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‘Things are not normal’: Community leaders respond to Winnipeg police chief’s comments on crime

Winnipeg community leaders are calling for new approaches following Chief Danny Smyth’s comments on Friday that crime levels in the city are “not new.”

Concern over violent crime as a problem was sparked after a spate of violent acts at The Forks in the week leading up to the start of July.

Smyth said calls for service to the popular public gathering place and tourist destination are consistent with past trends and relatively low in Winnipeg’s overall crime picture.

“In terms of serious assaults, it’s not new – it’s alarming … we’ve had stabbings there before, we’ve had homicides there before,” he said.

Some, however, express concern that Smyth’s comments normalize an unenviable status quo.

“A is true, but B is awful – the fact that it’s nothing new and we’re still sitting here without really having a good strategy,” Sel Burrows said in an interview on Sunday.

Burrows, a longtime community advocate and one of the founders of Point Douglas Powerline, said the fact that there were even a few acts of violence at The Forks is “awful, absolutely awful.”
According to Sel Burrows, creating a culture where criminals feel uncomfortable doing business can make communities safer. He wants to see the police work harder to involve the community in solving crime problems. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

“The message is, ‘there’s not much we can do, it’s normal, it happens,’ instead of saying, ‘hey, we police need to look at different ways of doing things,'” a Burrows said.

“The high crime rate [has] become normal. And when we start to say, OK, it’s just normal, we’re not going to stop it. And Winnipeggers – all Winnipeggers – should be disgusted with the high crime rate we have,” he said.

Burrows said police – including Smyth – needed to do more to involve community members in addressing the issue and making it easier to work with police.

“We have to bring in people who live and work in areas that are involved in crime prevention. It’s very basic and very cheap,” he said.

Making the city safer means investing in social supports, not the police: professor

Criminologist and associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg, Kevin Walby, said Smyth, backed Friday by the chairman of the Winnipeg Police Board, the council. Markus Chambers, are not honest about the reality of the situation in Winnipeg.

“The situation is not normal, and policing is not going to address the kinds of harms, transgressions and conflicts that we see in Winnipeg,” Walby said, acknowledging that there are “a lot of distress” in the city, ranging from economic inequality to mental health. health problems, lack of affordable housing and drug addiction.

But the two officials are in conflict over how to handle the situation as they must promote the police department and fight for budgetary funds to support it, Walby said.

“They don’t have to look at all the other evidence that suggests policing, criminalizing, imprisoning is actually hurting our community. It adds even more harm to the equation.”
Criminologist Kevin Walby says long-term safety in Winnipeg will require investing in community supports, addictions treatment and affordable, safe housing instead of police services. (Aidan Geary/CBC)

Walby advocates reinvesting police budgets more into social services, community supports and housing. He said civic leaders and politicians need to work on the social issues that underlie crime issues.

We will not criminalize our way out of any form of rising transgression and conflict. The more we lock people up, the more we actually dissolve the social bonds that remain in our communities,” Walby said.

“The more we criminalize people, the more we increase the divorce rate, the more we increase unemployment, [the] harder, we make it easier for people to survive. And they will be more distressed in a few months. In a few years. So it’s actually a recipe for increasing crime rates in the long run, putting money into policing,” Walby said.

The department currently commands more than a quarter of the city’s operating budget at $320 million. On Friday, a report was filed with the city council’s finance committee forecasting a $7.5 million shortfall for this year due to increased spending.

And that reality sets the stage for officials to say more police resources are needed and the budget is growing, Walby said.

“The chief of police…and the chief of the police commission will come out and say that Winnipeg is in crisis. There’s so much conflict, there’s so much transgression, almost like a kind of cover-up for the overspending culture. costs to the police department,” he said.

This is a situation that is being played out with police forces across the country, he added.

He said taking a long-term, generational approach to funding and addressing the root causes of crime would make the city safer in the long run. He does not believe that the police could simply be abolished overnight.

“How can we live in a safer society if we continue to pour all the money we have into the police and the roads for the cars? Those are the two things we spend all our money on in town. Yes, of course there will be transgression and distress and conflict…because we are not meeting the needs of the people,” Walby said.

Police statistics for the past year show an increase in calls for service, the chief said.

This week, the service plans to release its statistical report for 2021. Smyth said Friday that the service handled more than 230,000 service calls that year.

Almost 10% of them were for officers to carry out wellness checks, he said. “People are calling on us for help a lot.”

Chambers said the police commission will seek community input through engagements and surveys in the coming months.

He wants to see a downtown safety summit where various groups can discuss how to fight crime and work to eliminate the stigma of Winnipeg as a crime-ridden city.

“We need to reimagine what community safety looks like in our city,” Chambers told reporters after Smyth finished answering questions. “And engage our community in terms of actively working on community safety and well-being.”