Imagine the CEO of a publicly-traded company attending the annual shareholders meeting and delivering the news the companies stock was in free-fall.
Then imagine the CEO telling them things were only going to get worse.
Now picture the shareholders sitting there, accepting the dreadful news, and not asking a single question in terms of accountability.
It happened last week, right here in Winnipeg.
The CEO was Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth.
The company was the Winnipeg Police Service and the shareholders were…well us, all of us.
The event was a press conference held at Police HQ where Chief Smyth and his boss, Mayor Brian Bowman, shared the podium to release the WPS 2018 Annual Statistical Report.
The fact the Mayor was in attendance was telling.
The news was not so good.
2018 Statistical Report
- Violent Crime – up 18% over the 5-year average
- Robbery – up 45% 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
There were a number of specific crimes that saw a troubling year over year increase.
The big movers were reported as follows;
- Firearm Offences – 45% increase
- Robbery Offences – 10% increase
- B&E Offences – 19% increase
- Possess Stolen Goods – 24% increase
- Theft of Motor Vehicle – 21% increase
- Theft Over $5,000 – 18% increase
- Theft Under $5,000 – 28% increase
- Fraud Offences – 23% increase
The numbers are gross, especially when you consider the targets published in the 2016 WPS Business Plan.
This was a miss of colossal proportions.
The question we have to ask is, “What’s going on here?”
Chief Smyth largely blamed the methamphetamine crisis for the increase in crime and levelled pointed criticism at the feet of the Provincial Government for what he described as an inadequate response to the methamphetamine epidemic.
“Two years ago I sounded the alarm that meth was harming our community,” Smyth said.
He did, I remember, he definitely did.
Mayor Bowman supported Smyth and joined him in levelling criticism at the Provincial Government.
There you have it.
Winnipeg’s crime epidemic can be largely blamed on the methamphetamine crisis and the Provincial Government’s inadequate response to deal with the issue.
Is it really that simple?
Is there more to the story?
Of course there is…
The Blame Game
I’m sorry, but pointing the finger at the Provincial Government is far too easy, so is attributing all of our crime problems to the methamphetamine crisis.
It’s all about degrees.
No-one can deny the fact crime and addiction are inextricably linked.
It’s been that way for decades.
The only thing that changes is the drug of choice.
I personally witnessed the evolution from talwin & ritalin, to crack cocaine and now methamphetamine.
When I started my career in law enforcement over thirty (30) years ago it took me all of a minute to see addiction was a major driver of crime.
Most people would agree that crime is a complex issue.
What Chief Smyth & Mayor Bowman didn’t talk about were some of the not so complex issues that got us here…
Like the evolution of criminal justice and the marginalization of property crime for example.
Criminal Justice & the Marginalization of Property Crime
Slowly, with the passage of time, meaningful consequences for property crime became passe.
It was kind of like…drip, drip, drip…
Right or wrong, the courts evolved to a place where much less emphasis is placed on incarcerating property offenders.
(The violent crime epidemic may have something to do with that.)
Property offenders, like no other, enjoy the benefits of the revolving doors of justice.
Here’s the rub…
Approximately 4 times the number of people in our city are affected by property crime versus violent crime.
In 2018, the WPS reported a total of 10,453 violent crimes versus a total of 44,825 property crimes.
The important thing to remember is that every single one of these crimes represents a person or persons who’ve suffered some form of loss.
In 2018, a total of 5,900 individuals were charged with a property crime.
The sentences these offenders receive are typically soft and frequently consist of time served, probation or some other form of minor sanction that never quite seems to amount to a deterrent.
The offenders are released back to the streets with no plan, no treatment and no hope of breaking the cycle – rinse, spin and repeat.
Winnipeg residents are becoming frustrated, angry and feel abandoned. Communities are taking matters into their own hands, patrolling the streets and using social media platforms to organize in their efforts to fight crime.
It shouldn’t have to come to this.
The lack of consequences for property crime is definitely a major factor.
In 2018, “lack of consequences” became a major theme at Manitoba Liquor Marts.
Manitoba Liquor Mart & Retail Thefts
In 2018, the WPS Public Information Office took the extraordinary step of holding a press conference that could be better described as a public shaming of the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Corporation.
It was a highly unusual step.
In the 3rd quarter of 2018, the WPS disclosed they had received 1,182 reports of thefts that had taken place at Manitoba Liquor Marts.
Habitual criminals rejoiced while members of the WPS Major Crimes Unit found themselves paralyzed with literally hundreds of reports to investigate.
The situation created lawlessness and elevated the danger for both customers and staff at the Liquor Mart locations.
Unfortunately, the disease spread to other retail outlets.
The net results were an increase of 28% for theft under $5,000 offences in the City of Winnipeg in 2018.
In 2018, Winnipeg Police Officers had to deal with a total of 7,007 more property crimes than the previous year.
On March 21, 2019, the MLL announced enhanced strategies to target Liquor Mart theft, in fact, they claimed the initiative resulted in 113 arrests since October 2018.
The enhanced strategies included hiring Special Duty WPS Officers to arrest people who commit theft at some of the frequently targeted Liquor Marts.
In the postscript, should our criticism be limited to just the leadership at Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries?
How is it the situation got so far out of control?
Didn’t anyone see it coming?
How is it we let the Major Crimes Unit get buried with these theft cases before any alarm bells rang?
A more important question might be, “Why is the Major Crime Unit investigating theft under offences in the first place?”
The answer offers some much-needed insight.
The Deconstruction of WPS Investigative Services
I’m going to respectfully suggest we can do a better job when it comes to fighting crime.
I won’t just say it.
I’ll make the case.
Look no further than the WPS Major Crimes Unit (MCU) and the Liquor Mart thefts.
The WPS Major Crimes Unit was once an elite crime-fighting unit that was largely considered a training ground for the next big step up the investigative ladder, the Homicide Unit.
It’s important to give some thought to the MCU mandate as published in the 2013 CPA WPS Operational Review Report;
- Robbery Investigations – Financial Institutions, Commercial Businesses
- Robbery Investigations – involving firearms or serious injury
- Crimes Against Persons – Abductions, Kidnappings, Extortion, Home Invasions, Hostage Takings, Firearm Discharges with criminal intent, Violent crime with life-threatening injuries, serious gang crime
- Violent Crimes – where serious injuries have occurred
- High Profile Crime
- Hate Crimes
- Police-Involved Shootings – in support of the Homicide Unit, now under the mandate of the Manitoba IIU
- Homicide – in support of the Homicide Unit where required
There was a reason why the unit was called “Major“ Crimes.
(I worked in the Major Crimes Unit for 3 1/2 years and can tell you the experience gained there, working high-profile crime, set me up for a highly successful career as a homicide investigator & supervisor.)
Theft under $5,000 is not a “major” crime, in fact, it is very much a minor crime, one that, as I’ve explained, has been very much marginalized.
So how does the WPS Major Crimes Unit become paralyzed investigating hundreds of Liquor Mart thefts?
We can’t blame methamphetamine for that, can we?
Here’s where institutional knowledge helps.
In the spring of 2017, the WPS consolidated all criminal investigative services under one umbrella, the Major Crimes Unit.
When I heard the news I immediately thought of the iconic Don McLean song, “The Day the Music Died,” only in terms of the law enforcement world, I saw it as the day property crimes investigation died.
Those of us who’ve played the game knew what the ramifications would be.
Think about it…
What crimes would be a priority for the new “centralized” unit?
The answer was obvious, violent crime of course.
The Sergeants in the new unit would have to triage the crime and properly place their collective priorities on violent crime, but where does that leave property crime investigations?
The answer is nowhere, or at least, almost nowhere.
Now the 19% year over year increase and the 44% increase in the 5-year average for property crime rates start to make more sense.
The centralization of crime-fighting units 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 worked in the Districts and had intimate knowledge of the criminal landscape in their communities
- it eliminated an important training ground for front line District police officers to gain their first exposure to plainclothes criminal investigations, this is a bigger picture issue but an important one nonetheless
(The noted list is not exhaustive.)
If the argument thus far has not moved you, consider the smoking gun released in the 2018 WPS Annual Statistical Report.
Solve rates are important.
They tell us how we’re doing.
When you look at the WPS trending solve rates the story isn’t good.
(Homicide Unit solvency rates remain strong and average an impressive 90% clearance rate over the last twenty years.)
Leaders in the WPS should be doing some serious reflection on these numbers. They should be asking themselves questions, but more importantly, they should be listening to the people who do the work.
This is where the biggest disconnect usually exists, the lines of communication between the front line and the decision-makers.
I can tell you what I’ve heard;
“We’re getting buried, there’s no end in sight, the caseloads are ridiculous, people are overwhelmed, it’s a shit show.”
It’s a common theme.
That brings us to another important measuring stick.
Another vital piece where we seem to be failing.
I’ve heard from several officers that the situation is critical, morale is in the tank and there is little hope.
The response from the man at the top, “Please hang in there.”
As the Chief’s empathetic pleas made the rounds on social media, at least one Twitter follower made an important observation;
“Please hang in there, “isn’t actually a strategy that will help the front line officers.”
A valid point I thought.
As a veteran WPS officer put it, “I don’t need sympathy from the Chief, but it would sure be nice to see some leadership, some direction, and some meaningful support.”
It will always be leadership and only leadership that helps the WPS emerge from this mess.
Forget the blame game.
When WPS Chief Devon Clunis took the top job at 151 Princess Street he attempted a radical departure from traditional law enforcement with his, “crime prevention through social development,” strategy.
Chief Clunis had very little background in the criminal investigative branch with the WPS.
Chief Danny Smyth was a respected narcotics investigator and undercover officer with experience in uniform operations, intelligence, organized crime, and administration. He was also a respected tactical team member.
In 2006, he received a Masters Degree in Organizational Development.
Some suggest the WPS needs to take a definitive departure from the Clunis approach and get back to the core function of policing, that is, proactive crime reduction, crime investigation and the pursuit and arrest of criminal offenders.
Some say its time for the police to stop being social workers.
Others suggest we are in desperate need of a Police Chief with an extensive crime-fighting background.
What do you think?
Share your thoughts.