Crime has decreased in Saskatchewan over the last 20 years. In light of this, critics are asking why the provincial government is creating a new police force.

They say government should make policy grounded in facts, not stoke fears based on incorrect perceptions.

“There seems to be a very clear disconnect between what people believe to be true and what the data and statistics suggest is the case,” University of Saskatchewan professor Harley Dickinson said.

“Government has a primary responsibility for providing people with evidence that is usable and which reflects reality.”

Earlier this month, Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Minister Christine Tell announced the creation of a 70-officer Saskatchewan Marshals Service. She cited fears of crime, particularly in rural areas, pointing to concerns such as theft of cattle and farm chemicals.

But crime has decreased in the province over the past two decades. 

CBC News contacted Statistics Canada for the most recent Saskatchewan-specific data on crime trends. By several measures, the situation has improved markedly since the early 2000s.

In 2003, total Criminal Code violations per 100,000 Saskatchewan residents reached a peak of 15,417. Last year, that number was 11,561, a decrease of 25 per cent.

Another measure called “crime severity” is down nearly 30 per cent over the same time period, according to the Statistics Canada data. The number of youth under age 18 charged with a crime is also down more than 70 per cent in the past two decades.

Dickinson said some officials in government, media or law enforcement attempt to capitalize on the mistaken but powerful fear of increasing crime.

“It’s sort of like the the sociological flat earth hypothesis,” Dickinson said.

“If you hear of a crime or see tagging or gang markers, you get a sense that, ‘Oh, crime is all around me,’ even though it may be decreasing. I think we have to try to provide the best available evidence we can to say, ‘this is what’s really going on.'”

University of Regina associate professor Michelle Stewart agreed. She said Tell and the government are also exploiting another big misperception — that the best solution to crime is more police.

Stewart said both research and her personal experience working with marginalized people in Regina shows that social supports for addiction, mental health and homelessness are a far more cost-effective way to reduce crime. The proposed $20-million annual budget for the marshal’s service would be better spent on these priorities, she said.

The marshals service idea has been panned by First Nations leaders who say they weren’t consulted. A National Police Federation official has called it “completely unnecessary,” saying it could actually make residents less safe because of confusion over jurisdiction and dispatching.

Tell declined an interview request for this story. An official sent an email to reiterate the point that residents are concerned about crime.

“The public has been clear in asking for additional police resources to tackle public safety issues in Saskatchewan, particularly in rural and remote areas. In response, the government is creating the Saskatchewan Marshals Service (SMS) to increase police capacity in the province and fill existing gaps in service,” stated the email.

“The service will provide an additional law enforcement presence across Saskatchewan, conduct proactive investigations, and support RCMP and municipal police operations.”

This content was originally published here.