Regina Police Service (RPS) Chief Evan Bray said the force is still striving to tackle the root causes of homicides, after federal data showed Regina had the country's highest homicide rate among large urban centres last year.
There were 15 homicides in the Regina census metropolitan area (CMA) in 2021, according to Statistics Canada data released Monday.
Data shows the Regina CMA, which is made up of 17 areas including Regina and the rural municipality of Edenwold, had a homicide rate of 5.67 per 100,000 people — the highest among the country's large urban centres.
"We're challenged with that," Bray told reporters Tuesday. "Homicides are the most serious crime that a community sees, and we see the victimization and the trauma that comes from that."
He said the force is working to address the social issues that can lead to crime and violence, such as access to drugs and guns.
A gun was the cause of death in about half of the homicides in the Regina area last year, data shows.
Regina had highest homicide rate among Canadian cities, 2021
Regina also led Canada's large urban areas in the rate of gang-related homicides, data shows.
StatsCan classifies a homicide as gang-related when police confirm or suspect that the accused and/or the victim was somehow associated with an organized crime group or street gang, and the killing was carried out as a result of that association.
More than half — eight — of the homicides in the area last year were classified as gang-related, data shows.
The Toronto CMA had the most gang-related homicides with 30, but Regina's gang-related homicide rate of 3.03 per 100,000 people was by far the highest compared to other urban areas, data shows, due mostly to its smaller population.
"Gang crime is a constant pressure," Bray said.
"What can make it complicated is street gangs are often not as organized as, what I would call, organized crime. So the ability for us to dig into that as a gang crime sometimes can be very difficult."
Gangs, organized crime, drugs and firearms are often intertwined, Bray said. Through drug enforcement, officers can infiltrate gangs and reduce the number of firearms in the community.
"Anytime we have residents killing other residents, it's a complete tragedy. It's not what we want to make the news for," Regina Mayor Sandra Masters told reporters Monday.
The City of Regina will be receiving federal money for anti-gang education, and finding ways to get youth involved in other activities and outlets, Masters said.
Ten — or two in three — of the homicide victims in the Regina area last year were Indigenous people, StatsCan says. Only 10 per cent of residents identified as Indigenous in 2021, census data shows. This disparity reflects the ongoing legacy of colonialism, StatsCan says.
The Winnipeg and Edmonton census metropolitan areas had more Indigenous homicide victims than Regina, according to StatsCan, but there are also more Indigenous people living in those areas.
RPS to look at auxiliary force
The RPS will examine how an alternative response unit might work in Regina.
During its meeting Monday, the board of police commissioners was presented with a report about how the Saskatoon Police Service has utilized a tangential force to ease the demand on the service.
In 2017, Saskatoon police conducted an operational review, which found that an unarmed police-affiliated community safety program was needed for community engagement and to address rising policing costs.
Saskatoon police created the alternative response officer program for a one-year pilot project. Last September, the force recommended to the city's police board that it move forward with the unit permanently.
Officers for the unit apply and are selected per Saskatchewan's Police Act, and undergo 11 total weeks of training in the classroom and the field.
The Saskatoon unit is made up of six special constables and is supervised by a sergeant. The officers patrol the downtown and wear a different uniform.
The officers make 85 per cent of a Saskatoon police officer's salary, but they only perform a portion of a police officer's duties, namely working the beat and helping with enforcement and investigations, such as transporting people who are arrested and writing police reports.
Coun. Lori Bresciani moved that the RPS examine how such a force could work in Regina and report back by the fourth quarter of fiscal 2023. The motion carried.
"The whole purpose of this is to look at ways, obviously, for community safety, but to also look at different ways to be innovative," Bresciani said during the meeting.
Mayor Masters later told reporters that the city often hears from Reginans that they want a greater police presence, but an alternative unit could also free up RPS officers on the front lines.
"It's one of those things that, you're building a Lego block wall of support, and maybe this is one of the Legos," she said.
One of the differences RPS has to factor in is the downtown nightlife of both cities, Bray said.
During the meeting, Bray noted that both downtowns have similar activity during the daytime, but the nightlife in downtown Saskatoon is much more bustling.
"On a busy Friday night in Regina, our downtown beat officers often aren't that busy, because there's not a lot going on downtown," Bray said, adding that those officers can often be called elsewhere during their shift if needed.
"Whereas in downtown Saskatoon, there are numerous nightclubs and different things that are going on that require a police presence down there."
The RPS has also already found ways of delegating some of the duties that the unit in Saskatoon performs, Bray said, but the force could explore using such a program in some areas.
12 people died from overdoses in October: data
In October, Regina had its most deaths by overdose in a month since May, police data shows.
There were 12 apparent overdose deaths in the city last month, double the number from September and the most since May, when there were 16.
"Drug overdoses continue to be a stress in the community," Bray said.
In all, there were 135 drug overdoses in October — a decrease from September. Police attended 26 of those instances and used a Narcan kit once, data shows.
The city still needs to find long-term sustainable health solutions to help those suffering from addictions, Bray said.