Increase in crime prompts new Saskatoon community safety initiatives

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Increase in crime prompts new Saskatoon community safety initiatives
WATCH: The city of Saskatoon, police and fire services are joining forces to tackle a rise in crime. As Global's Nicole Healey explains, violent crime is on the rise. – May 13, 2024

This summer, the City of Saskatoon, Saskatoon Fire Department (SFD) and Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) are making changes to address community safety amongst rising crime rates.

“We are seeing a rise in violence and victimization. It is having an impact on families, neighbourhoods, and public services,” Mayor Charlie Clark said on Monday.

The city is planning almost a dozen new safety initiatives that will focus on community-based policing work, building affordable housing and increasing services for unhoused individuals.

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Saskatoon police and fire report turns into call to report crimes

A Saskatoon police report said violent crimes saw a 9.6 per cent increase compared with 2023’s first quarter including increases in assaults, uttering threats, criminal harassment and robbery

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Saskatoon saw six homicides in the first quarter of 2024, four more than last year, and a total of nine homicides this year in total so far.

Police reported a four-per cent increase in calls for service.

The NSBA, Saskatoon’s business association, said 80 per cent of its members said they’ve been directly or indirectly impacted by the increase in crime, the most concerning being vandalism and break-ins.

Part of the safety initiatives starting this summer will include a doubling of SPS capacity. The police service will add:

  • Three community mobilization unit officers that will work in partnership with three community liaison officers.
  • Five new Alternative Response Officers.
  • Six new Community Support Officers, which includes supports for the transit system.
  • Increased patrols by commissionaires of the downtown, Confederation Mall and Market Mall transit terminals.
  • Additional police support for Pleasant Hill.

Saskatoon police have already added four new uniformed patrol officers in the city.

The city said it will be working on a 1500 block of 20th Street data project to identify the immediate safety concerns for the area and look into long-term solutions. The first phase of the project is being funded by the provincial government.

SPS and SFD has also developed an operational safety plan for the Idylwyld complex needs emergency shelter to align with the operator’s intake and discharge plan.

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Police Chief Cam McBride said a large number of recent crimes are due to substance abuse and vulnerable lifestyles.

“While the number of violent crimes in our community is rising, we are distinctly aware that a significant number of these crimes are directly associated to vulnerable lifestyles and the use of illicit drugs,” McBride said.

SFD reported 114 encampments from January to May 2023 and 255 in the same period in 2024.

The Salvation Army’s overnight warming centre reported an average of 122 people per night during the winter months, reaching as many as 230 people one night in March.

“The vast majority of those facing these addictions and housing challenges are not causing violence, but in fact are usually the victims of violence,” Clark said. “These are neighbours in our city who are in survival mode but facing increasing challenges to have stability and security in our community.”

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Four Saskatoon library branches, Prairie Harm Reduction, and the Emergency Overnight Warming Centre have cut their hours, meaning there are less public services available for unhoused individuals.

The city said a call for proposals will be going out in June so the Housing Accelerator Fund can be used to prioritize the development of affordable housing.

This summer, the city will be addressing homelessness and reduced service through several initiatives including:

  • Using the Housing Accelerator Fund to develop affordable housing.
  • Exploring options for r additional access to public washrooms with 24-hour staffing and security.
  • Continuing to search for potential sites for new temporary and permanent provincial shelters.

“Warmer weather is here and we know there remain significant gaps in services and resources for those experiencing homelessness,” Acting Fire Chief Pamela Goulden-McLeod said on Friday.

The city said it will be participating in weekly updates and planning meetings with SFD and SPS while they work towards a safer community.

— with files from Global News’ Brody Langager

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