Saskatoon police changes won’t come overnight, chief says in response to campaign

At least 43 people have written letters to the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners calling to defund Saskatoon’s police, and instead, focus on community-led health and safety initiatives.

The service’s chief said he wants to move in that direction, but it’s something that won’t happen overnight.

READ MORE: Saskatoon Police Commissioners Board to receive letters requesting police be defunded

“You can’t trade the one police resource for an after-school program or for an employment program directly,” said Troy Cooper during a virtual press conference Wednesday.

Cooper said he understands the calls to defund, saying people want to see “police do police work” and partner with other organizations in some instances.

He says the Saskatoon police have already been working to address problems like mental health and addictions in a more constructive way, pointing to programs like the Police and Crisis Team (PACT) — a program that pairs officers with mental health workers. It started in Saskatoon in 2014.

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Last year, Cooper said the police introduced an alternative measures coordinator who does exactly what the name suggests: they look at alternative ways to address social issues like poverty.

However, he said more work is needed.

READ MORE: Saskatoon march calls for police to be defunded, abolished

“Our experience has shown us that if we only have enforcement in areas like drug addictions or gang involvement they were simply not effective,” he said.

“We need to have full strategies to address that so it’s important for us to have those connections, to listen to the community, to partner with our other social supports to make sure that the level of policing is appropriate.”

Cooper says the service currently fills a void for underfunding in areas like social services.

“ [Saskatoon police] need to have strategies around these complicated social issues such as drug addictions that have partnerships around harm reduction, addictions treatment, education and not just enforcement,” he said.

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2:19 What is the ‘defund the police movement’

What is the ‘defund the police movement’

Meanwhile, Regina Mayor Michael Fougere is of a similar mindset — and isn’t in favour of defunding the police.

“The conversation really is how do senior levels of government properly fund social issues and justice issues in a way that is comprehensive,” he said.

“When we talk about the term defunding I think that raises a question mark, is that making us less safe?”

As for new training methods, such as use of force, that decision is up the province, not the Saskatoon police.

Cooper says things like Saskatoon’s call to bring in body cameras are important steps forward. He said he’s also in support of the call for police oversight. On Wednesday the Government of Saskatchewan unveiled a police reform bill that allows public oversight into deaths in police custody.

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READ MORE: Saskatchewan unveils police reform bill that allows public oversight into deaths in custody

Cooper said an important next step is for police to listen to what the public, especially marginalized communities, say they want.

Saskatoon police said it’s looking at ways to engage more people to talk about the services it offers, and what more is needed for the public.

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