As 2022 draws to a close, Global News̵7; sat down with Chris Carr Saskatoon Police Service Chief Troy Cooper asks in a year-end interview to look back at some of the challenges faced and some of the changes that have been made.
Here’s what Cooper had to say about the newly implemented Alternate Response Officers in Saskatoon addressing social issues and violent crime.
Q: 2022 was the year we saw the city police using ARO or alternate response officials, members who take the pressure off officers dealing with more urgent or violent crimes. What does this say about the direction we saw the police taking and the new direction the police are now taking in 2022?
A: So we had alternate response officers that we thought was an innovative way to address some of the social issues and social pressures that we’ve seen in our community. This allows them to be present more often because they do not have to go away, for example, to do other work, but they can handle some of the administrative tasks that ordinary police would have to do with professional police. They’re specifically trained about things like homelessness and addictions, which are helpful, I think as a response to some of the things we’re seeing and allows the police, as you mentioned , where there’s more crime, violence and things like that.
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Q: So what does this say about the direction of policing? We’ll remember ’22 for many things, including homelessness, addictions, the opioid crisis, just some of these social issues that come across police officers’ desks. What does this say about how policing is evolving?
A: I think for us to address social issues, often they are not criminal in nature. We have to do some things. We will have to partner with other organizations that may be more appropriate. We saw this year partnering with the tribal council, with the fire, with the city and with different solutions. We also look at police looking for ways to improve what we do, including things like peer peace programs and alternate response officers supporting others. I think what we do know is that if we’re going to reform policing at its core, to address crime prevention, to address criminal matters, we’re going to have to address everything else. There must be other solutions that we are asked to do. This year we saw that almost half of the increased calls were for social issues like disturbances and suspicious persons. And so I think if we’re going to continue to see this happen, we’re going to have to find solutions like alternative response officers.
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Q: Regarding crime in the city, Saskatoon ranked sixth in the Crime Severity Index in 2022, with an increase in violent crimes, from 4,000 incidents in 2017 to 4,500 in 2021. How worried are you about that trend?
A: Well, you know, actually, last year’s 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 raw numbers like how many crimes we’ve committed, you have to realize that our city is also on the rise. And so when you consider crimes per population, we’re actually doing pretty well, at least headed in the right direction. We certainly have some challenges ahead of us, but I think our investment in policing and public safety is going to, you know, position us well.
Q: So are we headed in the right direction as a city with respect to those issues?
A: I think what we’ve seen is that over the past decade at least, the victimization rates, you know, as calculated by population, are going down. Unfortunately, we still have many challenges ahead, including the challenges of 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 a sort of resource review in early 2023 to look at what we need for policing resources. What we hope to see is less exposure to dangerous drugs in the community. This was one of the biggest things coming to us in 2022. So hopefully we’ll be able to have some impact on the trafficking of some of those dangerous drugs because they certainly affect the community in so many different ways, including the police. Coping and other first responders are facing mental health impacts.
Q: What does the strategy for dealing with that issue look like?
A: We have a provincial strategy where we have partnerships with health as well as other service providers to make sure that our role, the role of the police, is, of course, enforcement and education. But we need other strong partnerships to make sure that there’s an awareness program, there’s an addiction treatment program and a lot of other supports because, you know, as opioids become more present, it’s going to have a greater impact on the community. Going to do. And unfortunately, Canada is really becoming an export country with regards to fentanyl and other opioids.
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