Opioids, crime and alternate response: Saskatoon’s police chief looks back at 2022 – Saskatoon

Opioids, crime and alternate response: Saskatoon’s police chief looks back at 2022 – Saskatoon

The year 2022 is coming to an end. Global News’ Chris Carr sat down with Saskatoon Police Chief Troy Cooper in a year-end interview to discuss some of the challenges and some of the changes being made.

Here’s what Cooper had to say in regards to the newly introduced alternate responders dealing with social issues and violent crime in Saskatoon.

Q: 2022 was the year we saw the Metropolitan Police deploy AROs, or Alternative Response officers, members who take some of the pressure off officers dealing with more urgent or violent crimes. What does this say about the direction police have taken and the new direction police are taking now in 2022?

A: We felt our alternative response forces were an innovative way to address some of the social issues and social pressures that we have seen in our community. It allows them to be present more often because, for example, they are not taken off to do other things, but they can do some of the administrative work that a regular police force would need to do with a professional police force. They’re also specifically trained on things like homelessness and addiction, in a way that’s helpful I think as a sort of response to some of the things we’re seeing and, as you mentioned, allows the police to tackle crime, where there is more violence and such.

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Q: What does that say about the direction of policing? We’re going to remember ’22 for a lot of things, including homelessness, addiction, the opioid crisis, some of those social issues that fall on police officers’ desks. What does that say about the development of the police force?

A: I think when we address social issues, they are often not criminal in nature. We have to do a few things. We need to partner with other organizations that may be more appropriate. We’ve seen partnerships this year with the tribal council, with fire, with the city, and with various solutions. We also saw the police looking for ways to reform our work, including things like alternative responders supporting peer peacekeeping programs and others. I think what we do know is that if we’re going to reform the police force to the core to prevent crime and tackle criminal cases, we have to have another solution to address all the other things that we’re called upon to do. About half of the increased calls we saw this year were related to social issues, such as disruptions and suspicious individuals. And I think if we want to continue to see that, we have to find solutions like alternative forces.

Q: In terms of crime in the city, Saskatoon was ranked sixth on the Crime Severity Index in 2022, with violent crime on the rise, 4,000 incidents in 2017 and 4,500 incidents in 2021. How concerned are you about this trend?

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A: Well, you know, actually last year the Crime Severity Index was the best policing we’ve had as a community since we started measuring it that way. So when you look at the raw numbers of how many crimes we’ve had, you see that our city is growing too. So if you look at crime per population, we’re actually doing pretty well, at least we’re trending in the right direction. There are certainly some challenges that we have, but I think our investment in policing and public safety is going, you know, and putting us in a good position.

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Q: So are we going in the right direction as a city on these issues?

A: I think what we’ve seen is that for at least the last decade, the victimization rates, you know, which are calculated on a population basis, have been going down. Unfortunately, many challenges remain for us, including violent crime. But I think we’re doing a good job of trending in the right direction.

Q: And looking ahead to 2023, what is your biggest hope for the new year?

A: Well, we’re doing some sort of resource review in early 2023 to see what police resources we’re going to need. What we hope is less impact of dangerous drugs in society. That was one of the biggest things we faced in 2022. So hopefully we can make some impact on the trade in some of these dangerous drugs because they certainly affect the community in so many different ways, including the way police are confronted, and the mental health impact on police and other first responders .

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The Saskatoon Police Department is funded by Sask. government for police initiatives

Q: What is this strategy to address this issue?

A: We have a provincial strategy where we have partnerships with the health service and other service providers there as well to ensure that our role, the role of the police, is of course enforcement and education. But we need other strong partnerships to make sure there’s an awareness program, an addiction treatment program and so many other supports because, you know, as opioids become more present, it’s going to have a bigger impact on the community. And unfortunately, Canada is becoming an exporting country with real ties to fentanyl and other opioids.

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