An immediate plea for federal and provincial funding is necessary to ensure enough officers are available for the potential opening of a proposed AIDS Saskatoon safe injection site, according to a report submitted by Saskatoon Police Services Chief Troy Cooper  to the Board of Police Commissioners.

The report comes after Insp. Cameron McBride, who prepared the document, and two members of the Okihtcitakwak Patrol Group toured four safe consumption sites in Alberta in order to give advice regarding criminal activity, seized drugs, staff education and effects on the community.

"All four sites attended had no strategy in place prior to opening. The social and criminal issues that began after opening took months to settle due to a lack of pre-planning," the report says.

Saskatoon should consider extra short term police staffing to ensure a seamless start at the AIDS Saskatoon site, McBride says.

AIDS Saskatoon has applied for a federal exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to open a safe injection site on 20th Street - an area near St. Paul's Hospital and St. Mary's Wellness and Education Centre. It would be the first of its kind in Saskatchewan.

A copy of a letter adressed to AIDS Saskatoon, also included in the report, says police believe in the philosophy of harm reduction and support a safe consumption site as long as it helps direct clients to other services.

Here's what McBride's group found at the four sites they visited. The group also plans to visit two sites in Vancouver which report markedly different experiences, the report says.

ARCHES – Lethbridge

This is the busiest safe injection site in Canada, an average of 673 visits per day. It was built in an area that did not historically see many injection drug users – and in the first year of the site's operation, the immediate community saw discarded needles, loitering, property crime, homelessness, public intoxication and property damage.

However the city, community volunteers, staff and local businesspeople have eliminated much of the public concern with a focus on cleanliness, community education, volunteer patrols and strong relationships with the Lethbridge Police Service, the report says.

Lethbridge police doubled their Downtown Patrol Team to eight members and a community outreach team patrols the area, encouraging drug users to use the facility. Neighbourhood patrols clean up garbage, collect needles and prevent loitering.

Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre – Calgary

This centre was opened in a pre-existing medical health centre whose clientele did not include many injection drug users, and the community didn't know how to cope with the new population and those using the site didn't know how to be good neighbours, the report says.

Media reported about increases in crime and the appearance of garbage, needles, and homeless people.

The site had opened with a disconnect between police and the staff. The site was seen as a sanctuary, unwelcome to police, and some of the first staff allowed and promoted the sale of drugs within it. The environment has improved since then and much of the public outcry seems to be subsiding, the report says.

Three security staff are on duty at all times and Calgary police have added 10 patrol members to the area.

When Saskatoon police toured the area, the street was clean and the park was empty.

This site sees about 200 visits per day.

Boyle Street Community Services – Edmonton

The Boyle Street Community Services Building has been a gathering point for homeless people and injection drug users for many years, according to the report.

The sidewalk and street around the facility were filthy, strewn with garbage and discarded property, and with people sleeping on sidewalks under tarps and cardboard.

Injection site staff have a good relationship with police, the report says.

The site has no security staff and there is no augmented police response.

It sees about 70 visits each day – a low number due to the city having four safe injection site, and it is open only during the day.

George Spady Shelter – Edmonton

The shelter is similar to the Salvation Army residence in Saskatoon. It's open only at night and is designed to service those who stay at the shelter.

It has about 200 visits per day and staff have an excellent working relationship with police, the report says.

No security staff are on site.

Lessons learned

Cooper outlines several other lessons learned from vising the Alberta sites:

  • Communication and consultation are key
  • There cannot be a perception that police have abandoned the site and the surrounding area
  • Police need education and sound policies to ensure each member understands the philosophy of harm reduction and the role of police
  • Police must focus on reducing crime and victimization outside the site, while internal operations and staff and client safety are the responsibility of the site

The Board of Police Commissioners is scheduled to meet Thursday.