Yr-end Q&A with Saskatoon’s police chief Troy Cooper

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Saskatoon police will continue to lobby the province for funding for a fourth PACT in 2023. Police don’t have plans to separate PACT from the Saskatoon Police Service.

Troy Cooper is Chief of the Saskatoon Police Service. Photo taken in Saskatoon, SK on Thursday, December 1, 2022. Photo by Matt Smith /Saskatoon Star Phoenix

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Saskatoon Police Chief Troy Cooper met with media one-one-one to share his reflections on 2022, and some of the challenges posed to public safety by issues related to non-criminal social disorder.

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Since the end of pandemic-related restrictions, police call volumes have gone up, including missing persons and motor vehicle thefts, with more people out and about. Police have also seen a doubling of calls related to disturbances.

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Here is some of what Cooper shared with The StarPhoenix on Dec. 1:

Q: Suspicious persons and disturbance calls make up half of the increase in calls?

A: That’s the type of calls that we see relating to social disorder, most often; that’s what they are classified (as) initially. There’s lots of complex sort of nuances for all those calls, but we can tell that it’s not a criminal matter that’s being reported. It’s something (where) people don’t know what’s happening. They’re calling the police because there’s nobody else to call to address some of those things.

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And that’s, I think, was our response: if it’s not a policing matter, then who should respond? And we think alternate response officers, we think peer peacekeepers, we think security should be responding in cases that aren’t criminal, and that the professional police should have a role that’s more closely aligned with crime.

Q: How were issues around addictions factoring in?

A: Addiction to us manifests itself as property crime. When we see alcohol increases, we see an increase in violence. But when there’s an increase in the presence of addictive drugs in the community, we’ll see increases in property crime. That’s actually what we did see in 2022. We saw about a 13 per cent increase overall in things like thefts, and shoplifting, and theft of motor vehicle and that sort of offense.

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We also saw the presence of drugs — and real presence — and the other impact that that has in the community in terms of overdose deaths, and the number of calls that we had relating to overdoses.

Our concern is that, although we have strategies around how to address it, not just with the police, but with our partners, we know that fentanyl is becoming more and more easily accessible, more and more present in Canada. And that doesn’t bode well for the impacts and for the community that’s easily victimized by that.

Q: How has the police response to social disorder calls changed?

A: We’ve certainly focused on partnerships. We recognize that the police have a role in it, which is to be present to make sure people are safe. But to actually be preventative, we’re going to have to have partnerships. What we’ve done is develop strong partnerships with the (Saskatoon) Tribal Council, for example, with (the fire department).

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We’ve been able to provide, I think, some sort of innovative policing practices as well. Our alternate response officers are a good example of that. Our contributions to the peer peacekeeping program with the Tribal Council is another example of that. Just recognizing that social issues require a community response has been something we’ve learned over the last year.

Q: Saskatoon police have talked about the need for a fourth Police and Crisis Team (PACT) and funding for it. Where does Saskatoon stand at the end of 2022 in terms of this?

A: We’re still lobbying the provincial government and working with them, providing data, providing a good business case for them to see. We’re working with them with the hope of having a fourth team in 2023.

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Our calls for service that PACT responded to are up 45 per cent over last year. Now we have that third team in place, we’re able to take more calls. They’ve continued to work on diverting people from custody, diverting people from the emergency room, and addressing those folks that have mental health warrants that somebody has to assist with.

They also are really critical when we have somebody who is already in custody, who is suffering from mental (distress) and knowing how to appropriately handle those individuals when they’re released from custody. We can’t just release somebody from our cells into the community who’s suffering from mental, complex social disorders (or) mental disability. I think that they’ve been extremely valuable. We’re hopeful that the province will increase their investment in them.

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Q: Is separating PACT from police something that’s been considered?

A: We’re always evaluating PACT. But for now, the data suggests that in a vast majority of occasions where there’s mental health disorder involved, that the police are called anyway, so that they have to attend anyway.

What we’ve tried to do, instead of separating them completely from the police, is to do a better job and screen those calls. We have a template now, where … if we can determine through the initial call that there’s no violence or threat of violence or weapons, we don’t send the PACT team, we don’t send police, we send Mobile Crisis. I think that gets us to the same place while still recognizing that there’s a role for police and a lot of the calls that the PACT team takes.

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Q: What are you looking forward to in 2023?

A: 2023 is a pretty special year for us. It’s (the) 120th anniversary of the police service. We’re hoping to, you know, celebrate a little bit in the community and involve the community … invite them in and show them a little bit more about where we’ve arrived at and the type of service they have here.

There’s a couple things. One of them… the expansion of the body-worn camera program, that’s been a wildly successful program. We’re excited to see it expand and learn more about it and how it can be useful.

We’re going to do more lobbying, hopefully to have the fourth PACT team in place in 2023. I mentioned that they have an increase of 45 per cent in the call volume. They’ve often been the most appropriate response to mental health issues in the community. Certainly, they’re well received. And they make a lot of sense as far as diverting people from hospitals and then in custody.

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We’re also doing a staffing review starting in January. We want to be able to sort of be predictive as to what our needs are going to be, not just within a growing city and you know, the needs for more additional frontline staff, but to analyze some of the investments we’ve made in programs that are successful, such as our air support unit and our alternate response officers, our community mobilization unit.

We want to make sure that if they’re contributing to our success, that we maximize their capacity, and also to try and predict what is the community going to require of the police in the next five years, and how is that going to impact our budget over the next two years. We’re doing some of that planning very early on in 2023.

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