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Saskatoon police want government help to pay safety costs for drug site: chief


March 9, 2020
By The Canadian Press

SASKATOON — A police chief in Saskatchewan wants the government to provide money to help officers deal with safety measures when the province’s first supervised drug consumption site opens.

AIDS Saskatoon, which practices harm reduction and supports people living with HIV, AIDS and hepatitis C, plans to open the site later this year.

Saskatoon Chief Troy Cooper says the police service is already preparing and officers have reviewed drug consumption sites elsewhere in Canada.

“We saw that when they were open, there was an immediate increase in calls such as theft and loitering, littering, trespassing, mischief,” Cooper told The Canadian Press.

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Police already receive calls about robberies, drug use and drug trafficking in the neighbourhood where the site is to open, he said.

The plan is to add a unit of eight officers to the area “to make sure that we were visible, make sure that we could control some of that behaviour before it became an issue for the community.”

The extra officers are expected to cost the city about $800,000 annually.

The Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners had requested Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Corrections and Policing fund the police positions. But it was told in a letter from minister Christine Tell late last year that the province funds “areas that are of mutual provincial priority and not strictly a local concern.”

Tell repeated the ministry’s position Wednesday.

“The government of Saskatchewan represents the entire province. The City of Saskatoon or the City of Regina — if they have an issue or a challenge with respect to public safety, that’s up to those individual municipalities to address it,” Tell said in an interview.

“Let’s take for example, if they had an issue with … break and enters. It’s up to them to decide how are they going to address that particular issue.”

Mayor Charlie Clark, who also sits on the police board, said he has concerns with the province’s position. He said dealing with the community’s challenges of addictions and mental health, as well as with drugs and weapons, are complex and require the province’s help.

“This is not a local issue,” he said. “The city cannot do it alone.

“We need the provincial government to be very closely engaged. We do not have the levers to pull, when it comes to health and social services and justice and correctional programs that have a huge impact on how these issues play out in our community.”

Cooper said discussions with government are ongoing. And although he doubts the province would directly fund police positions, he believes it could budget for community safety officers or provide support to an organization that collects discarded needles.

“Policing and public safety is a provincial responsibility,” he said.

“We’re still hopeful that, depending on what our actual costs will end up being, we can receive some assistance.”

Tell said that without knowing specifics, she can’t comment on whether government funding will be considered.

— By Stephanie Taylor in Regina

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2020

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2020