Saskatoon's new police facility sets an entirely new standard

Dave Kozicki
January 28, 2015
By Dave Kozicki
The old Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) headquarters was not keeping up with the fast growing city that it serves. Built in 1977 in downtown Saskatoon and designed for 300 people, it was clearly inadequate. The idea of building a new headquarters was discussed as early as 1996. Three different police chiefs worked on the issue and numerous proposals were put forward. Through necessity the SPS began to spread out to numerous buildings throughout Saskatoon. Interim measures became standard while the service awaited a decision on a new building. Rentals and leasing costs approached $1 million a year and parking alone was spread out over eight different locations. Training and conferences usually took place off-site and firearms qualification was held at an outdoors location outside the city.

The old Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) headquarters was not keeping up with the fast growing city that it serves. Built in 1977 in downtown Saskatoon and designed for 300 people, it was clearly inadequate.

The idea of building a new headquarters was discussed as early as 1996. Three different police chiefs worked on the issue and numerous proposals were put forward.

Through necessity the SPS began to spread out to numerous buildings throughout Saskatoon. Interim measures became standard while the service awaited a decision on a new building. Rentals and leasing costs approached $1 million a year and parking alone was spread out over eight different locations. Training and conferences usually took place off-site and firearms qualification was held at an outdoors location outside the city.

Although "real-world" emergency situations can occur at any time of year, training in sub-zero temperatures has its difficulties. A blizzard and freezing temperatures becomes the central issue instead of actual firearms training. What would normally take five hours, for example, could become a full day event.

Ground was finally broken for a new headquarters at a ceremony on June 13, 2011. The budget grew from an initial $42 million when the idea was first examined in 2002 to a final revised cost of $122 million in 2014. As with all sizable civic expenditures, this became a political issue but a robust economy and sense that continued growth was only going to make matters more pressing carried the plan to fruition and a grand opening on June 16, 2014.

The former SPS headquarters was 90,000 square feet (27,432 m2) and the service leased another 70,000 feet (21,336 m2). The new building has 390,000 square feet (118,872 m2), expected to provide adequate room until the city's population reaches 300,000 to 325,000 people. At that time sub-stations may provide more localized facilities to cover physical growth. The new headquarters is expected to serve as a central location for the next 50 years.

Room to grow

As a gauge of staff growth, parking can be expanded to 800 spaces in the next 10-15 years. That's in addition to the 200 police vehicles securely parked in the basement garage.

Saskatoon's weather presents a challenge for police. Operations, unlike training courses, occur 12 months a year, 24 hours a day. The weather ranges from -40 Celsius with strong winds and deep snow to 40 above before thunderstorms with threats of tornados.

Most of the SPS current fleet of 184 vehicles are parked indoors, allowing for more timely and safe responses. An indoor wash bay keeps them looking professional. They use 635,000 litres of fuel and travel approximately 2.8 million kilometres per year.

Forensic identification can securely store vehicles in the basement, allowing it to properly examine those used in criminal activity and presenting a very good example of how policing is driven by the requirements of the criminal justice system. The designers and builders of the previous headquarters would not have been able to foresee the impact of modern forensics in policing.

Upstairs, the new building offers up-to-date facilities for the storage and examination of exhibits. Investigators are able to complete their work in a "Level 3" forensic lab with two bio labs, bio-chemical and chemical labs, fingerprint dusting room, light source room and photo studio.

Policing is no longer a static service that municipalities and provinces simply require to be included in the budget. Needs have to be identified before they can be addressed, requiring flexibility and room to adapt to the proliferation of instant communications, computing and surveillance in today's world.

Firearms training

Another moving target, in a literal sense, involves changing firearms training requirements. Unfortunate but important experiences provide learning opportunities and one lesson learned is that standing still while aiming at stationary targets is becoming a thing of the past. Both the new indoor range and the outdoor range, which the SPS has retained, provide a complete training system, further supplemented by the video simulation training area.

This indoor range has ten lanes and a Mancom target retrieval system, allowing for more realistic training with increased safety. The new year round facility can accommodate scenarios involving vehicles and is used for annual qualifications, taking pressure off staffing levels in the busy summer months when training often conflicted with calls for service.

Police services across the country are facing increasing public scrutiny. Instead of resisting, the SPS is addressing this issue head on. A media room is accessible from the lobby area, as are cultural and community rooms. A cultural garden, adjacent to the cultural rooms, can accommodate ceremonies involving smoking peace pipes and burning sweet grass. Victim services, also accessible from the lobby, serves approximately 500 people per month.

The facilities all highlight the understanding that policing, especially in a diverse community like Saskatoon, is much more than simply enforcing laws. For more information about these issues, see The Saskatoon Police Service - Return on Investment video on YouTube.

Criminal record checks

The SPS provided 25,142 records checks for the public in 2013. This service presented a challenge in the limited space of the old headquarters. Security issues also became apparent when the public was allowed somewhat uncontrolled access to numerous areas of the building. Fortunately, these issues were addressed in the new building, allowing the public to be dealt with in a friendly and open way.

Residents can access most services from the lobby entrance along the south side of the building. Lost and found is accessible from an east side entrance, as is professional standards, allowing for more discrete access when dealing with internal investigations.

Canine is also located on the main floor and has six indoor/outdoor kennels for the service's nine dogs. The dogs usually stay at their handlers homes when off duty but handlers use the kennels when in court or when new dogs are being evaluated. A grooming room is also used by the services eight canine constables and sergeant. The SPS deploys patrol members, including canine, on four platoons working 12-hour shifts, so each platoon has two regularly assigned canine members.

Exhibit handling was not overlooked in the planning and construction of the new station. Currently the SPS stores about 46,000 articles, more than 500 firearms and approximately 6,300 drug exhibits. The constant influx of new exhibits is balanced with, as an example from 2013, the destruction of 10,370 articles, 185 firearms, 2,790 drugs exhibits and the return of 1,830 articles. Alcohol exhibits are poured out, drugs and bio-hazard items are incinerated and firearms are cut up and melted down.

Just as in the indoor range, where cleaners wear protective clothing and air exhausts to the outside, proper ventilation was engineered for the exhibits area to protect staff health. Drug storage and drying rooms vent to the outside and away from air intakes. There are spacious, well-lighted areas for packaging, bar coding and exhibit storage, including scientifically rated refrigerators and freezers. A chemical suppression system extinguishes fires without risking water damage to the exhibits.

Detention

The detention centre has 53 cells, including four doubles and two cells for physically disabled prisoners. Recommendations from previous inquests regarding in-custody deaths were factored in to the construction, which includes ligature proof fixtures, toilets and sinks.

The "bed" is simply a heated raised piece of concrete. Infrared cameras monitor the occupants and although the cells face each other, prisoners cannot see through the polarized glass which separate them.

Paramedics are assigned to 12-hour night shifts in detention area in an effort to prevent in-custody deaths under a plan the SPS developed with the Saskatoon Health Region and other organizations. In addition to lessening liability concerns, this broader approach has made significant progress in dealing with habitual drug and alcohol abusers and those with mental health issues. Many are referred to health care and counselling services, reducing arrests.

Impaired drivers are dealt with in three breath and drug recognition rooms. There are three interview rooms, three fingerprint rooms and five holding rooms. Prisoners are taken into detention through a large sally port in a safe and secure manner that avoids interruptions to the rest of the building.

Unlike some other police services, prisoners are sometimes remanded in SPS cells for short periods of time. A room for in-custody hearings in front of a Justice of the Peace was provided in detention. SPS sergeants represent the Crown on evening appearances and weekend court when prisoners "appear" in Provincial Court over closed circuit television.

The new building is much better equipped to handle the numerous prisoners and arrests that are made each year. In 2013 the SPS arrested 12,246 people and served 12,915 meals to those held in custody.

LEED

LEED building standards (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) were adhered to in the new Saskatoon Police headquarters construction. Benefits include a four million litre reduction in water use, the extensive use of locally available and recycled materials and a 53 per cent energy saving compared to similarly sized buildings.

Another less tangible benefit is that all SPS personnel now work out of the same building, increasing personal contact. New members can now easily speak to more experienced colleagues, who are more often assigned to plain-clothes positions. They might have a quick chat with the chief or speak to someone working on a file that has information pivotal to their own investigation.

Despite the increasing popularity of electronic communications, face-to-face contact is still a very important and powerful tool in policing.

SIDEBAR

SASKATOON ROOTS

The City of Saskatoon traces its origins back to 1882 when a group of people from Toronto, including John Lake, planned to create a temperance colony along the South Saskatchewan River. A large bronze statue in downtown Saskatoon commemorates a meeting between Lake and Dakota Chief White Cap. It is a symbolic centre piece that has been surrounded by historical events and continued growth.

Saskatoon is no longer a temperance colony and one wonders what Lake, in his wildest imagination, could have seen for the colony's future. Saskatoon is now Saskatchewan's largest city, with an population of some 261,000 people, not including another 40,000 in nearby communities.

The city's economy has a diverse base in agriculture, forestry, potash and diamond and uranium mining. Scientific research takes place at the University of Saskatchewan along with the Canadian Light Source (CLS) and Innovation Place. The CLS is Canada's national synchrotron facility, fostering economic development and competitiveness. Innovation Place, founded in 1980, is world renown in biotechnology and its leadership in agriculture, information technology, environmental and life sciences.

A booming economy is not Saskatoon's only strength. What began as a colony in 1882 and became a city with a population of 4,500 in 1905, is now a healthy and growing community home to descendants of its original inhabitants and people from all over the world. Rapid economic growth has to be supported by immigration. Hearing a variety of languages is an everyday occurrence when shopping, visiting a school or attending a community event in Saskatoon.

Local policing follows Saskatoon's relatively recent but interesting history. The North West Mounted Police was present from the beginning; Saskatoon's first detachment was created in 1882. The first permanent officer was assigned in 1889 and Saskatoon's first police chief, Robert E. Dunning, was appointed in 1903.

Today, the Saskatoon Police Service has 651 staff – 446 sworn members, 60 special constables and 145 civilians.

BIO

Visit police.saskatoon.sk.ca to learn more about the Saskatoon Police Service and its new headquarters. Det. Sgt. Dave Kozicki works with the Economic Crime section. Contact: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 306 975-1418.

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