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Local police want Saskatoon-created safety program but need bigger budget first

Police Chief Rick Bourassa spoke with media about the Alternative Response Officers program after the recent Board of Police Commissioners meeting.
Bourassa, Rick 7
Police Chief Rick Bourassa speaks to media during a recent scrum. Photo by Jason G. Antonio

The Moose Jaw Police Service is interested in adopting a Saskatoon-based community safety program but is still in the early stages and needs dedicated funding to pursue it.

The police service virtually hosted an officer from Saskatoon during the recent Moose Jaw Board of Police Commissioners meeting to speak about The Bridge City’s Alternative Response Officers (AROs) program.

These special constables deliver public safety programs and community engagement during times when armed officers are not required.

While speaking with media afterward, Police Chief Rick Bourassa said he appreciated the online presentation and thought the information was positive. He pointed out that Saskatoon is fairly satisfied with how the program has turned out.

“We continually stay abreast of things that are happening in different jurisdictions that other police services have found to be successful. And we share that with each other,” he remarked.

The MJPS is exploring the possibility of adopting the ARO program but needs additional budgetary money from the police board before it can do anything, he continued. Yet, the organization believes this is worth considering and how it would fit here.

The police service has not asked for additional funding in its 2023 budget for the program, although it has referenced it in budget documents.

“We may be in a position (where) we can have some funding available for something like that to start next year, but we’ll just have to wait and see,” said Bourassa.

“There’s a lot of work to be done to see how it would work here. Every place has its local nuances that have to be incorporated into it. We’re interested in learning more.”

The MJPS wants to pursue the Alternative Response Officers program because one of its main strategies is handling safety in public spaces, he explained.

The community has a vibrant downtown and parks, but regular officers in cars aren’t always able to access those places or be visible. Moreover, the agency knows businesses and residents want more visible officers who are accessible and present. So, the MJPS has worked on that issue this year using existing resources.

“The problem that can happen with that is they can get pulled off to other things and then you lose that. … if we can have a more visible and consistent presence, we think that would go a long way to enhancing community safety,” Bourassa said. “(And) not only the safety but the feeling of safety people have.”

The police service and city hall are collaborating on a pilot project that sees two extra commissionaires patrolling the downtown and Crescent Park — places most people complain about — from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. The project started — and is expected to conclude— in November.

This project is a precursor to the ARO program and could lead to implementing “a more robust process,” Bourassa acknowledged. However, he regretted that the initiative didn’t start sooner when the weather was nicer, making acquiring useful data difficult.

“We have these different seasons and people are outside differently in the summer (than) in the winter. But we’ll learn a little bit from it,” he said. “And we may be doing something like that again in the spring to take another test run.”

Having those extra sets of eyes has benefited the MJPS since the commissionaires have reported back when they discover issues, Bourassa continued. Police headquarters has received many calls, which has allowed the organization to dispatch regular officers.  

“… if we’re going to go down that (AROs) road, we want to make sure that it’s the right road to go down before we get ourselves into a long process,” he added. “So, we’ll learn what we can.”

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