The Moose Jaw Police Service has officially asked city council to approve its 2022 budget, which would — among other things — increase the agency’s funding by 4.67 per cent and add three new officers.
Police Chief Rick Bourassa and several of his administrators spoke to council during a special budget meeting on Nov. 24 focused on funding for third-party groups. Council later approved a motion to send all the third-party requests to the official budget discussion meetings.
The police service is asking for $11,168,126 for its 2022 operating budget, which is an increase of $498,179 from this year. This increase would represent a mill rate — municipal tax — increase of 1.61 per cent.
The agency is also asking for $254,500 in capital funding.
Similar to what the Board of Police Commissioners heard, Bourassa told council that the police service plans to focus on four areas next year. Those areas include serious crimes of gangs, guns and drugs; internet child exploitation (ICE) and abuse; professional standards, quality assurance and community awareness; and safety in public spaces.
“These are issues that people really want us to address better than we have been,” he said, adding the organization is also creating a tactical SWAT-like unit to enhance its capabilities.
The MJPS is operationally connected with the provincial ICE team, but not administratively, Bourassa later noted. The agency is speaking with the province about this and hopes to have answers in 2022 to be more connected.
“It sort of baffles me about why we have a provincial organization that is only attached to a few cities (Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert) instead of province-wide … ,” said Coun. Crystal Froese. “I’m sure there are other communities outside of Moose Jaw that could definitely use support like this.”
“ICE has a provincial mandate, so it does work in every place,” replied Bourassa.
Froese noted that Moose Jaw has a crystal meth problem but wondered what the fentanyl situation looked like. Bourassa replied, saying officers aren’t seeing fentanyl as much as in the past, but it can come back “in a flash.” Meanwhile, the agency has a multi-pronged approach to handle drugs.
The agency expects to be better equipped to handle high-risk situations with this tactical unit, said Deputy Chief Rick Johns.
The police service has already selected two candidates to be team leaders and they have completed training with the Regina Police Service, he added. Meanwhile, the agency will announce next spring which officers have joined the unit.
The MJPS has historically relied on the RCMP or Regina police to provide SWAT teams to resolve high-risk situations, situations that have been more prominent during the past few years, said Supt. Devon Oleniuk. The police service will build a foundation around the two team leaders, although it will take time, patience and resources to ready this unit.
“The benefit to the community is a more timely resolution where we can be on-site immediately as opposed to waiting for five hours or greater for a team to be mustered and assembled from elsewhere in the province,” he continued.
Oleniuk noted that business owners, residents and elected officials want a safer community, especially in Crescent Park, which has attracted criminal activity and drug use. He added that the MJPS plans to address this by having more officers walk the downtown area during their patrol area. This should ease residents’ concerns about the area’s safety.
“I really wish we didn’t need to wait until summer to have officers walk downtown and in the core,” said Coun. Heather Eby. “There are issues (in the area) and people running businesses and customers who feel uncomfortable at certain times of the day.”
Adding more officers would increase the police service’s ability to further investigate issues with drugs, gangs, guns and internet child exploitation (ICE), said Supt. Taylor Mickleborough.
There is one ICE investigator who has investigated 20 files — from child porn to luring — during the past two years, with those investigations being lengthy, complex and difficult mentally, he noted. Having another investigator would lessen that burden.
It has been the agency’s long-term goal to disrupt the drug trade in Moose Jaw, either by itself or working with community partners, Mickleborough said. The MJPS also seized double the number of weapons during arrests from 2015 to 2020, while it has also come across more firearms.
“We’re also seeing a strong correlation between gang presence and the illicit drug trade in Moose Jaw,” he added.
The next budget discussion meeting is Wednesday, Dec. 8.