Media Reports – from August 22, 2019 Meeting of the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners

Saskatoon must 'plea' for cash to hire extra officers for injection site opening

An immediate plea for federal and provincial funding is necessary to ensure enough officers are available for the potential opening of a proposed AIDS Saskatoon safe injection site, according to a report submitted by Saskatoon Police Services Chief Troy Cooper  to the Board of Police Commissioners.

The report comes after Insp. Cameron McBride, who prepared the document, and two members of the Okihtcitakwak Patrol Group toured four safe consumption sites in Alberta in order to give advice regarding criminal activity, seized drugs, staff education and effects on the community.

"All four sites attended had no strategy in place prior to opening. The social and criminal issues that began after opening took months to settle due to a lack of pre-planning," the report says.

Saskatoon should consider extra short-term police staffing to ensure a seamless start at the AIDS Saskatoon site, McBride says.

AIDS Saskatoon has applied for a federal exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to open a safe injection site on 20th Street - an area near St. Paul's Hospital and St. Mary's Wellness and Education Centre. It would be the first of its kind in Saskatchewan.

A copy of a letter addressed to AIDS Saskatoon, also included in the report, says police believe in the philosophy of harm reduction and support a safe consumption site as long as it helps direct clients to other services.

Here's what McBride's group found at the four sites they visited. The group also plans to visit two sites in Vancouver which report markedly different experiences, the report says.

ARCHES – Lethbridge:

This is the busiest safe injection site in Canada, an average of 673 visits per day. It was built in an area that did not historically see many injection drug users – and in the first year of the site's operation, the immediate community saw discarded needles, loitering, property crime, homelessness, public intoxication and property damage.

However, the city, community volunteers, staff and local businesspeople have eliminated much of the public concern with a focus on cleanliness, community education, volunteer patrols and strong relationships with the Lethbridge Police Service, the report says.

Lethbridge police doubled their Downtown Patrol Team to eight members and a community outreach team patrols the area, encouraging drug users to use the facility. Neighbourhood patrols clean up garbage, collect needles and prevent loitering.

Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre – Calgary:

This centre was opened in a pre-existing medical health centre whose clientele did not include many injection drug users, and the community didn't know how to cope with the new population and those using the site didn't know how to be good neighbours, the report says.

Media reported about increases in crime and the appearance of garbage, needles, and homeless people.

The site had opened with a disconnect between police and the staff. The site was seen as a sanctuary, unwelcome to police, and some of the first staff allowed and promoted the sale of drugs within it. The environment has improved since then and much of the public outcry seems to be subsiding, the report says.

Three security staff are on duty at all times and Calgary police have added 10 patrol members to the area.

When Saskatoon police toured the area, the street was clean and the park was empty.

This site sees about 200 visits per day.

Boyle Street Community Services – Edmonton:

The Boyle Street Community Services Building has been a gathering point for homeless people and injection drug users for many years, according to the report.

The sidewalk and street around the facility were filthy, strewn with garbage and discarded property, and with people sleeping on sidewalks under tarps and cardboard.

Injection site staff have a good relationship with police, the report says.

The site has no security staff and there is no augmented police response.

It sees about 70 visits each day – a low number due to the city having four safe injection site, and it is open only during the day.

George Spady Shelter – Edmonton:

The shelter is similar to the Salvation Army residence in Saskatoon. It's open only at night and is designed to service those who stay at the shelter.

It has about 200 visits per day and staff have an excellent working relationship with police, the report says.

No security staff are on site.

Lessons learned

Cooper outlines several other lessons learned from vising the Alberta sites:

• Communication and consultation are key
• There cannot be a perception that police have abandoned the site and the surrounding area
• Police need education and sound policies to ensure each member understands the philosophy of harm reduction and the role of police
• Police must focus on reducing crime and victimization outside the site, while internal operations and staff and client safety are the responsibility of the site

The Board of Police Commissioners is scheduled to meet Thursday.

Police board to lobby province, feds for police funding before safe consumption site opening

Mayor Charlie Clark made the motion at the police board meeting, adding that municipal government should not have to bear all of the costs.

Saskatoon’s board of police commissioners will appeal to the provincial and federal governments for funding to ensure city police have adequate resources in place when Saskatchewan’s first safe consumption site opens in 2020.

Mayor Charlie Clark made the motion at Thursday’s board of police commissioners meeting, adding that municipal government should not have to bear all of the costs. He noted that the federal government approved the site, but the community where it’s located is tasked with finding the best approach.

“Just like when cannabis gets legalized at the federal level, there’s costs to the municipality. These things trickle down to us, so we are just going to appeal to these other levels of government to say, ‘Let’s work together.’ Our goal is community safety, our goal is the ability to respond to any issues that arise and build that environment so there’s a net benefit to the consumption site,” he said after the meeting.

AIDS Saskatoon is leading the project and filed an application to Health Canada for an exemption to allow a site where people can consume substances under the supervision of trained professionals. Health Canada approved the exemption on July 31, which will last to the end of July 2020. It’s expected to open early next year at 1516 20th Street West in the Pleasant Hill area.

Clark’s motion came in response to a recommendation made by police Insp. Cam McBride in a report to the board on the safety-related preparations for the site. It included suggestions for the funding requests, and a recommendation that an additional patrol car be added to each police shift in the area.

Police Chief Troy Cooper estimates this could mean eight extra officers in place overall to cover the added patrol car. He said the suggestion was meant to flag the potential need for added resources.

“What we do know is that if we don’t prepare, including preparing additional resources before it opens, that we’ll be doing cleanup and that we’ll be reacting to an issue rather than preventing it from occurring in the first place, which we think is far more efficient,” he said.

Clark said what has been learned from other cities is that some locations have opened without a strong community plan or partnership between the site and police, leading to problems.

He said the site can move some activities, like people injecting drugs in alleys, into a controlled environment where users can be connected to services.

AIDS Saskatoon executive director Jason Mercredi said the site will also offer naloxone kit training, a family support program to help people at risk of having their children apprehended, as well as social services navigation, justice advocacy and its housing program.

“This site is going to allow us to work with the hardest to work with, the people who nobody’s touching, so we want to be engaging this population,” he said.

Mercredi, who is scheduled to tour safe consumption sites in Vancouver with McBride next week, said AIDS Saskatoon hopes other organizations, services and businesses in the vicinity will take an active role in encouraging people coming into the area to be respectful.

Clark said he doesn’t want people in the community to feel they’re in a constant state of crisis with police patrolling the area, so other partners in the community have to be involved in creating a safe environment.

“The city doesn’t have a say in whether this happens or not, so we now have to make sure we can have the safest environment possible that also connects people who are addicted to care, because we know the current system is not working,” he said.

A final police community safety plan is expected to be presented to the board at a future date.

Neighbourhood associations relay safety concerns to Saskatoon police commissioners

Absentee landlords, pedestrian tunnels, dismissive dispatches all raised as concerns

A pile of garbage in the Mount Royal neighbourhood. Officials with the Mount Royal Community Association say three pedestrian tunnels in the community are fuelling crime. (Supplied/Mount Royal Community Association)

Members of Saskatoon's Mount Royal Community Association are calling for pedestrian tunnels in the neighbourhood to be locked overnight, saying they attract crime.

The idea was part of presentations on community safety made at the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners on Thursday evening. Jan More, the police liaison with the Mount Royal Community Association said the tunnels are at the root of the troubles, which includes drug activity, squatting and vandalism.

"Lock them open in the morning and lock them closed at night," she said.

The three tunnels are located at 31st Street, 29th Street and at Rusholme Road in an area known as the Barrier Strip. More said the cost locking them would "pale in comparison" to the cost of having police constantly respond to area.

A meeting of the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners on Aug. 22, 2019. At the meeting, Mayor Charlie Clark put forward a motion to seek support from the federal and provincial government for additional police resources around Saskatoon's safe consumption site.

"There's traffic like 24-7," she said. 

She also raised concerns about motorists in the alleyways of Vancouver Avenue, as residents have reported drivers speeding in the area, which More said is scattered with right degree turns and blind corners.

More represented one of three community associations to make presentations to the police board.

Issues raised ranged from a lack of police liaison officers to tales of rude 911 dispatchers to absentee landlords and drug houses.

"One of the biggest things I find about the citizen patrol is actually it's a time for people who are concerned about crime in the neighbourhood to come together and share ideas and share thoughts," said Ian Roach, leader of the Caswell Hill Community Patrols, a group that watches for suspicious and unwanted activity.

"We're certainly not trying to find crime." 

Roach said issues like poverty and poor housing and addictions need to be addressed to stop the city's "crime crisis.". 

"I've heard people around this table indicate that we can't arrest our way out of this problem and I think that's certainly true," he said.

Board chair Darlene Brander said the presenters provided key insights. 

"What we found today was really valuable to hear," she said. 

Brander said community associations play an important role in how the police service allocates resources.

Police Chief Troy Cooper praised the work being done by community patrols and neighbourhood watches.

"We often rely on the information provided by them," he said.

Mount Royal reps want walking tunnels shut at night

The Mount Royal Community Association wants three pedestrian tunnels in the community to be closed at night to keep people on foot or bike from easily accessing the neighbourhood.

The association made a presentation at Thursday’s Board of Police Commissioners meeting, which passed a motion to investigate its concerns.

“It’s certainly the easiest thing to do but of course when you do that it impacts other users and groups who are using them for legitimate purposes. The city will now have an opportunity to look at those and if they are going to stay open that they are open at appropriate hours,” Police Chief Troy Cooper said.

The tunnels run under Circle Drive West, connecting Mount Royal to Massey Place as well as Confederation Mall. Students use them to get to and from school, but at night the community association says they bring trouble to their neighbourhood and are looking to the city for solutions.

"So it’s not completely shutting the tunnels down, no one asked for that,” Mayor Charlie Clark said. “But how do you make it safe and make it a place where unsafe behavior can't happen”.

Mount Royal resident Tara Lounsbury, a mother of two, said closing the tunnels would make her feel safer.

“I always get people coming from the tunnel and breaking into my car constantly … there's always crackheads, literally, coming from there all the time, " she said.

Dwight Stewart said he had just used one of the tunnels to get home from his job at Confederation Mall but thinks closing the tunnels at night might be a good idea.

Another Mount Royal resident, Tracy Young, said she once encountered a man who was injured in one of the tunnels.

“I think they should be closed. There's a lot that goes on back there at night. We actually had a person come to our house, he had been stabbed in the tunnels and we had to call him an ambulance. To me they are an eyesore and they are trouble.”

Residents concerned about supervised consumption site

Ryan Blatchford is one of many Saskatoon residents who has concerns about the supervised consumption site set to open in the Pleasant Hill neighbourhood.

It’s not far from his backyard.

“They’re making heroin, crystal meth, fentanyl all legal on my block,” he said on Friday.

Health Canada has accepted the site of the former Pleasant Hill Bakery for the province’s first consumption site.

Now agencies around the city are trying to determine how they will operate and function.

“The Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) is doing a little bit of proactive work in terms that they’ve gone to different cities to educate themselves on the best practices that other similar sites do,” Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners chairperson Darlene Brander said.

At Thursday’s commissioner’s meeting, the SPS handed in a report that looked at similar sites in Alberta and found that police need to have a plan in place before its doors open.

The SPS is asking the board to make a pitch to get tax dollars so it can hire eight new officers to patrol the area around the site. Two officers will be in the area during each shift.

The report also looked at crime trends.

In the 250-metre radius surrounding the 20th Street site, calls for service increased from 2017 to 2018 in every category from property crimes to violent crimes to disorder calls and drug offences.

“I know in Pleasant Hill there’s a lot of people shooting up in alleys. There’s a lot of unsafe activities going on because there isn’t a site like this. So this can take some of that activity out of the streets and out of the alleys and into a controlled environment that can connect people to services,” Mayor Charlie Clark said.

Even with the extra police officers, Blatchford is still concerned about what a consumption site will bring to his neighbourhood, citing issues in Lethbridge over that city’s site.

A motion to ask the provincial government to stop funding to Lethbridge’s site was voted down at this week’s council meeting.

He is also concerned about what bringing in the site will do to property values.

Saskatoon’s site is set to open in the new year.

Saskatoon Community Groups Express Their Concerns Over Safety

Multiple community groups and associations were invited to present at the latest Board of Police Commissioners meeting.

The groups that presented expressed their concerns about safety in their local community. The Pleasant Hill Community Group has been up-front about its concerns over crime, boarded up housing, and squatters, to name a few issues.

Darlene Brander, Chair of the Board says depending on what location of the city the group was from, issues differed, although for the Caswell neighbourhood, they feel they have a great place to live but are concerned about crime and have created a community patrol partnership.

“There’s a wide swath, so there’s crime, there’s drug crime, some of our groups talked about assaults happening, some of them talked about different activities, gang activity happening.”

Brander adds groups also expressed their desire to work more closely with the Saskatoon Police Service.

The five groups that presented at the meeting were the Caswell Community Association, the Montgomery Place Community Association, the Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service, the Saskatoon Community Clinic and the Mount Royal Community Association.

Expert says safe injection sites should lead people into rehabilitation

This fall AIDS Saskatoon will be moving to 20th St. West in the former Pleasant Hill Bakery building.

Part of the plan for the new location is the opening of a safe injection site which is expected to be ready to use sometime in 2020.

This plan has generated plenty of discussion, and that includes how police and site organizers will work to keep the area safe. 

Rand Teed is a Drug and Alcohol Educator and Certified Addictions Counsellor. He says the original intent of these sites has been to help transition people with substance addictions into rehabilitation centres and detox.

“I think harm reduction has wandered off track a little bit. Initially the harm reduction programs were very intent on helping people as an interim step to move people into detox and into treatment. I think lately they’ve become a little more focused on giving people a safe place to use, and I’m certainly not in favor of people dying,” said Teed.

Teed added, “the situation that exists in this province, is that it’s very difficult to get into detox and treatment. There are wait lists.”

He also said, that if someone needs to use a safe injection site, chances are they don’t have the resources to go out-of-province for treatment.

Teed says it is critical that people with these types of addictions have access to proper medical care and treatment, because trying to get past the addiction is very difficult for most people.

“What we’re asking people to do when we start talking to them about going into detox or going into treatment, is to give up the only thing that makes them feel okay,” said Teed