The many youth and not-so-young who have been consigned to these places live in a world so far removed from what most of us imagine that most right-thinking people would be outraged if they knew how bad it really is. Don Atchison's policies would consign window breakers and graffiti makers to living in that world which places them a further large step removed from any possible integration into "polite society".

In Regina yesterday, police heard experts from Calgary tell them all about graffiti. There was some TV coverage on both channels, showing power point demonstrations of how it was done, what certain symbols meant, etc. Gangs marking their turf, that sort of thing. There was careless and careful graffiti, some of it breathtaking in its execution. So what is the difference between graffiti and art? the question was asked. "Graffiti is when it is illegal," pontificated the expert. "An artist has permission." Well, just take that, all you professors at the various art colleges and university art departments. Lasting art has almost always been about expanding the boundaries of permission.

Christo and Jeanne Claude's The Gates

Christo's 23 mile long art installation, "The Gates" in New York city's Central Park