To counteract growing concerns regarding rural crime in Saskatchewan, the provincial government has announced the creation of a new team comprising of police officers, conservation officers and employees from the Ministry of Highways.
The Protection and Response Team (PRT) will be tasked with helping to reduce crime outside of cities, created in response to recommendations from the Caucus Committee on Crime.
“Crime rates in Saskatchewan have been the highest in the country for years. The minister said we need to change that and that’s what this is intended to do,” said Deputy Minister of Justice Dale McFee.
The team will include 120 RCMP and municipal officers, most of which are existing police, but also includes 30 brand new officers.
There will also be 98 conservation officers from the Ministry of Environment, along with 40 commercial vehicle enforcement officers from the Ministry of Highways involved.
RCMP have acknowledged crime in rural areas as a concern as recently as June. At that time, Mounties said statistics showed an increase in crime over the last six years, especially in the central part of the province.
“This is not a destination, this is a journey,” said MLA Herb Cox, who chaired the committee.
The PRT’s mission will be to help speed up response times to emergency calls in rural areas, be more visible in these areas and help keep drugs and serious crashes to a minimum.
“This is all about reducing our response times. We heard a lot about response times in rural Saskatchewan especially,” said Justice Minister Gordon Wyant.
The entire PRT will cost $5.9 million. SGI will cover the new officers at a cost of $4.9 million while the Ministry of Justice will foot the remaining $1 million.
The committee was formed in November 2016 and toured 10 communities meeting with dozens of stakeholders. McFee said the committee’s report didn’t directly indicate a massive increase in the number of new police officers was needed, instead indicating one of the main issues was to simply have a better police presence in less populated areas.
Officers from the highways ministry will be armed on this team, and conservation officers will be given increased training and enforcement duties. That means they could be the first responders to a call.