The world of criminal justice just took another weird turn.
The Winnipeg Police Service came under fire Tuesday when defense attorney Chris Sigurdson levelled accusations the Police deliberately ignore arrest warrants issued for incarcerated offenders to maximize the time they spend behind bars.
Crime reporter James Turner exposed the “scandal” in an article published in today’s edition of the Winnipeg Free Press. (Police Tactic Earns Judge’s Ire)
“They’re deliberately doing it, it’s cruel,” Sigurdson said. “It’s not uncommon. It happens a lot,” he added.
Sigurdson’s client, Justin Shorting (21), was sentenced in November 2012 to two (2) years in Federal Prison for Break & Enter. Shortly after his sentencing Police obtained a warrant to obtain his DNA in connection with another Break & Enter offence that occurred in May of 2012.
Turner indicates the Police, “took the time” to attend Stoney Mountain Penitentiary shortly after the warrant was issued to obtain a DNA sample for comparison purposes.
On April 10, 2013, Police obtained DNA results from the RCMP that implicated Shorting in the May 2012 Break & Enter.
On April 16, 2013, an arrest warrant was issued for Shorting in connection with the investigation.
Turner notes the arrest warrant was not executed until February 28, 2014, apparently an hour or so after Shorting had been released from prison.
Provincial Court Judge Tim Killeen indicated he was, “profoundly unimpressed,” with how Police handled the situation and hoped his view was made clear to them. “I’ve seen this over and over and over again,” he said. “I don’t know what makes it so difficult for them to get to the institution and arrest the person,” said Killeen.
Turner indicates Killeen finds it difficult to believe Police simply don’t have the time to execute their arrest warrants in a timely way.
(I think Judge Killeen knows the City of Winnipeg is an undisputed Nation leader when it comes to Homicide, Violent Crime and several other crime categories.)
The angle in the story suggests the Police are deliberately manipulating the system to keep offenders locked up longer. A prospect Killeen finds, “much more troubling.”
In May of 2011, Winnipeg Police Association President Mike Sutherland wrote an article published in the Winnipeg Sun indicating up to 15,000 arrest warrants were being held by the Winnipeg Police Service with ten (10) to fifteen (15) arrest warrants added every day. Sutherland also indicated that hundreds, if not thousands, of older arrest warrants were being purged from the system because they were stale dated.
Police sources tell me that number is closer to 20,000 entries which translate to over 30,000 actual arrest warrants.
In September of 2011, the WPS created the Manitoba Integrated Warrant Apprehension Unit. The Unit consists of three (3) WPS Officers and three (3) RCMP Officers whose primary function is to apprehend violent or high priority offenders wanted on outstanding warrants.
On January 28, 2013, the Unit was celebrated in a Winnipeg Free Press story after they made their 1,000th arrest.
Police estimated approximately 70% of the arrests were for violent offenders who were eluding capture.
In 2006, I took a position as Sergeant in charge of the District 6 Crime Unit. One of my primary job functions was to prioritize and direct criminal investigations. Shortly after assuming those responsibilities I found investigators were overburdened with more than one hundred (100) unresolved files that required an arrest or a high likelihood of arrest. An equal number of files existed that required some form of investigative effort before they could be concluded. Each and every file represented a citizen of the City of Winnipeg who had been victimized by some sort of crime.
Much like a triage nurse working in a Hospital emergency department, investigators must review, assess and prioritize their work. That reality should come as no surprise to Judge Killeen or James Turner.
Police generally prioritize criminal investigations as follows;
- Violent Crime – Murder, Attempt Murder, Sexual & Serious Assaults
- Robbery – Commercial: Banks, Business / Strong Arm
- High Profile Crime – Organized Crime, Gang Crime, Home Invasion
- Property Crime – Commercial & Residential B&E, Fraud, Theft
Criminal Offenders also receive a priority;
- Serial Offenders – active or at large
- Suspects – active or at large
- Suspects – incarcerated
I ask you, if you’re a Detective working thirty (30) active criminal investigations with suspects at large doing break & enters, how much priority would you place on executing an arrest warrant for a criminal who is locked up in a Federal Penitentiary?
I know what direction I’d give to Detectives working under my command. The simple fact is, incarcerated offenders present zero risk to public safety.
It’s no game as Sigurdson, Killeen and Turner suggest.
It’s a reality of Policing with extremely limited resources.
Here are some other realities;
- In the two (2) years I supervised the D6 Crime Unit Detectives under my command made almost four-hundred (400) criminal code arrests. Some of these arrests involved lengthy, complex, time consuming criminal investigations. Manpower, overtime and resources were also significant issues.
- Property offences and offenders have been treated extremely lightly by the Courts. If property crime is such a low priority for the judiciary then why should there be an expectation the Police would treat it as a high priority?
- Judges frequently sentence offenders to time served for crimes that are connected to a string of offences that occurred before the offender was incarcerated. In many cases, charges connected to outstanding warrants for incarcerated offenders could be handled with no Police involvement.
- There are approximately ten (10) prisons or jails throughout the Province of Manitoba which are located in; Stony Mountain, Brandon, Portage, Dauphin, Headingley, Milner Ridge, The Pas, Winnipeg Remand Center, Manitoba Youth Center, Agassiz.
- Prisons do not notify the WPS of prisoner status or movement. As a result, Police do not normally monitor incarcerated offenders status or locations.
- Shorting caught a sentence of two (2) years in prison for a property offence. I expect he must have an extremely lengthy criminal record to be sent to a Federal Penitentiary for a property offence. Therefore, I question why anyone should be sympathetic to his cause.
- Judge Killeen is an experienced former criminal defense attorney who was appointed to the Provincial Court on July 23, 2012. As a recent appointee he should be fully aware of issues regarding limited Police resources and file prioritization. His attack on the Police and sympathetic voice for the offender is all to familiar to those of us who work or have worked in Law Enforcement.
- Defense Attorney Chris Sigurdson had every opportunity to make enquiries regarding his clients status long before he was ever released from prison and re-arrested. Did he not have a professional responsibility to represent his clients interests and make sure he had no outstanding arrest warrants before his release. The entire situation could had been avoided if Sigurdson had picked up the telephone on his client’s behalf.
- Doesn’t Shorting bear some responsibility in all of this? Why didn’t he make his own enquiries regarding the outstanding arrest warrant? Was he too busy playing cards or watching TV inside the prison to make a few phone calls? During interrogations I used to tell offenders, “Shit has a way of catching up to you.” It was a tactic I used to try to get them to confess to their outstanding crimes. Well Mr Shorting you didn’t unpack your suitcase when the Police initially arrested you and shit caught up to you, to bad, so sad.
It seems to me Turner’s story fails to provide any balance and takes a decidedly sympathetic angle in favour of the offender. Why else would he tell us Shorting has cognitive challenges? Why else would he tell us that according to Sigurdson, “his re-arrest after a fleeting taste of freedom left him confused and very disappointed?”
While Shorting’s cognitive challenges and disappointments are sure to evoke sympathy from some readers, I’m afraid I wasn’t moved.
I doubt Shorting was confused or disappointed when he broke into the property owners home in May of 2012 and stole $700 worth of their valuables.
Ultimately, Justin Shorting made a lifestyle choice that should come with consequences.
I hope I’m not too cruel for saying so.
While I don’t believe this “issue” is as widespread as Judge Killeen suggests, a quick fix would be to create an Incarcerated Offenders Warrant Unit.
The primary function of the Unit would be to track the warrant status of any incarcerated offender in the Province of Manitoba and to ensure any and all outstanding arrest warrants are promptly executed.
The Unit could be run by one or two civilian members of the Police Service.
The big question is, who’s going to pay for it?