People don't think streets are safer with patrols

By Charles Hamilton, The StarPhoenix January 11, 2014 - People don't think Saskatoon's downtown is a safer place since the launch of a street patrol unit, according to the results of a new survey released by the city.

The study, conducted by Insightrix Research, concluded that not much has changed in the two years since the city hired five street patrol officers to help with everything from panhandling to perceptions of safety on city streets.

In fact, the survey suggests fewer people feel safe downtown compared to two years ago, when a similar study was conducted.

In 2011, 91 per cent of people surveyed said they felt safe downtown during daylight hours. In 2013, that number dropped to 88 per cent.

"There are a few guys that I always notice out there and they seem to still be there," said Theo Kivol, who opened his comic book store, Unreal City, on Second Avenue in 2009.

Kivol said he feels safe downtown and he thinks the presence of the community support officers is generally a good thing for the city. While the two-person patrol teams who walk the beat through the downtown, Riversdale and Broadway areas don't stop people from littering or panhandling, they do discourage them from congregating in large groups, he said.

Kivol said while the groups of people hanging out on street corners aren't doing anything illegal, they can discourage pedestrian traffic in one of the city's busiest business districts.

"A lot of it is just perception ... sure, it might make people feel uncomfortable to get asked for change from some weird-looking guy, but they aren't hurting anybody," Kivol said.

Survey respondents said they saw less panhandling in 2013 than they did in 2011, and they were less likely than in 2011 to say they have seen a panhandler acting aggressively. However, they said they believe there is more drug trafficking and street fighting now than two years ago.

"I think the hope was that since we've had the beat officers out there and with the addition of the (community support officers) hopefully we would have seen those numbers move in a more positive direction," said Brent Penner, executive director of The Partnership, the downtown's business improvement district.

Penner noted surveys don't necessarily represent real statistics. In the downtown, for example, reports of crimes against persons have remained steady in the year since the street patrol program began, while crimes against property have declined by three per cent.

The study was conducted before the McDonald's building at the corner of 22nd Street and Second Avenue was torn down, Penner noted. Business owners agree that getting rid of the building did more to improve street activity on the block and was the biggest step toward changing perceptions of safety.

"It's improved a little bit. When they took the McDonald's out, they got rid of the people who were more aggressive," said Mike Flensburg, co-owner of White Cat Books on Second Avenue.

The study included more than 600 surveys and personal interviews with business owners and the general public. While the news for downtown wasn't great, it found a dramatic increase in the number of people who feel safe in Riversdale, especially at night. In 2011, only 14 per cent of respondents said they felt safe. In 2013, that number jumped to 20 per cent.

Riversdale, Pleasant Hill and Meadowgreen still topped the list when people were asked what neighbourhoods they felt were the most unsafe. Silverspring and Lawson Heights were perceived as the most safe.

While the survey focused only on people's perceptions of safety, it could have a real impact on the city's street patrol officers. Only four per cent of respondents knew about the service without being prompted.

Penner admits more work has to be done to build awareness if the program is to continue. Its funding is due to expire this summer, and it will be up to city council to decide if the officers will be out on the street after that. The report recommends keeping the program and hiring more officers.


Percentage of people who say they feel safe in the following business areas:


2011.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 91%

2013.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 88%


2011.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 57%

2013.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 61%


2011.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 93%

2013.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 93%

Downtown at night

2011.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 44%

2013.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 42%

Riversdale at night

2011.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 14%

2013.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 20%

Broadway at night

2011.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 60%

2013.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 60%

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