I fully intended on writing an article today highlighting the troubling lack of leadership we’ve seen with the response to the unprecedented crime apocalypse raging in the City of Winnipeg.
As if he somehow knew it was coming, Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth launched a preemptive strike.
He did something.
Before we get there, I need to remind you of the back-story.
In August, we saw Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth and Mayor Brian Bowman share a podium and point the finger directly at Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister for what they suggested was his inadequate response to the cities methamphetamine crisis.
I was tremendously disappointed.
What I saw was two powerful men playing the blame game when I was looking for ownership, accountability but most importantly, leadership.
Since then things have only gotten worse…much worse.
The City of Winnipeg is currently on the verge of breaking the all time homicide record of 41 killings set in 2011.
In October, the WPS investigated a total of eight (8) homicide cases, an all time record for any given calendar month. That number doesn’t include the horrific stabbing death of Winnipeg toddler Hunter Haze Straight-Smith (3) who was fatally stabbed on October 30th but didn’t succumb to his injuries until November 2nd.
Included in those numbers was the disturbing stabbing death of a fourteen (14) year old girl killed at a Halloween party on October 26th.
Not included in those numbers was a Flora Avenue shooting on October 27 that saw four (4) victims struck by projectiles fired from a shotgun into a residence. One of the victims was a two (2) year old infant.
We now sit at forty (40) homicides and I’m hoping I can finish this article before we tie the record.
A few short hours ago, Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth held a hastily called press conference announcing an unprecedented reallocation of police officer resources to help address the outrageous crime epidemic the citizens of Winnipeg have been enduring for some time now.
During the presser Smyth told reporters, “Our community is reeling, really, and our Organization is reeling here, a lot of people just cant make sense of what’s going on right now in the community, the level of violence, the level of property crime, uh….it’s bad.”
Smyth went on to confirm violent crime & property crime averages this year are “well above” the Service’s five year averages and the WPS averages are “well above” Canadian averages.
He went on to share his concerns regarding youth involved in the homicide numbers as both victims and perpetrators.
(Smyth stated we’ve had 2 youths charged in homicide cases this year when in reality, seven (7) youths have been charged with either 1st or 2nd degree murder or manslaughter, an additional youth was charged with accessory in connection with another homicide case.)
Smyth confirmed every single category of violent crime in Winnipeg has gone up this past year with the exception of arson and he expects 2019 will be worse than 2018.
He went on to discuss the serious increase in property crime, including the brazen thefts at Liquor Marts and how they undermine our sense of security, create a sense of unease and negatively impact public safety.
(We’ve written about the Liquor Mart thefts in the past and suggested the Police Service & MLL “leadership” both played a role in getting us to where we are today.)
The presser was a bit awkward really.
The Chief’s discomfort was obvious.
The Reallocation of Police Resources
Smyth went on to inform the press the Police Service is undertaking a major short term reallocation of up to seventy-four (74) police officers to address the apocalyptic crime and the strain its put on police resources.
He provided a detailed plan that included anticipated consequences;
- Investigators are being added to the Homicide Unit to assist in addressing case backlog
- Investigators have been seconded from Project Devote and the Intelligence Unit (WPS & RCMP Integrated Units)
- Officers will be added to bolster the front line, both GP (General Patrol) and Foot Patrol units
- Traffic Division officers re-assigned to GP & Foot Patrol – this will result in a reduction in traffic enforcement and reductions in the Check Stop program
- Community Relations Officers re-assigned to GP & Foot Patrol – this will mean a reduction in school education & crime prevention education
- Station Duty Officers Officers re-assigned to GP & Foot Patrol – this will mean a reduction in operating hours of HQ and the temporary closure of Station Duty Offices in the East, West and North End Districts
Smyth stressed these were only temporary measures which will be re-evaluated after the Holiday Season.
(As you may recall, reinforcing the front line was a suggestion we made in a article published in August of this year.)
If you have insight into policing you might recognize these measures are essentially “reactive” initiatives as opposed to “proactive” initiatives designed to quell the violence or property crime.
The measures are essentially designed to address case backlogs and bring some sense of relief to over worked, over stressed and under supported crime fighting units.
So where does that really leave us?
The Origins of the Apocalypse
WPS Chief Danny Smyth is not having fun.
He more or less said so.
His bad days have recently started to outnumber his good ones.
While Smyth needs to take responsibility for operational issues that have negatively impacted the effectiveness of the Police Service, we can’t blame him for homicide records or the methamphetamine crisis.
The origins of our apocalypse are not difficult to trace.
A great deal of it starts with a badly broken criminal justice system, a system akin to a gargantuan Maytag washing machine operating in a sterile vacuum, doling out injustice after injustice, rinsing and repeating.
So how did we get here?
We got here by the eroding consequences of the criminal justice system, by the marginalization of property crime, by the paralysis of the Police Service and by giving priority to the rights of violent criminals at the expense of public safety and the rights of victims.
These are not trivial things.
These are real, substantive issues.
Eroding Consequences in the Criminal Justice System
As if by some ironic twist of fate, I went to sleep last night with thoughts of this article permeating my mind. When I awake, I read the Winnipeg Free Press and see crime reporter Dean Pritchard has written a timely article to help me articulate my case.
Don’t get me wrong, I have hundreds of examples I could use here, but Pritchard’s are current, topical and precisely on point.
The title of his piece, “Three thieves, 200 crimes and $30,000 in booze.”
The headline essentially tells it all.
The article explores the conclusions of three prolific Liquor Mart thieves and the “justice” meted out in each case.
- Charles Wood (33) plead guilty to 66 thefts from city wide Liquor Marts from January 20 – July 5. He hit one store eleven (11) times. Wood received a generous 1.5 day credit for every day he spent in pretrial custody and upon pleading guilty was sentenced to time served and released from jail.
(Wood was put on 2 years of supervised probation, likely with conditions to abstain from alcohol, a completely unrealistic expectation, one that does nothing but set the man up for failure.)
- Tamara Seaton (23) plead guilty to 45 thefts that occurred from May 2016 – October 26 of this year. She’s credited with stealing over $12,000 worth of liquor, some of which was resold. The Crown has asked for 6 months in jail, of course she will only likely have to serve 4 months when early release is taken into account. The Judge reserved his decision.
(The fact these thefts have been going on for years may be enlightening to some people.)
- Jeffrey Hastings (22) recently completed a 9 month sentence for 71 Liquor Mart thefts. He was out of jail a grand total of 3 days before he was arrested stealing 3 bottles of vodka from a Portage Avenue Liquor Mart location. His lawyer admitted Hastings stole over $12,000 worth of liquor, much of it was resold. He was sentenced to an inconvenient 45 days in custody.
(Judge Dale Harvey declined to order restitution indicating it would be just “a waste of paper.”)
Its important to remember these three thieves only represent a relatively small percentage of Liquor Mart thefts. In mid September 2018 the WPS reported they’d already investigated a staggering 1,277 MLL thefts.
I expect that number is significantly higher in 2019.
Now it might be difficult to imagine but lets try…
Let’s try to imagine how many hours it took for Liquor Mart investigators to complete their part of these investigations, download & categorize the exceptional high quality digital video evidence, to complete the required detailed reports and prepare the investigative packages to turn over to police.
Now lets think about how much time it took for Major Crime Unit Investigators to review and process the video evidence, submit detailed lengthy police reports, conduct the necessary investigations, link the crimes together, track down the suspects, make & process the arrests and complete a court package for prosecution.
Now lets think about how much time the Crown Prosecutor had to spend organizing the files, contacting witnesses, preparing for trial, liaising with defense attorneys to attempt to resolve the cases and setting trial dates.
We aren’t done yet, we still have to pay for the defense attorneys parts in all this and cover the costs of the Judge, clerk and court time.
If you didn’t get where I was going, the costs associated to these files are astronomical.
So we have to ask the question, “What’s the point?”
It’s an undeniable fact, property crime has slowly become marginalized in our criminal justice system, there are very few consequences for committing property crimes and there are no real deterrents left for those inclined to commit property offences.
So again, we have to ask, “What’s the point?”
A Paralyzed Police Force
During the presser Chief Smyth reiterated his understanding of the Major Crimes Unit’s (MCU) mandate – a unit mandated to investigate serious crimes like robbery and sexual assault.
I couldn’t believe he actually said it.
It was a Freudian slip of epic proportions.
It seems Smyth clearly forgot that under his leadership the “Major Crimes Unit” somehow evolved into little more than a “Minor Crimes Unit,” a unit that became paralyzed at some point investigating hundreds of minor Liquor Mart thefts.
I heard from MCU investigators…their workload was insane, their frustration levels off the charts, their morale in the tank.
It was Danny Smyth who drove that bus.
In the spring of 2017, the MCU mandate dramatically broadened when Chief Smyth consolidated all investigative services under the MCU umbrella. That broadened mandate somehow included Liquor Mart theft investigations, crimes for which, as Pritchard’s article clearly lays out, have little criminal consequences for the offenders.
Simply put, experienced MCU crime fighters should never have been burdened with these theft investigations.
Someone in the chain of command should have interceded before Liquor Mart thefts reached the epidemic proportions they’ve reached.
It was a massive failure of leadership.
(The consolidation of investigative services had many other negative consequences previously articulated on our site.)
The criminal justice system, the revolving doors and the ridiculous increase in administrative obligations on police have added another debilitating layer of paralysis.
It’s become virtually impossible to keep offenders in jail.
That includes serial, habitual property and violent criminal offenders.
It’s an important part of the story.
I’ve been watching WPS press releases for some time now and have noted arrests are rarely made where an offender isn’t charged with some kind of breach of a court order.
It’s become insane.
The courts release offenders for virtually anything and everything in this modern era of jello pudding justice. They place conditions on the release of offenders who have no hope, inclination, intention or in many cases, even the ability to obey.
- Ordering an alcoholic or drug addict to abstain from alcohol or drugs – a condition that no criminal offender suffering from addiction could ever realistically obey. It’s a condition that has no basis in reality – addicts dont stop using because you tell them to, if only it could be that easy.
- Ordering a transient or homeless person, who has never lived in one place for more than a few weeks, to reside at a specific location
- Ordering someone who has never owned a telephone or smart phone to contact police and advise them of a change of address
- Ordering someone who has never had the ability to keep the peace or been of good behaviour to keep the peace and be of good behaviour
The list is not exhaustive but I think you get the idea.
The arrests are mind boggling;
- Leslie Contois – Fail to comply with conditions of recognizance x 18, Breach recognizance x 6
- Brent Vernon Arksey – Fail to comply with probation x 16 (2017)
- Brent Vernon Arksey – Fail to comply with conditions of recognizance x 14 (2016)
- Chase James Swampy – Fail to comply with probation order x 14
- Jonathan Wood – Breach recognizance x 13, Fail to comply with probation order x 4
This is just a small sample size but I have to ask you to think about something again…
Think about the administrative time it takes for a police officers to review, digest, coordinate and submit a court report containing up to 24 or more individual charges regarding court order breaches.
These orders create significant administrative obligations for police officers.
The rub…the majority of these charges end up being stayed by the Crown in plea bargains.
So I ask again, “Whats the point?”
Violent Offenders Rights Trump Victims Rights
I saved the most important topic for last.
I have far too many examples of this affront to victim’s rights but once again will focus on two recent, relevant, topical examples that are precisely on point.
In 2019, two Winnipeg residents were killed by violent criminal offenders who were granted their freedom after being charged with serious violent offences.
On September 21, 2019, Norma Helen Andrews (28) died after suffering severe upper body trauma at the hands of her alleged killer Jesse Jordan Gamblin (20) of Winnipeg.
In the aftermath of the killing, we learned Gamblin was charged with aggravated assault on March 13, 2019 after he’s alleged to have launched a horrific machete attack on a woman who offered him shelter when he was homeless. The woman was sleeping at the time of the attack and managed to escape through a window.
She suffered 10 stab wounds to her chest, torso, hands and pelvis that required a total of 20 staples and 5 sutures.
The Crown was opposed to his release citing his “horrible record for violence” however, his defense attorney argued for his release to the Behavioural Health Foundation (BHF), a long term residential program for people with addiction and co-occurring mental health issues.
The judge released Gamblin who subsequently walked away from the BHF.
Had he been in jail where he belonged, Norma Andrews would be alive today.
The second case shook our city.
On October 30, 2019, Hunter Haze Straight-Smith (3) was stabbed repeatedly in his bed as he lay sleeping. He died from his injuries on November 2nd.
In the aftermath, we learned his alleged killer, Daniel Jensen (33) was charged with assaulting the boy’s mother, Clarice Smith, at an undisclosed location on Main Street. After assaulting Smith, Jensen attended to an address on Pritchard Avenue where he attacked Hunter in an act of repugnant domestic violence vengeance.
Media accounts report that on July 20 of this year Jensen was charged with a total of four (4) criminal offences that included assault with a weapon and uttering threats to Smith.
(Jensen also has assault convictions from January 2018 and December 2017. He has additionally convictions for other less serious crimes.)
While its not clear how he secured his freedom, Jensen was released and issued a court order prohibiting him from having contact or communication with Smith.
That order, like many orders like it, are not worth the paper they’re written on if an offender chooses to disobey them.
Had Jensen been in jail where he belonged, little Hunter would still be alive today.
In both of these cases, and so many others like them, the rights of accused criminals came before the rights of victims and with little or no regard for public safety.
I’m going to suggest it would have been an easy call to keep both of these violent killers in jail until their incredibly violent, serious charges were properly dealt with.
That brings us to another topic.
In what other world could someone make a decision that effectively costs someone’s life and they suffer no consequence, no sanction, they don’t get fired or even lose a days pay.
I’ll let you think about that for a while.
In the final analysis the reallocation of up to seventy-four (74) police officers while impressive, is merely a stop gap measure aimed at replenishing depleted, overtired, stressed resources.
Again, this is a reactive plan that has no tangible proactive value.
This is a police agency playing catch up.
This is not a plan to quell the violence or reduce the property crime currently plaguing our city.
This is not a crime reduction strategy.
I’m still waiting to hear about that.