Police service launching new select enforcement team to focus on crime prevention

Announcement made following pair of major incidents this week, including an alleged drive-by shooting and a homicide.

Police investigate the scene of an Oct. 6, 2020 shooting in the 700 Block of 13 Street West. The incident is being investigated as a homicide. A 28-year-old was killed in the incident (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

The Prince Albert Police Service is launching a new select enforcement team to focus on crime suppression, including gang activity, to support the force’s patrol units.

 Police Chief Jon Bergen made the announcement Thursday during a press conference called to address violent crime concerns in the city.

The new team will be put together using existing resources and will be comprised of “experienced members” deployed at “key times.”

The move, Bergen said, is in addition to “continued efforts to address crime trends through high visibility neighbourhood patrols, foot patrols, police and crisis team, canine units, integrated crime reduction team, street enforcement teams along with our community partners.”

Bergen also said that the police service is looking at root causes of crime and participating in discussions with various levels of government to find solutions to factors that lead to criminal activity, such as drug and alcohol addictions, mental health issues and other factors.

“We know connecting people with other resources is important. We are continually reviewing all trends and patterns to crime in our city,” Bergen said.

“We will continue to do our best to fully responsible with our resources to meet the needs of the community and respond to all threats to public safety.”

Bergen’s press conference comes following a pair of violent gun incidents in the city this week. Sunday night police responded to a drive-by shooting and subsequent vehicle chase that ended when the suspects crashed through a fence at 15th Avenue East and Fourth Street.

Additionally, a shooting victim from a Sept. 24 incident in midtown is still in a Saskatoon hospital with serious, life-threatening injuries, Bergen said Thursday.

Then, Tuesday night, a shooting in the 700 Block of 13 Street West left a 28-year-old man dead. Police had closed off a back alley in the 700 Block Wednesday and had portions of a private lodge in the area blocked off with police tape.

Bergen said Thursday that the incident is being investigated as a homicide. It’s the city’s sixth homicide incident so far this year. There have been eight people killed in the city, including two children, since January.

“The death or serious injury of anyone, caused by violence, is its own tragedy,” Bergen said.

“We express our sentiments and condolences to the families and friends of all those involved. Any level of violence in our community is concerning. I want to tell the public that as a police service, we’re fully committed to combat crime and arrest those responsible. We know that we must do all we can to prevent violence in our city.”

In addition to the six homicide cases, the police force is also investigating other shootings and a missing person case with suspicious circumstances.

As of Sept. 30, police had investigated 56 cases where firearms were used in an offence. A gun was used in 32 of those cases, with 28 of those incidents resulting in charges.

This time last year there were only 32 offences involving firearms, and 29 the year prior.

The number of guns seized has gone up as well. So far this year, the police have seized 107 guns. This time last year, they had seized 89, and 74 the year prior. In 2017, though, they seized 100.

Many of those guns, Bergen said, are found during vehicle stops or residence searches.

While gun crime and homicide are trending upward, robberies are down, with 56 so far this year, compared to 96 at this time last year and 69 the year before that. Break-and-enter calls are also down, with 533 cases year-to-date last fall and only 360 so far in 2020.

Overall, though, police calls are going up. So far in 2020, PAPS has responded to more than 31,000 calls for service, an increase of 2,460 compared to the first nine months of 2019.

Those crimes that are increasing, Bergen stressed, are not random.

“Most often, the suspect and victim are known to each other,” he said.

“Violence has a lasting effect on our community. We acknowledge this and we are all concerned. Our goal as a police service is to get ahead of crime through proactive policing,  rather than just responding to violence.”

Bergen, citing ongoing investigations, wouldn’t say whether any of the major incidents were related.

Responding to reporter questions, Bergen said that many of the major issues have root causes such as guns, gang activity, addictions and mental health issues.

He said that while the police have not spoken with all mayor and council candidates, he understands that many are running on a platform of community safety.

“Community safety, I think, is a priority to everybody in the community,” he said.

“We need the support of the community, including our police board and our newly-elected mayor and council … but we’ve experienced the support up to and including now.”

He didn’t specify what sort of support the department would be looking for.

This story was updated at 1 p.m. on Oct. 9 to clarify that the shooting victim in hospital was injured in a Sept. 24 incident.