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Saskatoon police say one-third of people in their custody are there for public intoxication

Saskatoon Police Service

Saskatoon police are struggling to manage calls for public intoxication, with few resources available to care for people with complex needs, a new report to the board of police commissioners says.

According to the report, police detention cells are one of only two limited options available to manage those who are too intoxicated on drugs or alcohol to care for themselves, with the city’s brief detox unit already bursting at the seams.

“Except for the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s (SHA) brief detox unit (BDU), the SPS has nowhere to take intoxicated individuals who are unable to care for themselves,” Sergeant Jody Culbert writes in the report, submitted before Thursday’s board meeting.

“Detention remains the lone alternative to the BDU.”

Culbert says the BDU only has 15 beds and six are marked for their social program, intended for those who have already completed an initial detox.

The closure of the Lighthouse stabilization unit means police have about 30 fewer beds to care for people with complex needs, and Culbert says the Saskatoon Tribal Council’s emergency wellness centre is not in a position to take them.

Those who end up in police detention have few resources to draw on once they’re released, the report says.

“The SPS also has no resources available for complex needs individuals when the time comes for release from detention. Individuals who arrive at detention self-identifying as homeless still leave homeless. Those who are arrested with mental health and addictions challenges are still leaving with mental health and addictions challenges.”

Approximately one third of people brought to Saskatoon police detention are there for intoxication — about 15 people per day, Culbert said.

One 48-year-old Saskatoon man has been arrested 252 times for public intoxication. People under the influence of alcohol tend to have higher rates of arrest, although the report shows higher rates of criminal charges among those arrested for drug intoxication.

In the absence of criminal behaviour, patrol officers responding to calls for public intoxication are meant to first reach out to shelters, the brief detox unit, or find a sober friend to care for the person.

If the person can care themselves, officers are instructed to move them along, according to a flowchart appended to the report.

Of those who end up in police detention, half have no home to return to on release. Often, they’re not dressed for the weather, and police detention staff have set up in-house clothing donations to meet the need, the report says.

The “pressing need” for some continuity in the way we care for those struggling with addictions and mental health issues needs to be at the forefront of community discussions, Culbert said.

“As a corollary to that discussion, the appropriateness, or inappropriateness, of the SPS detention facility as location for these complex needs individuals must be included in the conversation.” Top Stories

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