Winnipeg is dying.
Well, not exactly, but it wouldn’t be an overstatement to suggest our Police Service is in critical condition.
If you haven’t seen the mini-documentary “Seattle is Dying” you should set aside sixty minutes and watch it. It’s a compelling piece of journalism that centers on the destruction of a once beautiful city.
Some suggest it’s a story about homelessness but it really isn’t, it’s a story about the destructive powers of drug addiction, public disorder, politics, the marginalization of crime and the demise of law enforcement.
I view it as an ominous warning.
Many of the conditions explored in the documentary are currently present in Winnipeg and many other Canadian cities.
(If it wasn’t for our frigid winters I have no doubt the challenges facing our city would be just as devastating, or worse, than the issues facing Seattle.)
If the depressing information released in the 2018 WPS Annual Statistical Report isn’t enough to convince you, maybe the statistics regarding the Bear Clan Patrol’s discarded syringe numbers might move you.
In 2017, the Bear Clan Patrol collected a total of 4,000 discarded syringes, that number grew in 2018 to 40,000 and has ballooned to 60,000 at the midway point of this year.
When you combine the Statistical Report and the discarded syringe numbers there is no doubt, the City of Winnipeg is in the midst of a crime and addiction crisis.
If you’re not convinced by the outrageous crime stats, the discarded syringe numbers or the methamphetamine crisis, maybe the frustrations expressed by serving and retired crime-fighting police officers will help you get there.
During a recent press conference, Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth and his boss at 510 Main Street, Mayor Brian Bowman conceded we’re experiencing epidemic crime and addiction issues.
They then proceeded to lay the blame directly at the feet of Premier Brian Pallister and his government.
All this in front of a media gallery who, intentionally or otherwise, neglected to ask one single question regarding accountability.
The most important question that wasn’t asked…
How did we get here?
A Philosophical Response to Crime
The WPS response to crime underwent a dramatic philosophical metamorphosis when Devon Clunis was appointed Chief of Police in November of 2012.
The Police Service took a dramatic left turn when the new mantra became;
“Crime prevention through social development.”
Clunis believed the WPS had to be catalysts for social change and was committed to a community based holistic approach, an approach he conceded could take between five to ten years to achieve tangible results.
“We are police officers, not social workers. I think the experiment failed. Its’ time for us to get back to policing and let the social workers do the social work.” – Serving Veteran Officer
Clunis left the Police Service in July of 2016.
Do the math.
When he announced his retirement, he said his purpose had been fulfilled.
His statement and departure left many people in law enforcement circles scratching their heads.
On November 4, 2016, Danny Smyth was officially sworn in as the new Winnipeg Police Chief.
During his acceptance speech, Smyth placed heavy emphasis on several important aspects of policing;
- he declared the WPS was no longer a reactive Police Service
- he spoke of the importance of technology and its impact on policing
- he declared the WPS had become intelligence-led and could now deploy resources smarter and faster than ever before
- he declared community and community engagement would continue to be a priority for the Police Service
His road has been a rocky one.
The report card not so great.
With the exception of the Homicide Unit, WPS solve rates are trending significantly downwards.
Violent crime and property crime are spiking.
So what happened to proactive, smart policing and the rapid deployment of resources?
I’ll tell you what happened, the destruction of the WPS Investigative Units happened.
Those chickens seem to be coming home to roost.
So how do we fix it?
The Road to Recovery
The road to recovery requires ownership, accountability, leadership and vision, all things I heard little of when the WPS released their 2018 Annual Statistical Report.
“It’s just bad management and nothing else, get back to the basics.” – Retired Front-Line Officer
Blame is not vision, blame is not accountability, blame is not leadership and blame is not a plan.
The WPS is in crisis mode and needs to desperately change course.
The change need not be radical.
So how do we get the WPS off the critical list and back to stable?
The remedy could be the implementation of some or all of the following initiatives;
- Establishing a New Philosophy
- Reinforcing the Frontline
- Decentralizing Investigative Services
- Creating a Quick Response Crime Reduction Unit
Let’s explore each of these initiatives…
Establishing a New Philosophy
I agree that the “crime reduction through social development” experiment has failed.
“You know, its got to the point where we really aren’t good at anything anymore. Calls sit in the queue forever, people get pissed off at us and I don’t even blame them.” – Serving Front-Line Officer
The time has come for the WPS to adopt a new philosophy.
That philosophy has to center on protecting life, property and enforcing the law.
I also agree that police are not social workers and have to get out of the social work business.
As members of the community who work the front lines of societal dysfunction, police can and must continue to be catalysts for change. They have to share timely, relevant information with the social agencies who are responsible for addressing societal issues like – homelessness, addiction, mental health, missing youths, chronic runaways, prostitution, and gang crime.
The WPS has to start holding external agencies accountable when their lack of responsibility begins to affect their operational effectiveness as we’ve seen in the past with Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries and Child & Family Services.
That accountability has to start before investigators become completely overwhelmed.
In 2014, Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu (retired) pushed responsibility back to social agencies when he decried, “I used to say that the police were the mental health response agency of last resort. Now I say the police are increasingly becoming the mental health response agency of first resort.”
It seems Chief Chu was somewhat of a visionary.
“We’re getting buried, there’s no end in sight, the caseloads are ridiculous, people are overwhelmed, it’s a shit show.” – Serving Veteran Police Investigator
WPS Staff Sergeant Robert Chrismas, author of Canadian Policing in the 21st Century, once said:
“Police didn’t create crime or poverty,” but went on to say it seems many people assess blame as if they had.
He also pointed out the Police Service employs approximately 1,500 officers while the Health Care Industry in our Province employs up to 30,000 people. (Income assistance, child welfare, housing, addiction, mental health service et al)
The time has come for the WPS to change lanes.
It’s time for the WPS to start pushing back.
Problem – a Police Service who has lost its true purpose, who are spread to thin, who’ve become ineffective
Solution – Establish a new philosophy, focus on core functions
Reinforce the Front-line
The health of any police organization can be measured by the health of the front-line.
The front-line in Winnipeg has been suffering for years now.
Calls for service, 911 calls, and non-emergency calls continue to grow year over year.
Calls in the WPS dispatch queue often balloon to up to 300 calls and seldom if ever get reduced to zero. That means front-line police officers are running their assess off every day, every hour, every minute and every second of the day.
“I remember when there were no calls in the queue, although rare, and now that’s absolutely unheard of. Just think of the problems that would be solved if GP (General Patrol) was actually managed properly. The WPS has in excess of 1,000 Constables, less than half work in GP.” – Retired Front-Line Veteran
How can a Police Service be proactive if the front-line can never quite seem to catch up?
“I would say about every 2nd call I get has something to do with meth,” one officer recently told me.
Front-line officers are often pulled from shifts to backfill Specialty Units or staff new initiatives. The front-line is in a constant state of instability, it’s short-staffed and resource-challenged.
Assaults on front-line officers are becoming more frequent.
Officers feel unsupported and burned out.
Discretionary time off is becoming extremely rare.
I’m hearing morale on the front-line is at an all-time low.
There’s an urgent need to properly staff and support the front-line, it simply has to be done. If that means re-deployment or the re-classification of certain police positions or functions then so be it.
Just do it.
Problem – Front-line short-staffed, resource-challenged, under-supported, overwhelmed by call volume
Solution – Properly staff, support & strengthen the front-line
Decentralize Investigative Services
The first step in any recovery process is admitting you have a problem.
“The pressure on the Chief and the Executive to cut costs and do more with less is immense, but now we are seeing the effects, that’s what created this breaking point.” – Serving Veteran Officer
That might not be easy for Danny Smyth.
In the spring of 2017, the WPS consolidated all criminal investigative services under one umbrella, the Major Crimes Unit.
It was Smyth’s call.
(Serving officers tell us the primary motive for the move was to save significant dollars but stress the costs in terms of sacrifice to quality of service and operational ability are immeasurable.)
When I heard the news I immediately made the prediction property crime in Winnipeg would soon reach unprecedented levels. It was an easy call to make considering the move meant the WPS essentially declared Winnipeg an open city for property offenders.
Those of us with experience knew what the ramifications would be.
The Major Crime Sergeants would have to place their highest priority on violent crime.
“It’s the worst I have ever seen it during my entire career, investigations are heading in a horrible direction, the trickle-down effect from the move (centralizing investigative units) will progressively cause more and more problems, saving money was the only thing that mattered with this.” – Serving Veteran Officer
Where would that leave property crime?
Nowhere, or at least, almost nowhere.
The centralization of these crime-fighting units had major implications for property crime across the city.
(Look no further than the 2018 Annual Statistical Report for the smoking gun.)
The move had other negative consequences.
- it removed criminal investigative units from the communities they were serving creating a major disconnect between the police investigators and the area residents
- it removed crime-fighting ownership from the Districts
- it reduced crime-fighting effectiveness by taking investigations out of the hands of the officers who had intimate knowledge of the criminal landscape and players in their areas
- it eliminated an important training ground for front line District police officers to gain their first exposure to plainclothes criminal investigations, a bigger picture issue but an important one nonetheless
(The noted list is not exhaustive.)
Problem – Property crime spiking, solvency rates poor and trending downward, policing model ineffective, inefficient, the WPS has once again become a reactive agency
Solution – Immediately decentralize investigative services consolidated in 2017, revert back to proactive, intelligence-led, smart policing models
Create Quick Response Crime Reduction Unit
Devon Clunis coined the phrase, Danny Smyth adopted it & Brian Bowman endorsed it.
“We can’t arrest our way out of these problems.”
Well, maybe the WPS should start trying.
Winnipeg has a crime problem.
We can endlessly debate the causes, but at the end of the day, criminals are the ones committing the crimes.
Police are supposed to enforce the laws and protect life and property.
It’s time to get back to the basics.
The WPS needs to focus on its core function – enforcement of the law and stopping criminals from committing criminal acts.
The ugly numbers in the 2018 WPS Annual Statistical Report don’t have to be our reality.
We don’t have to accept 2019 will be worse.
We have to own our problems, be accountable and act.
“I don’t need sympathy from the Chief, but it would sure be nice to see some leadership, some direction, and some meaningful support.” – Serving Veteran Officer
The problem is out of control crime.
The solution is to arrest and stop the perpetrators.
It’s up to the Crown, the Courts and Government (Social Agencies) to take it from there.
(If you watched Seattle is Dying you should’ve noted many addicted offenders looked back at their arrests as interventions, some suggested their arrest saved their lives. I’ve received similar feedback from Winnipeg offenders.)
The creation of a Quick Response Crime Reduction Unit (QRCRU) is precisely what is needed to deal with our unprecedented crime problem.
The timing has never been better.
The Chief, Mayor & Premier all concede we’re in a crisis.
There’s an election coming.
The methamphetamine and crime crisis are election issues.
The Chief of Police has to take advantage of the situation and lobby for the additional resources to deal with the crisis.
There’s no time for excuses, make it happen.
The Quick Response Crime Reduction Unit
The QRCRU would consist of approximately twenty-four (24) highly motivated crime-fighting police officers led by an experienced motivated Sergeant with an extensive crime-fighting resume.
The unit would require a dedicated crime analyst and affiant.
(The staffing of the unit cannot come at the expense of the front-line.)
The mandate would be extremely broad but would exclude drug, firearm & gang specific investigations to avoid cross over with the recently formed Guns & Gang Unit.
They would vigorously pursue active, habitual or serial offenders utilizing the assistance of a crime analyst to take a proactive smart policing approach.
The QRCRU would investigate any crime, anywhere at any time and could include;
- Strong-arm robbery investigations or projects
- Commercial or Residential B&E investigations or projects (River Heights)
- Manitoba Liquor Mart investigations or projects
- Commercial shoplifting investigations or projects
- Stolen property investigations or projects
- Theft investigations or projects
- Transit assault investigations or projects
- Bicycle theft investigations or projects
- Aggressive pan-handling investigations or projects
- Under-cover investigations or projects
(The noted crimes include many categories where we’ve seen significant spikes but the list is by no means exhaustive.)
I have no doubt this kind of unit, whether a temporary or permanent measure, would have a major impact on crime reduction and would dramatically alter the current negative trends we are experiencing.
The results would be astonishing.
Problem – Out of control crime
Solution – Establish the Quick Response Crime Reduction Unit, reduce crime