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No easy solution to safety, crime around pedestrian underpasses: Saskatoon police

No easy solution to safety, crime around pedestrian underpasses: Saskatoon police
WATCH: A Saskatoon police report looks into crime around pedestrian underpasses.

A report heading to Saskatoon’s police commission says there is no way to know at this time whether closing or restricting access to three pedestrian underpasses on the city’s west side will reduce crime.

The tunnels in question run underneath Circle Drive between 22nd Street and 33rd Street.

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The report says the city is caught between two competing safety issues.

“Blocking the underpasses creates a safety traffic issue,” states the report heading to the commission on Thursday.

Closing or restricting the underpasses would create safety issues as people would likely cross Circle Drive on foot, the report said, possibly leading to an increase in collisions between pedestrians and vehicles.

“Keeping the underpasses open allows for the unfavourable criminal activity being reported by the community association to persist,” added the report.

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The issue was raised by the Mount Royal Community Association at the commission’s meeting on Aug. 22, 2019.

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

The association’s president said safety in the underpasses has been brought up in their meetings several times, but he understands the need for the paths — especially the one that connects Mount Royal to Confederation Mall.

“Not everyone in this area of the city has access to vehicles or transportation. So the convenience of being able to get to the amenities through these tunnels is important to them as well,” Steven Schmidt said.

The association feels the underpasses are fueling crime, particularly drug activity, drinking in public and vandalism.

An analysis by Saskatoon police found 80 calls and general occurrence reports involving the tunnels were filed between Jan. 1, 2015, and Sept. 30, 2019.

Of those, 21 were for physical assaults, robberies and threats. Another 14 were for graffiti, arson or property crime, and police said there were anecdotal reports of drug use, prostitution, disturbances and property crime.

The most recent crime happened on Feb. 10 when a woman said she was assaulted by an unknown man in the pedestrian tunnel connecting Avenue W North with Marlborough Crescent.

The other underpasses run between Vancouver Avenue and Confederation Park Plaza, and 29th Street and Mackie Cresent.

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The report states a causal connection between the “pedestrian underpasses and crime in the outlying neighbourhood cannot be done through analysis at this time as there is no control variable.”

Insp. Cam Drever said he walked through the three underpasses in question, along with a fourth south of 22nd Street.

“I do not feel that they present a pleasant or inviting environment,” Drever said in the report, noting that all had graffiti and garbage lying around.

“By their natural design, there is a feeling of isolation when walking in the underpasses as there is no visibility due to the underpasses being accessed through back alleys and being below ground level,” wrote Drever.

“Back alleys are generally places that people will avoid walking in at night, yet it is necessary to use them in order to utilize these underpasses.”

Three options were considered — maintain the status quo, close the underpasses completely, or close the underpasses overnight — but no recommendations were made.

“With the information available at this time, there is insufficient evidence to give an opinion as to whether closure of underpasses will have a positive or negative effect,” the report concluded.

“It is not possible at this time to show a causal association between the crime that does exist in the adjacent areas and the underpasses. However, it should also be stated that there is no evidence to indicate that existing crime is not connected to the underpasses.”

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-With files from Kyle Benning