The Prince Albert Police Service says gang activity makes up 'many' of the violent crime calls that it responds to.
As of the end of June, the police service had responded to 22,150 calls for service in 2021, 560 of which involved violent crime.
Although these violent crime numbers are slightly lower than they were last year, Prince Albert Police Chief Jonathan Bergen said gang activity remains a big concern.
"Tragically, numerous families have been faced with pain and loss as a result of violence in our community," said Bergen in a press release.
"In many of these cases, the incidents are the result of gang activity, and the victims and suspects are known to each other and known to police."
Adding more patrol officers
The majority of violent crime calls in 2021 involved physical force, knives and threats of violence. Police have also responded to 36 incidents involving a firearm and 34 involving bear spray.
The police service says it's using a multi-level approach to addressing gang and gun activity in the city through its crime reduction, street enforcement and integrated intelligence units.
There are also plans for a "multi-year proactive policing strategy," which includes adding four more members on patrol to support other targeted enforcement units.
More funding needed for 'healing'
Catholic priest André Poilièvre is the founder of Str8 Up, a Saskatoon-based organization that helps young people leave gangs. He said these types of solutions are only effective in the short term.
"Putting more [officers] on the streets doesn't deal with the problem. It covers it up, it sends it someplace else," he said. "It doesn't help the malaise, the sickness of the community."
Poilièvre says many of the people who join gangs in Prince Albert, as well as Saskatoon and Regina, are Indigenous youth who become involved because of deep-rooted issues.
"They come from broken homes, dysfunctional environments due to colonization, evangelization, settlement, residential schools," he explained. "They've experienced a lot of that subtle racism and oppression and they don't like it so they join an organization that they're comfortable in."
It's up to the community as a whole to help reduce gang activity and violence, according to Poilièvre. He points to the 94 calls to action laid out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as the "road map."
Poilièvre believes Str8 Up has had so much success, with more than 400 people having left gangs thanks to the program, because it takes a personal approach based on healing.
He hopes to see more funding going toward addictions treatment, counselling and measures to prevent crime, instead of police enforcement.
"When you put people in jail, that is really not a good place for people to engage themselves into recovery. It's not healthy, it's not healing. I haven't met a bad gang member yet," he said.
"I've met all of them being extremely hurting people, sick people. And if you're sick, you don't punish a person. You help them heal."