Detention of intoxicated people in Saskatoon police cells rises

From Saskatoon StarPhoenix, May 24, 2017


The number of intoxicated people held in Saskatoon police cells in each of the last five years:
2016: 1,814
2015: 1,578
2014: 1,752
2013: 1,879
2012: 2,019

The number of Saskatoon police referrals to The Lighthouse stabilization unit, which opened in 2013:
2016: 239
2015: 325
2014: 404
2013: 192
2012: 0

The number of intoxicated suspects detained in Saskatoon police cells jumped in 2016 as police referrals to The Lighthouse stabilization unit fell.

Statistics presented at Wednesday’s board of police commissioners meeting suggest a connection between the detention of intoxicated people in police cells and the decline in those admitted to The Lighthouse.

The number of intoxicated people held in Saskatoon police jail cells rose to 1,814 last year, the highest since 2013, when The Lighthouse stabilization unit first opened.

“As we’ve seen, there’s been progress made, but challenges remain,” Mayor Charlie Clark said.

The provincial government changed its formula for funding eligibility in late 2015, which resulted in The Lighthouse closing the stabilization unit during daylight hours in February 2016. That appears to have resulted in fewer police referrals to the unit: that number fell to 239 in 2016, the lowest in three years after a peak of 404 referrals in 2014.

Police referrals to the Saskatoon Health Region’s brief detoxification unit also dropped to their lowest point in three years, to 411, down from 761 in 2014.

“The brief detoxification unit, with its access to addictions treatment services, is a highly desirable alternative to holding intoxicated persons in a police service cell when possible to do so,” notes a report presented at Wednesday’s meeting.

However, the report adds, the detox unit is “too full, too early in the day” for police to use it as an alternative to police cells as often as they would like. Police see The Lighthouse stabilization unit and the brief detox unit as “preferred” destinations where addicted people can get the help they need as opposed to a police holding cell.

The community support officers program, which was launched in 2012 and often deals with intoxicated people on the street, continued to experience a steady rise in individuals served. That number rose to 2,382 in 2016 from 1,246 in 2013, its first full year of operation, the report says.

Clark said he intends to meet with the provincial ministers of justice and social services to discuss the findings in the report.

“Fortunately, they’ve shown some interest in a dialogue,” he said.

The provincial Ministry of Social Services introduced stricter rules in November 2015 that limited who was eligible for funding for The Lighthouse stabilization unit.

The Lighthouse discontinued operation of its daytime stabilization unit in February 2016 and started turning away clients in September.