Saskatoon police chief Troy Cooper is maintaining his ask for a $4.1 million increase in the service’s budget for 2019 isn’t a “wish list,” but a practical ask to sustain policing in the Bridge City.
The city’s police board of commissioners approved Cooper’s budget Thursday evening, after hearing how the chief planned to use the increased funding to hire new officers for patrols and to deal with the possible effects of cannabis legalization.
Over $3 million of the increase comes from a combination of increasing staff compensation in line with seniority payscales and inflation, as well as the hiring of 10 new full-time staff.
Among those new hires is $225,900 allocated to three new patrol officers.
Cooper told the police board his officers are increasingly being pulled in different directions in a growing geographical area as Saskatoon expands. He also noted the city ranks among the lowest in western Canada in terms of officers per 100,000 in population.
“Over time we have to make sure our officer growth keeps pace with the volume of work,” he said.
He did say Saskatoon police found ways to save money while increasing officer presence after an operational review was conducted this year.
Prominent among the strategies is a new plan to schedule six officers for four-hour overtime shifts on Friday and Saturday evenings to help respond to calls in peak times.
Overall, Cooper said the cost was cheaper than hiring a single full-time officer — while getting five more bodies on the front lines.
Another proposed new position, cost at $75,300, is for an additional crash analyst.
Cooper said the hire is needed in anticipation of an increase in impaired driving collisions caused by the legalization of pot.
“We’ve looked at data from other places where cannabis has been legalized, and we’ve seen their information around an increased level of impaired driving,” he said. “We want to be prepared for that.”
He noted Saskatoon police also spent “hundreds of thousands” of dollars in relation to the end of weed prohibition, which has been partially absorbed into the existing 2018 budget.
Police to work with neighbourhoods after BID request.
The board of police commissioners also heard from Riversdale Business Improvement District (BID) director Randy Pshebylo during their Thursday meeting.
Pshebylo asked the board, and Cooper, to consider reinstating a permanent police presence in the Riversdale neighbourhood to combat rising crime in the area.
He said the crime rate has been increasing since police officers left the Little Chief Station on 20th Street in 2014, suggesting a constant presence helped keep offences down.
The request came just days after the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra announced it was moving their offices out of Riversdale, in response to an attack on their executive director in July.
“I can attract business, but I’m having a hard time keeping it,” Pshebylo said, noting some tenants have reported up to three break-ins in the span of one month at some points.
Cooper wouldn’t commit to a permanent presence, but he said he’d work with neighbourhoods like Riversdale on plans for regular patrols.
“They all have specific needs around visible, professional presences,” he said.
“We have to make sure we have the right amount of resources, and the right type of resources.”