A wide-ranging meeting of the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners looked at issues of street checks, care of prisoners in the police holding cells and issues around public intoxication in the downtown core on Wednesday afternoon.
Chief on street checks: ‘If police officers get bodycams, this is all a moot point’
Saskatoon’s police commissioners discussed the need to be in touch with the province as officials work to craft a policy on street checks that will apply to every police service in Saskatchewan.
The board also discussed a report put forward by the police service. Previously, police didn’t separate times where officers actually stopped people on the street and made a record of the interaction from records where police simply observed a person of interest and made a note.
Chief Clive Weighill said this led to media reports that police had done over 4000 checks in 2015. Weighill said the new report was the result of officers going manually through thousands of records to count ones that would better fit a more traditional definition of a street check. Counted under the new criteria, Weighill said the Saskatoon police service performed 735 checks in 2015.
Going forward, Weighill said Saskatoon police would be keeping records of street checks separately so that the issue is easier to monitor.
Even though the number of checks turned out to be a fraction of those previously reported, Weighill said the police service is undertaking better training for officers, particularly around providing better explanations to people being stopped.
“‘What is the reason a police officer is stopping me? Is it because of who I am, or is it because I’m in a suspicious circumstance?’ And I think it’s important for our officers to explain that when they’re stopping people, because that will probably take away half the ill-feelings we have around this,” he said.
Weighill said there was a certain irony in the nationwide uproar around street checks when viewed alongside demands that officers wear body cameras.
“If police officers get bodycams, this is all a moot point. Because now we’re not going to be keeping a record on you, because we’ve got a video. We’ve got a video of what you were dressed like, what you were acting like, what you were talking like — and we’re going to have to keep that video, because someone may come up two years later and say: ‘the police stopped me and they were rude to me,’ or whatever — we’d have to keep that video now,” he said.
The board plans to hold public consultations about street checks as it prepares to go to the province with suggestions on how to put together a policy.
New program brings female commissionaire to cells
The board also heard a report on changes to the police service’s policies for running the detention unit. The report came as a follow-up to the move into the new police headquarters building.
Among the changes, a matron has been hired to help with cell checks over the weekend. The matron, a female commissionaire, is meant to help ease concerns about male staff monitoring women kept in the cells. Those concerns were brought into focus by a complaint from a woman who spent three days in the cells in February 2015 — she said it was inappropriate to have male staff monitoring cameras recording her and peering into her cell at regular intervals.
Although still only a pilot program, Weighill said bringing in the matron highlights the continuing use of police cells for purposes better suited to a provincial remand centre. He said it was a particular problem on the weekends, where people not convicted of any crime may be housed for as many as three days in cells with little more than a heated concrete slab for a bed and a toilet.
“Places like Calgary Edmonton and Winnipeg take their prisoners to a remand centre. They don’t house them at their police headquarters like we do,” he said.
Weighill said the police service was seeing continuing impacts on its budget.
“We’ve already hired paramedics that the health region is paying for so they can keep track of people when they come in health-wise. Now we’re having to hire more staff in that (detention) area, so I mean, the costs to the taxpayers of Saskatoon are going up all the time,” he said.
Report highlights resources used on public intoxication
Police also brought forward a report on public intoxication downtown. It was prepared at the direction of city council as they debated the budget for the Community Support Officer (CSO) program in the downtown, Riversdale and Broadway Business Improvement Districts (BIDs).
The report showed about 1500 people arrested for public intoxication in 2015 had to be housed in police detention cells.
That was down from close to 1900 people in 2013, with a lot of the difference credited to programs at the Lighthouse shelter — which has now cut its operating hours, citing issues with provincial funding.
The report noted that a typical public intoxication call eats up about an hour-and-a-half to two hours of an officer’s time.
Weighill explained that officers are required to check for any safe alternative before housing intoxicated people in the cells.