Crime is down in Saskatchewan, so critics wonder why the province is creating a new police force
Crime has declined in Saskatchewan over the past 20 years. In light of this, critics ask why the provincial government is creating a new police force.
They say the government should base its policies on facts, not stoke fears based on misperceptions.
« There seems to be a very clear disconnect between what people believe to be true and what the data and statistics suggest, » said Harley Dickinson, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan.
« The government has the primary responsibility to provide people with evidence that is usable and reflects reality. »
Earlier this month, Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Minister Christine Tell announced the creation of a 70-officer Saskatchewan Marshals Service. She cited fears of crime, particularly in rural areas, pointing to issues such as the theft of livestock and agricultural chemicals.
But crime has declined in the province over the past two decades.
CBC News has contacted Statistics Canada for the most recent data on crime trends specific to Saskatchewan. Through several measures, the situation has improved significantly since the early 2000s.
In 2003, the total number of Criminal Code offenses per 100,000 Saskatchewan population peaked at 15,417. Last year, that number was 11,561, a decrease of 25%.
Another measure called « crime severity » has fallen by almost 30% over the same period, according to Statistics Canada data. The number of young people under the age of 18 charged with a crime has also decreased by more than 70% over the past two decades.
Dickinson said some government, media or law enforcement officials are trying to capitalize on the misguided but powerful fear of rising crime.
« It’s kind of like the sociological flat-earth hypothesis, » Dickinson said.
« If you hear of a crime or see any gang marks or markers, you feel like ‘Oh, the crime is all around me’, even though it may be decreasing. I think we have to try to provide the best available evidence that we can say, ‘this is what is really happening.' »
Michelle Stewart, an associate professor at the University of Regina, agrees. She said Tell and the government are also exploiting another big misconception — that the best solution to crime is more police.
Stewart said research and her personal experience working with marginalized people in Regina show that social supports for addictions, mental health and homelessness are a much more cost-effective way to reduce crime. The proposed $20 million annual budget for the marshal’s service would be better spent on those priorities, she said.
The idea of the marshals service has been rejected by First Nations leaders who say they were not consulted. A National Police Federation official called it « completely unnecessary », saying it could actually make residents less safe due to confusion over jurisdiction and dispatch.
Tell declined an interview request for this story. A manager sent an email to reiterate that residents are concerned about crime.
“The public has been clear in asking for additional police resources to address public safety issues in Saskatchewan, particularly in rural and remote areas. In response, the government is creating the Saskatchewan Marshals Service (SMS) to increase policing capacity in the province and fill existing gaps in service,” the email read.
« The service will provide an additional law enforcement presence throughout Saskatchewan, conduct proactive investigations and support RCMP and municipal police operations. »