The price and focus of community support officers is putting the whole program in jeopardy.
“$450,000 (a year) is a lot of money,” Ward 9 Councillor Tiffany Paulsen said at the administration and finance committee Monday. “I don’t see how council can measure if this program is working.”
At the end of July funding for the Community Support Officers (CSO) program expires. The city’s administration presented a report recommending city council expand the program for another three years into the end of 2017 for $1.35 million.
However, questions about what the CSOs patrol, how much its work overlaps with police officers, and the funding plan have put the future of the program on the bubble.
After reviewing the reports Ward 8 councillor Eric Olauson said he didn’t see the value of this program.
“I have a tough time supporting this because I think police here have to change their focus. This was a good idea at the time but I think its run its course,” Olauson said.
Councillor Zach Jeffries echoed his colleagues concern noting that five CSOs have written only 15 bylaw infraction tickets over 18 months. He said if they wrote more tickets, council could better measure the success of the CSOs.
“The number of tickets is very small … people say they want to see more tickets written,” Jeffries said, adding it would give council a measurement to determine the program’s success.
“I would personally appreciate seeing something more measureable and in my mind it’s something to focus on.”
Saskatoon Police Chief Clive Weighill said he supports the CSOs, and although he sees how the police officers and the CSOs overlap, he sees the police acting more as a protection measure for the CSOs.
“We’re always concerned about their safety so on occasion we will send a patrol car just to make sure there isn’t going to be any violence,” Weighill said. “We’re supportive of the program we think there’s a space for them to do the work they do.”
For the program’s initial 18 months, the city resolved that funding for the CSOs would come from parking meter revenues because the patrolling areas (Downtown, Broadway, Riversdale) were metered. However, Riversdale Business Improvement District (BID) executive director Randy Pshebylo said he wants that money to go back into streetscaping.
“The BID board has been very clear that they’d support a pilot program and that would then extend to an alternative source of funding and that the existing funding revert back to the streetscape reserve,” he said.
Well let’s get the obvious one out there. Eric Olauson doesn’t see the value in any program that doesn’t involve his ward getting sound walls. That is his M.O.
Secondly a year ago the same councillors were praising the work of the CSOs and talking about how awesome they were. What happened?
The Partnership’s CEO, Terry Scaddon retired and he was one of the biggest champions for the program. Without him there, councillors are feeling far more free to criticize the program.
The program was designed from the start to pressure the province in giving money to help with social issues in Saskatoon. We had the Safer Streets Commission and the hope was that the province would help fund some of the solutions to social programs that we have in the cities. It wasn’t a real need, crime in downtown Saskatoon was quite low but there was a perception out there. Unfortunately we overlooked the fact that the Wall government is very comfortable with the status quo on social issues and that the Treasury Board doesn’t include a single member from Saskatoon. To make a long story short, we never got the funding and the program is going to die.
Finally, I can’t leave Coun. Jeffries comment alone. Could it be that the reason that there was not a lot of tickets written is that there was not a lot of need in the first place? Also, encouraging law enforcement to write tickets is a really bad political direction to be giving them. The intention of the CSOs was to be helping people access needed services, not writing tickets. Countless cities across North America have cracked down on panhandlers and the homeless and it doesn’t work. Criminalizing behaviour that is driven by extreme poverty is the worst form of public policy. Zach should know better than that, regardless of which ways the winds are blowing in his suburban ward.