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Saskatoon police combat violence, homicide record and call increase in 2019

Saskatoon police combat violence, homicide record and call increase in 2019
WATCH: Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper reflects on the challenges the force faced in 2019.

Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper summed up the story of the year for the city police service with two words: escalating workloads.

The Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) saw a roughly two per cent increase in calls for assistance in 2019 compared to the previous year. More calls for violent crime, in particular, “took a lot of additional resources.”

READ MORE: Teen charged with murder in Saskatoon shooting death

“We saw some homicide increases, but we saw other violent crimes increase as well,” Cooper said during a year-end interview with Global News.

By mid-December, Saskatoon had 16 homicides, shattering the all-time high of 13 which was set the previous year. In September, the SPS enacted a rarely used emergency clause to change officer shifts to make more members available.

“They were there for emergent circumstances,” Cooper said.

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Call volumes typically decline in the fall and winter months, which Cooper said happened in 2019, though it occurred later than usual.

Addictions and mental health issues are widely accepted as contributing factors to crime in Saskatoon. A supervised consumption site set to open in spring 2020 aims to reduce harm for drug users.

READ MORE: Sask. government won’t give extra money for consumption site policing

“The supervised consumption is one component of a community’s response to an addiction crisis,” Cooper said.

Eight new officers have been budgeted specifically to patrol the area around the site in the Pleasant Hill neighbourhood.

“We’ll do the police part. We’ll help them with the security part and we’ll help them with the community part, but all of those things have to work together,” he told Global News.

Like in his 2018 year-end interview, Cooper was asked about future civilian oversight of police in the province. The difference this year is Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan has said an announcement is coming about a police watchdog.

Saskatchewan is one of the only provinces without an oversight agency meant to examine instances of officer-involved injuries and deaths.

READ MORE: Police-reported family violence against children and youth highest in Saskatchewan

Cooper said an unbiased review of police conduct is important and whatever is created needs to maintain officer confidence.

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“If we build something that has some capacity to do a really thorough investigation, both the community and the officers will respect the process and have faith in it,” Cooper said.

After the first full year of cannabis legalization, Cooper said the service’s findings were in line with those across Canada. There were no significant increases in criminal offences.

In January, the SPS received a Draeger 5000 Roadside testing device from SGI (Saskatchewan Government Insurance). It has been used 12 times, according to a recent report to the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners.

“We did have to do a lot of training, so this was a year of learning for us,” he said.

Cooper was sworn in as Saskatoon’s police chief in February 2018. He previously served as chief of the Prince Albert Police Service.

-With files from The Canadian Press