FROM THE MAYOR'S DESK: Annual Crime Statistics Underscore Need for Community Response

Winnipeg’s a growing city, and like any large urban center is not immune to the challenges of crime.

Our population is growing, our diversity is growing, and we continue to welcome and celebrate people of every race, religion, and creed.

We are a city built on the values of families from every corner of the globe.

Every Winnipegger deserves a chance to thrive and grow. We need to be a community that celebrates all those who choose Winnipeg as their home.

Most importantly, all Winnipeggers need to feel accepted and safe.

Some of the annual crime statistics released today are very concerning, and they underscore that many of our residents, in fact, do not feel accepted or safe.

Many of us know someone, have heard of someone, or have ourselves been victimized by crime.

It’s very traumatic.

And while everyone reacts differently, it results in a tremendous amount of emotional and psychological harm. And according to today’s statistics, it’s happening far too often.

At times like these, we often look for quick solutions. We look for quick responses. Quick fixes.

Some will point to poverty. Or homelessness. High school dropout rates. Drugs. Addictions. Mental health.

Others will say it’s a lack of health equity or a need for additional police funding.

I’m not sure there are any quick fixes or a single reason.

I do know addressing it requires a multidisciplinary and collaborative response, and that solutions and answers certainly do not rest entirely with our police service alone.

Chief Smythe has spoken about he and the Police Service see as contributing to increases in last year’s crime statistics.

One of those factors is the growing presence of meth.

Like any big city, Winnipeg’s not immune to the presence of illegal drugs on our streets.

Meth, however, is a powerful stimulant, highly addictive, and can present extremely unsafe situations for our residents as well as our police.

Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly present in our city.

And its presence is stretching the limits of support groups struggling to keep up with service demand.

However, through its Illicit Drug Strategy, our police are fighting back through increased enforcement, intervention, and education.

And by focusing on these three pillars, police and partner agencies are better positioned to educate people before they use illegal drugs, intervene with those currently using, and enforce the laws on those perpetuating the problem making our community and streets safer.

The statistics released today also show an increase in calls for service for police.

At June’s Police Board meeting, the Board received and reviewed the Winnipeg Police Service’s 2018 Environment for Policing Report.

This report offers a snapshot of the conditions and trends defining the current and future needs for policing in Winnipeg.

It looks at emerging trends related to population, the economy, technology, crime, and legislation.

The first factor identified in that report affecting the demand for police services was downloading.

Police are often called to respond to non-core policing activities.

I’m sure everyone understands how important it is that someone is there, 24-7, to answer a call for help when we need it most.

For some, you can’t put a price on that.

But, we need to ensure tax dollars invested in our police service are well invested and deliver good value.

We need to find ways to be more efficient in how resources are allocated.

Our police service, and those who serve as sworn officers, are the only ones who can legally enforce our laws.

But unfortunately, the reality today is that extensive, and expensive, police resources are being used for non-core policing activities.

According to the Winnipeg Police Board’s strategic plan, one-half to two-thirds of all calls for police are to deal with families in crisis, and individuals struggling with the challenges of mental health, medical, and substance abuse.

So, while calls for service are high, we need to be asking ourselves if police are the right resource to respond.

Handling these types of social issues requires us to think creatively and innovatively to reduce demands and downloading on police so they can do what only they can do: enforce our laws, arrest gang members, and investigate crimes.

The Winnipeg Police Board, under the leadership of David Asper, has ambitious goals aimed at increasing efficient and effective core policing activities.

We need to support them by working collaboratively with all levels of government to ensure the right resources… respond at the right time… and by the right agency.

As our city grows, the safety of our residents will remain paramount.

We can’t be deterred in our efforts to ensure all Winnipeggers feel accepted and safe.

We are making investments in additional security and policing.

Our police budget has increased every year over the last four years and is the largest it’s ever been.

As a city, we’re investing in social supports including the United Way’s Plan to end Homelessness, the Downtown BIZ’s Community Homeless Assistance Team (CHAT), and are increasing addictions treatment through the city's support for the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre.

We’re making greater use of downtown foot patrols.

We’re making greater use of security camera surveillance.

We’re making improvements to lighting.

We’re targeting high crime areas, like the Portage Place transit shelter.

We are working to make a difference, and it’s important we do that collaboratively and strategically.