EDITORIALS

THE ELUSIVE TRUTH – Winnipeg’s Crime Problem

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WINNIPEG CRIME SCENE (PHOTO JGJ)

Call it what you want, the elusive truth, the inconvenient truth or just call it the plain truth.

Winnipeg is not a safe City.

I’m not even sure why the subject is being debated.  Statistics Canada should have added some clarity to the issue when they designated our City as the Murder and Violent Crime capital of the Country.

Yet, the debate rages on.

To add to the controversy, spin doctors at City Hall saw fit to create a low tech map, complete with blurred borders and phantom districts and released it to the public proclaiming double-digit reductions in violent crime in the Downtown area.  The results immediately called in to question by crime reporters who cite Downtown Biz findings that report a double-digit rise in Downtown crime.

On Tuesday, April 2, 2013, two days before the report was released, Winnipeg resident Nigel Dixon was gunned down in the 500 block of Langside Street in a brazen afternoon shooting perpetrated by indiscriminate gangsters embroiled in a turf war in the area.

On Friday, April 5, 2013, the day after the report was released, a WPS Community alert was issued warning the Public of three (3) sexual assaults and one (1) indecent act in the Downtown Area.  On the same alert the WPS reported Patrol Officers arrested of a suspect for an “on view” strong arm robbery that occurred at Graham Ave & Donald Street.

Since then the trend continues, shootings, stabbings and a recent community alert reporting thug (s) running around “central” Winnipeg, (including downtown) doing strong arm robberies and personating Police Officers.

Yet, the debate rages on.

Police Chief Devon Clunis believes he has the answer, “We have to work together to create this culture of safety.  We must tackle it from a socially responsible perspective.”  These were messages Clunis delivered while speaking at a Building Owners & Management Association luncheon at the Delta Hotel yesterday.

I’ve heard the Clunis message before, “Crime prevention through social development,” is his mantra.

Clunis believes the WPS must be catalysts for social change and he’s committed to this approach.  An approach he admits could take between five to ten years to bear fruit.

If you happen to read the comment sections of local newspapers you’ll see many people fear our City simply can’t afford to take a decade to find out if the social experiment Clunis proposes will work.  Most commenters believe radical surgery is required to excise the cancerous blight on our crime infested City.

The moderate in me believes both approaches have merit.

For as long as I can remember, Downtown Winnipeg has been a challenged area.  It’s always been a hot bed of criminal activity, specifically drug trafficking, petty thefts and strong arm robberies.  For me, the game changed in March of 2011 with the murder of twenty-two (22) year old Abdul Jemei who was stabbed to death while walking near the west end of Portage Place.

MURDER VICTIM ABDUL JEMEI (FB)
MURDER VICTIM ABDUL JEMEI (FB)

The investigation provided significant highly credible information that large numbers of armed street thugs frequent the Portage Place Mall carrying everything from firearms to edged weapons to pepper spray.    Many of these players are gang affiliates who are involved in the drug trade fighting over, you guessed it, “turf.”

“Turf” is gang vernacular for “territory” and it’s the one thing that gangsters are prepared to kill and die for.  For the unfamiliar, the fight to control “turf” does not equate to a soldiers sense of duty to protect his or her homeland.  No, this is all about dollar bills and cocaine.  He who controls “turf” corners market share and reaps the benefits of the lucrative drug trade.

In July of 2010, eighteen (18) year old Dylan Ferland was gunned down in the North end by two rival street gang members sent on a mission to control “turf.”  The case was a text-book example of the Winnipeg street gang hierarchy and how adult gangsters control and manipulate the “child soldiers” they use to work the crack shacks and dispense street justice.

In this case alone, four fifteen (15) year old boys were converted to “child soldiers” by coercion and control methods that included the use of violence, money, debt, sex and crack cocaine.

Most people would agree that run of the mill average middle class teen-aged boys lack maturity, discretion and impulse control.    Now imagine exposing impoverished disadvantaged teens to gang rhetoric, the false promise of gang life, crack cocaine, cash money, sex and firearms.  The “child soldier” presents a serious threat to the safety of Winnipeg residents and Police Officers alike.  They’re armed, dangerous and have little concern for the ramifications of shooting or killing someone.  A significant number of these youths end up getting killed or serving life sentences for murder.

Yet, the debate rages on.

The brazen killing of Nigel Dixon is yet another wake up call for all of us.  It’s the same message we received from the killings of Anthony Woodhouse, Joseph Mcleod and Phil Haiart.

Now it’s up to us what we do with that message.

Can we get to the promise land with “Crime prevention through social development?”

In isolation, I doubt it.

Confronting this kind of crime requires “intellectual ownership” of the crime problem, a committed tactical plan and boots on the ground to do the heavy lifting.

A whole lot of boots.

6 Comments

  1. Not to worry, I view criticism as an opportunity to improve what I do.

    Having spent hours with many of these these kids I can assure you these kids have more similarities with the kids carrying guns in Africa than people might think. Many of these kids are controlled by violence, brutally assaulted, burned with cigarettes, forced to work in crack shacks, are turned on to crack cocaine, became addicts, are given guns and ordered to do shootings under threat of death.

    Many of them have had siblings or parents killed or severely injured by gangsters.

    Maybe if we thought of them more in the context of the African child soldiers people might be moved to do something about it.

    Not everyone gets it, glad you do.

  2. James, I usually agree with you on most everything… but to nitpick, I wouldn’t put child soldiers in quotation marks. I’d say that child soldiers is exactly what they are! Unfortunately, when people think of child soldiers, they think of kids carrying guns in Africa under the influence of immoral and heinous adults, and not about the kids in the same situation on the streets of Winnipeg.

  3. Darrell;

    Thank-you very much for your thoughtful response and words of wisdom.

    Much appreciated…

  4. Dear James:

    I agree completely, as one involved in providing social development programming, that in isolation, these efforts will not have a significant impact on crime. A ‘carrot and stick’ approach is often described, and has the potential to be effective, if, and only if, the weight of the carrot is somewhat proportional to the weight of the stick.

    I would propose a ‘one at a time model’. Families break down one at a time, kids join gangs one at a time, then they commit crimes that they are investigated for, arrested, prosecuted, sentenced, then are incarcerated or otherwise disposed of, you guessed it, one at a time. Of course, each and every step of the criminal justice system involves the expenditure of a tremendous amount of treasure by our society, in everything from the price we pay in loss of personal security, to the direct costs of law enforcement, prosecutions and penology. Then not least of which, are the costs of the risks and sacrifices undertaken by those on the front lines fighting crime. Finally, undertake if you will, to quantify the tremendous cost to us all in lost human potential and consider where resources manifested in the struggle could otherwise be employed.

    Well, just as all the battles of the criminal justice system are one at a time, singular events, so are the countervailing interventions that will be required to forestall or reverse the course. You build families and create positive futures for youth, you guessed it, one at a time, with interventions that are just as singular and unique as the circumstances of every childs dysfunction. There is no ‘fluoride for the water’ that will eliminate crime. It’s a complex system that requires complex interventions; lot’s of different carrots and lots of different sticks. But let’s do all we can to provide positive, singular and specific interventions in the lives of at risk youth, in proportion to the weight of the stick. Sticks, whatever the kind, balls and skipping ropes are no more a solution than is locking up every bad actor and throwing away the key. There’s not enough room in the penalty box. In short, I believe we need a one at a time, one on one, range of solutions to the problem. The great advantage we have in the fight is knowing that in multiple studies it has been determined that every dollar spent in high quality, well targeted social programming will exponentially reduce the direct costs of our justice system, and the dreadful consequences associated with crime.

    Thank you for providing a forum for this discussion.

    Darrell Horn
    President, Broadway Neighbourhood Centre

  5. “Senseless” about sums it up….appreciate your comments.

  6. I agree. I see positives with the chiefs views and plan but I think something needs to be done immidiately. As someone who works in enforcment in the downtown and north end area I’ve seen first hand how sensless this violence in our city has become. It truly is time to put boots to ass!

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