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Tuesday, March 10th, 2009, 08:28 PM
Nation's most dangerous city?

A flurry of local politicians and police officials rebuked Maclean's Thursday after the national magazine branded Saskatoon as Canada's most dangerous city.

But the author of the article defended the study as valid and said Saskatoon's chronic crime problem needs to be addressed.

"The numbers are what the numbers are," said Maclean's Ken MacQueen. "You've got a problem. Face it, you really do."

Basing its rankings on per-capita crime stats from 2007, the magazine says Saskatoon is the most dangerous city, with Winnipeg, Regina, Prince George, B.C., and Edmonton following behind. Saskatoon's overall crime rate was 163 per cent above the national average and 10 per cent higher than second-place Winnipeg.

Mayor Don Atchison faulted the statistics for being out of date and misleading. He said the city's crime statistics are higher because more crime is being reported and police officers pursue probation breaches at a higher rate than other forces.

"What's happened here is Maclean's magazine has done a wonderful job of misinterpreting all the facts," he said. "It's an oxymoron. Because we're doing such a good job it gets reported in a negative fashion."

The mayor and police made a concerted effort to downplay the rankings, pointing out changes have been made since 2007, which have brought about across-the-board declines in crime rates. Atchison pointed to an eight per cent decrease in violent crime and a 31 per cent decrease in street robberies last year as evidence things have improved. One of the major problems for police in Saskatoon is an increase in the number of traffic collisions, Atchison said.

"They're screaming for 200 officers to deal with gang-related crime in Vancouver," he said. "Here in Saskatoon the police service is asking for eight officers to deal with traffic violations."

The rankings are frustrating for police officials, who say the force has undergone considerable restructuring since 2007, with more officers walking the streets and stronger tools in place to track and follow crime. Police spokesperson Alyson Edwards called the study a "complete misrepresentation of what's actually occurring in the city."

The service feels "absolutely confident" the numbers released next year will yield a different result, Edwards said.

"It's absolutely certain that our numbers for 2008 will be considerably lower," Edwards said. "It's very frustrating. We've done a great deal to reduce the amount of crime in Saskatoon and our numbers are showing that."

Justice Minsiter Don Morgan said Saskatoon and Regina's ranking in the Maclean's survey is "troubling," but noted there have been declines in the crime rates in both cities since 2007.

"I think any time you see justice statistics that you don't like or that aren't good, it's certainly troubling," he told reporters at the legislature. "The Maclean's article used the 2007 statistics. After we were elected, we had made a commitment in the run-up to the election we were going to have an additional 120 police officers. We've added 30 and we're adding another 30 this year, so the 2008 statistics are significantly better."