Saskatoon councillors see 'new era' of policing, public safety with strategy change

The City of Saskatoon is creating a new position to co-ordinate public safety response across civic departments. (Courtney Markewich/CBC - image credit)
The City of Saskatoon is creating a new position to co-ordinate public safety response across civic departments. (Courtney Markewich/CBC - image credit)

City Hall appears to be on board with a Saskatoon police proposal to shift some responsibilities for public safety initiatives across civic departments as population growth and a rise in violent crime stretches resources.

The Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) is lobbying the city to take over its role leading community policing initiatives. On Wednesday, a city committee heard the case from police. Several councillors and Mayor Charlie Clark voiced support for the idea.

"I don't want to overstate it, but I can't help but think there is a new era beginning in Saskatoon when it comes to community safety and well-being with this report," said Coun. David Kirton at the meeting.

Police and city administration both want to formalize what is currently an ad-hoc process of co-ordinating multi-department responses to public safety issues. SPS Supt. Darren Pringle told the committee police aren't equipped to handle increasing social problems and crime in a growing city.

City manager Jeff Jorgenson told the Governance and Priorities committee the city is creating a new position dedicated to co-ordination of civic efforts on public safety. Details of the scope of duties and term length are not finalized, but administration will report back in two or three months with more details of how this will affect city operations.

Reports to police of violent crimes increased 9.6 per cent (1,091 in total) in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the same time last year, according to recent SPS statistics. Reports of property crime declined 11.8 per cent.

Police describe this as a shift from community policing to "community governance," which means letting city hall take over planning and coordination between civic departments, community groups and neighbourhoods.

The SPS describes community policing as a philosophy that guides how it works with organizations and people to identify and solve public safety issues. Examples include forming the Community Mobilization Unit, modifying patrols based on neighbourhood input, and the Pride barbecue.

Coun. Mairin Loewen said this is a good opportunity to evaluate what the city does right and how departments can be more proactive on safety issues.

"We've seen in the last number of years that the needs and expectations of the community are evolving and very complex and very legitimate," Loewen said. "Our approaches, historically, are not going to get us the results that we want and that people in the community expect from the city."

Randy Pshebylo is the executive director of the Riversdale Business Improvement District. He said he hopes this frees up police officers for enforcement.

"Law enforcement, not police presence," Pshebylo said in an interview. "It's not the presence of police but the absence of crime that will reflect whether or not the police are doing what they were hired to do."