EDITORIALS

CUTTING COPS WITH A DULL KNIFE – Common Sense the First Casualty

Camden, London 31-5-2014, Mad HatterI just spent half an hour or so looking for snappy quotes about a man wearing too many hats.

I didn’t find any.

That didn’t make me any less inclined to explore the latest journalistic exploit written by WPS irritant Gordon Sincliar Jr. (GSJ)  The title of the story is particularly offensive, “More cameras might save other Tinas – But Police aren’t interested.”

Once again we have main stream media using a sensational headline designed to influence the Aboriginal community by reinforcing the notion Police don’t care about Indigenous people.

While I don’t blame GSJ for the headline, it’s clear he’s taking his criticism of the Police Service to another level by attempting to wear the hat of a Police Detective.  I assume the exercise was designed to expose the WPS Homicide Unit as either incompetent or indifferent.

Last week GSJ took to the streets to conduct his own investigation into the Tina Fontaine murder case.  His objective was to find surveillance cameras that may have caught a glimpse of Tina’s killer.

After identifying a number of locations with video surveillance  GSJ must have been disappointed when he learned Police had beat him to the punch.

The story didn’t end there.

It was time for a heavy dose of amateur analysis;

“Why should police have to rely on private surveillance cameras to find a person of interest such as the john last seen walking away with the 15-year-old First Nations girl at Furby and Ellice?”

“Why don’t we have cameras all over downtown?”

“Or, at the very least, in the areas frequented by vulnerable girls and women such as Tina?”

On Friday, Mr Sinclair fine tuned his questions and emailed them to the WPS media relations unit with a cc to Chief Devon Clunis.  There were a total of seven (7) questions:

1. Was any of the video police looked at from the area of any use in the Fontaine case or any other crime?

2. Has it been in the past?

3. Would police like to have more privately installed surveillance cameras in the area?

4. Does the police service/city have any surveillance cameras set up in an ongoing way to monitor crime hot spots?

5. Would police support having the city and/or city and province fund surveillance cameras throughout the downtown?

6. Aside from whatever assistance it would offer in solving crimes, has the police service considered what value it might bring in curtailing the abduction and murder of sex trade or otherwise targeted women?

7. If so, what has the police service concluded?

GSJ reports the WPS responded with a “terse” reply within an hour, “We are not providing any further information regarding the Tina Fontaine homicide investigation.  The WPS is not considering expansion of the CCTV camera system at this time.”

The response clearly irked Mr Sinclair who went on to say there are, “No police surveillance cameras protecting vulnerable and exploited girls such as Tina.”

He then speculated that Police monitored cameras in the “red light district” might have had a deterrent effect on Tina’s killer.  He went on to suggest, “Doing something is better than doing nothing and waiting for the next Tina Fontaine to go missing and be killed.  And the next. And the next…”

GSJ’s speculation and theorizing undoubtedly influences public opinion and undermines confidence people might have in the Police Service.  People like the grieving family members of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.

Do the questions merit a response? 

While I don’t purport to speak for the WPS, I believe people touched or influenced by the story would benefit from hearing an informed opinion.

The Questions;

1. Was any of the video police looked at from the area of any use in the Fontaine case or any other crime?

  • The answer to this question forms part of an ongoing murder investigation and should not be disclosed unless it benefits the investigation.  That decision is appropriately made by the Homicide Unit Supervisors.

2. Has it been in the past?

  • Yes, Portage Place video surveillance recordings were vital in solving the murder of Abdul Jemei on March 16, 2011.  There are many other cases where video surveillance recordings were vital to solving murder cases.

3. Would police like to have more privately installed surveillance cameras in the area?

  • I doubt the Police would object to having video surveillance cameras set up City wide.  The issue comes down to who would operate and pay for them.

4. Does the police service/city have any surveillance cameras set up in an ongoing way to monitor crime hot spots?

  • The Police use video surveillance cameras in specific criminal investigations when time and resources permit.

5. Would police support having the city and/or city and province fund surveillance cameras throughout the downtown?

  • Answered above in question 3….

6. Aside from whatever assistance it would offer in solving crimes, has the police service considered what value it might bring in curtailing the abduction and murder of sex trade or otherwise targeted women?

  • The idea that surveillance cameras might have a deterrent effect is naive.  Police have a long history of attempting to impact street prostitution with a variety of tactics that include traffic calming measures and enforcement.  These tactics often result in moving the problem to a different area.  Surveillance cameras would undoubtedly have the same result.
  • Would sex trade workers stand on City streets covered by surveillance cameras or would they simply move their business to neighbouring streets, back lanes or parking lots not covered by the cameras?

I think the answer is obvious.

Moving the problem has proven to be an ineffective, short-term solution.

It’s one thing to conceptualize the installation of cameras it’s another thing to put the concept into practical application

  • How many cameras would you install?
  • Where would you install the cameras?
  • How many people would be required to operate and monitor the cameras?
  • How many people would be required to review, process and store the footage?
  • Who would pay for the cameras?
  • Who would pay for the astronomical costs associated with staffing, equipment and continuing operations?

7. If so, what has the police service concluded?

  • The media relations officer answered this question, “The WPS is not considering expansion of the CCTV camera system at this time.”

Is Gordon Sinclair Jr asking the right questions?

The suggestion that Police surveillance cameras might somehow “protect vulnerable and exploited girls such as Tina,” as GSJ suggests is ludicrous.

Police surveillance cameras form part of a reactive investigative approach and would have little, if any, deterrent effect.  The WPS has committed to a preventative Policing approach that focuses on social development and attacking the root causes of crime.

I recently attended a community forum sponsored by the University of Manitoba  featuring a panel discussion on race and policing in Winnipeg.  WPS Staff Sergeant Robert “Bob” Chrismas, author of the book, “Canadian Policing in the 21st Century,” was a panelist.

Chrismas shared his thoughts regarding modern-day Policing, root causes of crime and social justice.  “Police didn’t create crime or poverty,” Chrismas said, yet it seems many people continue to assess blame as if they had.  He also pointed out the Police Service only employs approximately 1,500 Officers while the Health Care Industry in Manitoba employs up to 30,000 people.  (Income assistance, child welfare, housing, addiction, mental health service et al)  

Police didn’t create prostitution either.

Blaming Law Enforcement for our societal ills will never advance the conversation nor will it do anything to prevent people from living in high risk life styles.

Continually cutting cops with a dull knife won’t get us there either.

Addressing poverty, drug addiction and unemployment might.

Progress will come when we start asking the right questions and shifting the focus to where it belongs.

That’s the only way we’ll stop the next Tina Fontaine from going missing or being killed.

And the next, and the next….

8 Comments

  1. Ah…the Black Rod….always interesting to read!

  2. An interesting take on “missing” Tina, here: http://blackrod.blogspot.ca/ Can’t confirm the timeline myself however.

  3. Anyone whose worked in the trenches knows sex trade workers are cunning people who know how to adapt to any measures aimed at curbing their business.

    Very much appreciate your input.

    Thank you.

  4. Many people would agree with you I’m sure.

    Thank you for commenting.

  5. I also grew up in a low income environment and understand your point.

    I agree that poverty in isolation doesn’t contribute to crime but when you add drug addiction and unemployment you have all the ingredients required.

    Almost every habitual or serial offender I investigated had some kind of addiction issue.

    They don’t do crime because they’re bored…they do it to feed their addiction.

    I agree the problem is more complex than just poverty, addiction and unemployment.

    Divorce, the break down of the family unit, lack of morals, lack of self esteem, lack of drive, lack of education and lack of options and opportunity are all factors… I’m sure we could identify other issues as well.

    Thank you for weighing in…

  6. Henry (Burzynski)

    Another excellent article James. I would like to share some experience in the area of video surveillance, similar to what GSJ has referenced. Years ago working in the North End, the Community Support Unit had a van donated which was marked with WPS decals and in large red letters, “Anti-Prostitution Surveillance Unit” on the sides. We found that just the mere presence of the vehicle deterred the ongoing persistent cruising of the “Johns” and the prostitution traffic disappeared. Fast forward a bunch of years, still many years ago, residents from the North End community pooled their resources and commenced video recording vehicles cruising their neighbourhood in search of prostitutes. They even posted hand written signs alerting motorists of their recording. The result was that it dramatically reduced the number of vehicles cruising their neighbourhood and the prostitutes moved elsewhere. Experience has shown that if there is video surveillance present, prostitution and “Johns” move to a different area. As a result, the likelihood of actually “catching” someone in the act of prostitution (child abuse) is highly unlikely and not probable.

  7. GSJ is either truly a simpleton in need of removing his blinders or is just using his platform to further stir the pot. Either way, people like him are suggesting that Tina Fontaine was one police car ride away from safety and security. As if she wasn’t going to run away (again) and continue her life of drug/alcohol abuse and prostitution had the police done their job differently. And she would surely be safe from evil if there were cameras in “the area”.
    The depressing truth is that there are people like Ms. Fontaine, who will find a way to self destruct by any means. I believe that she was terribly tortured by her existence and was taking every opportunity to find a way out.

  8. Blaming police for societies problem should never be an excuse for everything. But I will also say our police have no business repairing societies problems either. We can’t have it both ways. James you have been in police work for many years, but I have to disagree with you. Poverty, drug addiction and unemployment will not reduce crime. Thats a big statement to make like that. James some of the biggest gangs selling drugs are very rich. And the members within come from well off families and come from all sectors of life. James I grew up poor by societies standards but it didn’t mean I could go rob or kill people or steal what I wanted.

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