Saskatoon business groups put pressure on police board to combat street crime

Saskatoon business leaders say city hall needs to focus on basic police work and bylaw enforcement to curb crime and street harassment.

On Thursday, they took their concerns to the city's Board of Police Commissioners meeting.

Randy Pshebylo, the executive director of the Riversdale Business Improvement District, told the board basic services like police patrols and bylaw enforcement aren't keeping up with a rise in disturbance calls in the neighbourhood.

He said disturbance calls in the Riversdale area almost tripled in five years, to just more than 2,500 in 2023. Last month, Canada Post stopped delivering mail to the 1500 block of 20th Street W. due to safety concerns.

"At the end of the day, when it's difficult to hire someone to run your business, when we have families that have been on the street for 34, 35, 67 years and it becomes a problem to stay open to maintain your business, and when customers are phoning and saying, 'Can you ship that to us? You have a great sale, [but] we don't wanna come there' — we need to change that," Pshebylo said after the meeting.

Acting police Chief Dave Haye told the board calls for service from the public in the past six months have increased at a pace he's never seen.

He also cautioned against rash decisions for redeploying officers for extra patrols, because that simply shuffles resources rather than addressing more core issues.

Saskatoon police investigators were on scene in the 400 block of Forrester Road, near Fairhaven School, on Wednesday morning after receiving an injured persons report.
Saskatoon police investigators were on scene in the 400 block of Forrester Road, near Fairhaven School, to investigate the city's 11th homicide of the year last week. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

For the first five months of this year, reports to police of violent crimes — such as assault and robbery — increased by nearly eight per cent (1,940 in total) compared to the same period last year, according to the most recent Saskatoon Police Service statistics. Reports of property crime declined 11 per cent.

Last week's killing of Harvey Zoerb in the Fairhaven neighbourhood brings this year's homicide total to 11. There were 12 homicides in 2023.

Thursday's meeting was the first time Keith Moen, the executive director of the North Saskatoon Business Association, ever appeared at the police board. Moen said his presence indicates the urgent need for different approaches to addressing crime and safety.

"The basics are being perhaps overlooked to a certain degree, because there are other concerns occupying their time," Moen said in an interview after the meeting.

"But nonetheless, we think that these basic things of protecting the citizens and property of Saskatoon can be perhaps better done."

Moen's recommendations include a property damage relief program to help business owners cover the cost of vandalism and break-ins. He also wants police to make it easier for businesses to report major thefts.

Moen said reporting a theft over $5,000 is too time consuming, because people have to go to the police station, wait in line and then write the report with an officer. Some businesses have just not reported thefts at all because of the onerous process or because previous reports led nowhere.

Allowing people to file a report online, which is already possible for some crimes, would get more businesses reporting thefts, Moen said. The police board responded positively to the suggestion and promised to look into possible changes.

In recent months, the city has launched a number of initiatives to combat crime, including placing six community support officers on city buses and deploying five alternative support officers.

Acting police Chief Haye also said the force is pairing officers from the guns and gangs unit with officers from the tactical deployment unit to work in areas with high numbers of calls for service. They'll do things such as find and arrest people with outstanding warrants.

Moen said the city must consider spending more on police to improve public safety.

"It's going to take more dollars allocated to police funding to get more people on the streets, get more people in patrol cars and have that presence around," Moen said.

"We know that there is a high deterrence of criminal activity when the police are around."