It’s not every day that a Canadian Police Chief holds a press conference to express feelings of despair, concern, and frustration, but that’s precisely what happened today.
There was a spoiler alert mind you…
It came last week when Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth penned a bleak letter to front line officers imploring them to, “Please hang in there.”
Today, Smyth put context on his pleadings.
In the past week, the WPS has suffered significant resource and emotional strain in the wake of a number of serious, traumatic incidents that included;
- a homicide case
- a police-involved shooting
- an in-custody death
- the theft of a police vehicle
- a violent, traumatic, emotionally disturbing public suicide attempt
Smyth indicated a total of seven (7) police officers have been “pulled” from their regular duties to have their physical and mental health assessed after being involved in these critical incidents.
“In the last few years, 19 members have reported needle-stick injuries, 8 have resulted in lost time from work. Most will recover quickly and return to duty, some will take longer. I worry about the health and wellbeing of our members, its the latest thing that keeps me up at night,” Smyth said.
He was just getting started.
Smyth proceeded to release highly compelling information provided courtesy of the Bear Clan Patrol that put the scope of the problem in focus;
- In 2017, Bear Clan Patrol collected 4,000 discarded syringes
- In 2018, Bear Clan Patrol collected 40,000 discarded syringes
- In 2019, at the midway point, they’ve collected 60,000 discarded syringes
Those numbers tell a story.
The 2018 WPS Statistical Report tells a story
“Two years ago, I sounded the alarm that meth was harming our community. Now, I’m telling you that meth is harming the men and women working in the front lines of the police and other emergency services.”
2018 Statistical Report – Highlights
- Violent Crime – 18% higher over the 5-year average
- Robbery – 45% increase over the 5-year average
- Property Crime – up 19% year over year, 44% increase over the 5-year average
- Total Crimes – up 12% year over year, 33% increase over the 5-year average
- Calls to Communications Center – 11% increase over the 5-year average
“Violent crime rates remain high and have not improved in 2018. I can tell you that halfway through 2019, things are getting worse,” Smyth lamented.
Smyth reminded the press that halfway through the year the WPS Homicide Unit has investigated a total of twenty-five (25) homicide cases, already eclipsing the 2018 total of twenty-two (22) homicide cases.
He also pointed out there have been four (4) police-involved shootings this year, four (4) in custody deaths and one (1) armed standoff, most of which involved drugs.
Smyth stressed, “I have consistently described this as a health crisis, and it is. But it’s also impacting our community in other ways and an increase in crime and disorder is one of the consequences.”
He continued, “Two years ago, I sounded the alarm that meth was harming our community. Now, I’m telling you that meth is harming the men and women working in the front lines of the police and other emergency services.”
Smyth was joined at the podium by Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman who offered encouragement and support to his beleaguered Police Chief.
Bowman stressed a call to action is imperative;
“We need both other levels of government taking immediate steps on an urgent basis, not campaign commitments, we need real action.”
Smyth & Bowman expressed degrees of frustration with the Province of Manitoba and what they largely view as an inadequate response to the methamphetamine crisis.
As a “health crisis” both men underlined the fact the police are never going to “arrest their way out of this.”
Bowman suggested an urgent collaborative effort is required that should involve all levels of government including Municipal, Provincial & Federal.
Smyth expressed considerable frustration regarding the lack of direction and leadership in the Provincial Governments response to the issue.
After the prepared remarks, Chief Smyth and the Mayor took questions from the throng of reporters who filled the briefing room.
It was during one of these exchanges the extent of the problem facing our City and Police Service became apparent.
The question was asked by crime reporter Ryan Thorpe, an astute young crime reporter working for the Winnipeg Free Press;
Question – “In terms of your time with the WPS is the current meth crisis the gravest or most difficult challenge that’s been thrown your way?”
Smyth – “You know I guess in my time there have been a few things that have been game-changers, certainly when crack was introduced into the community some twenty-five years ago it was a game-changer, gangs were a game-changer, this is the kind of drug that’s been a game-changer as well, just because of the manner in which its impacting the people who are struggling with it.”
There you have it, the methamphetamine crisis assigned official status as one of the top 3 major “game changers” impacting crime in our City.
That’s a big deal.
Please hang in there.
Outlook for 2019
Expect more of the same…
It seems fitting, I guess, that as I write this article, news breaks on my Twitter feed that Winnipeg Blue Bomber wide receiver Chris Matthews was stabbed in a downtown restaurant over the weekend.