Work is getting busier and more dangerous in Regina for the units who get some of the toughest calls.
The SWAT team and explosives disposal unit (EDU) have both seen an increase in calls over the past few years. The EDU was called out 11 times in 2017 but has had 17 calls so far in 2018. SWAT was called out 19 times in 2015, 22 in 2016 and 31 times in 2017.
Sgt. Casey Ward is the team leader of Regina’s SWAT unit. He’s been with the team for 13 years and said he remembers a time when 18 months would go by without a call.
However, things have changed.
Ward said during the economic boom in Saskatchewan, gangs moved in from Ontario to take advantage. During the Board of Police Commissioner’s meeting Wednesday morning, a member of the service explained there are two or three main active gangs in the city and a number of smaller gangs which aren’t as active.
Ward explained that with the increased gang activity, there are more guns being found in the city.
“I’m not just talking on SWAT. Our patrol officers are pulling over a vehicle to issue a ticket and finding a sawed-off shotgun in the passenger seat, or arresting a person on a warrant and finding they have a handgun on them,” Ward said.
He also added the guns they’re finding are more dangerous. Previously, they’d found a lot of shotguns and hunting rifles that had been stolen, but now Ward said officers are finding things like automatic and semi-automatic weapons, assault rifles, higher calibre weapons and people with “an abundance” of ammunition.
“We had one arrest where the guy had over 500 rounds of ammunition, he had them loaded in magazines, he had a concealed holster on him, you know, stuff we’ve looked at going ‘That’s stuff police officers usually have,'” Ward said.
Ward is also pointing to the rise in the use of methamphetamines for the uptick in some crime. He said if you look to when Regina police started seizing more meth, it correlates with a rise in gun violence and SWAT deployments.
Ward said the meth also seems to be changing how suspects respond when they roll up.
“Most people, they’d see that they’re surrounded by police, the gig’s up, it’s time for them to come out. All of a sudden if they are on, especially we see methamphetamine and the way people react with that, they’re starting to do different things like barricading their residence or escape — other things like that you hadn’t, I guess, seen in previous years.”
Ward said that as police head out to execute search warrants, they know there are more guns and a change in how people are reacting to them, so they’re calling in SWAT more to come in and help out.