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Prince Albert police chief sees a steadier course for the once-embattled service

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Nearly one year after becoming Prince Albert's chief of police, Patrick Nogier feels the city’s police are regaining the trust of the community as he attempts to maneuver the organization through a number of challenges.

Nogier was named the interim chief of police on June 1, 2023 after former chief Jonathan Bergen retired in the wake of a scathing Public Complaints Commission report that said two officers demonstrated a “neglect of duty” in responding to a domestic violence call to a home where 13-month-old Tanner Brass was found dead only hours later.

The service has faced a litany of formal public complaints about police conduct in recent years and showed signs of internal conflict between officers on the ground and those in leadership.

In a vote in March 2022, the association representing police officers in Prince Albert said 95 per cent of its members had no confidence in their chief.

Later that year, the Ministry of Policing tapped former Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht to conduct an inquiry into the force and make recommendations for improvement.

Immediately upon arriving to Prince Albert, Nogier was made aware the gateway city isn't all that different than other prairie cities like Saskatoon, Calgary or Edmonton.

"It was an eye opening experience to know that what we're asking of the men and women in this particular organization is nothing short of what large organizations are experiencing with respect to the call load, the call volume and the types of calls that were going to," Nogier said.

Nogier was officially named police chief on Oct. 23, 2023, but even prior to that, he began working on rebuilding trust within the community and the organization itself.

"There's no quick and easy," he said. "You have to look at how are you being as efficient as you can be as an organization. You really do have to look in the mirror, and you have to evaluate the way that the model is, the way that we're applying the model to a community to ensure it's the right fit. And sometimes that's a hard look."

Nogier wanted to balance the desire to make changes while fostering an environment people want to work in every day.

"It takes time and when you're going to change, even more so, the implementation of change can be really challenging when you have an organization that hasn't done that reflection on a year to year basis," Nogier said.

With Prince Albert's position as the northernmost major city in the province and the size of the police force, Nogier has been working on a series of changes to make necessary improvements.

Last year, Prince Albert police implemented a new call response mechanism as a way of handling the roughly 43,000 calls for service it receives on any given year.

Like many other Canadian cities, PA police are also dealing with a high number of disturbance, intoxication and drug use calls. Many of them may not have a criminal nature and some may not need an immediate police response.

"We had to make sure that we were prioritizing the calls for service to ensure that when officers were being called to dispatch the calls, they were going to ones where you're going to have immediate impact when there was personal safety as a concern," he said.

Trying to get an entire community to understand officers may not immediately respond to a concern when they have done so for decades is a separate challenge, but Nogier feels there havew been gains there as well.

"Those investments are the ones that we're making moving forward, so more of an analytical approach on crime. What's happening, where is it happening, why, and then trying to, with some sense of surgical precision, to deploy our resources so that we get the best return on investment," Nogier said.

Another challenge Nogier is confronting is the large influx of people coming to Prince Albert, which can bring plenty of economic benefits and a level of criminality.

Depending on events or holidays, Nogier said PA's population can temporarily grow by 25,000 people, and he's noticed a recent trend of violence and guns in the area.

"These are not a hunting firearm that's commonly associated [with] this neck of the woods," Nogier said. "What we're seeing is an influx of high-capacity handheld firearms that have the capacity to do a lot of damage in your community."

This helped form a new gun strategy that is tracking firearms with more information.

Within the last month, the Saskatchewan Firearms Office opened a lab that provides a whole new level of technology, which Nogier says will allow officers to "hold people accountable" better than ever.

Nogier suspects many of the weapons coming through the city are travelling across provincial borders. Once fully operational, the provincial firearm office will save hours of work by tracing weapons casings to any jurisdiction in North America.

As that work continues, Nogier says specialized units and crime reduction teams are getting more guns and drugs off the streets, highlighted by multiple busts so far in 2024.

"Prince Albert's not a good place to come and do crime," Nogier said. "We've got some switched on people that are able to do really competent work and we're gonna hold you accountable for it."

As Nogier gets set to celebrate his first year as Prince Albert police chief, he's refocusing his goals of increasing community safety and furthering the service's connection with the community, which he says is important in a city that’s roughly 44 per cent to 46 per cent Indigenous.

"We know we need to work with our external partners or Indigenous communities, so that they trust this police service, and that they can come to us with some resemblance of faith," Nogier said.  

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