Violent crime spike prompts Winnipeg police to re-assign front lines; will impact public services

Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth talks about the strain officers are under during the recent spike in crime.

With Winnipeg on the verge of a record-breaking number of homicides and an uptick in violent crime and brazen thefts, the Winnipeg Police Service says it is making changes to several units.

Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth said Friday there will be “adjustments” to the Major Crimes, Station Duty, Traffic and Community Relations units starting Monday.

“Forty homicides in 2019, 11 in the past month alone has created a situation that has stretched our reactive capability to the limit,” wrote Smyth in an internal memo, obtained by Global News Friday morning.

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Those changes include reassigning some officers from the traffic and community relations to General Patrol, including the downtown foot patrol.

Officers assigned to Project Devote, a unit specially designed to work on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women cold cases, will be moved into the Major Crimes Unit. Officers in the Critical Incident Stress Management division will also be moved to Major Crimes.

“We’re going to pull back temporarily for right now,” said Smyth at the press conference.

Station Duty offices will be moved downtown to headquarters, said Smyth, adding “and we anticipate higher visibility from our Guns and Gangs and Tactical Response Units.”

Smyth noted the changes would have an impact on public services.

“This means there will be a reduction in traffic enforcement, and a reduction in the checkstop program,” he said Friday, and said other programs like school education and other crime prevention programs will be reduced. The hours the headquarters are open to the public will also go down.

“It will also mean the temporary closing, of the stations in east, west and in the North End,” he said. “The public … they’ll be directed to HQ for the time being.

“These changes I think are necessary so we can address the health and wellness of our front line officers who have been put under a tremendous amount of strain.”

At the press conference, Smyth said the changes would be short-term.

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“Our community is reeling, our organization is reeling,” he said.

“The level of violence, the level of property crime, it’s bad. It’s alarming for all of us. Violent and property crime are well above the five year averages we’ve been experiencing … We know that crime and policing are top of mind.

As of Friday morning, the Community Relations information page was no longer accessible. The community relations unit includes the Block Parent Program, Citizens on Patrol, Community Volunteers, Crime prevention, Diversity relations, Neighbourhood Watch, School Education and Victim Services.

“The Executive Management Team will reassess these changes in mid-January,” wrote Smyth in the memo.

Mayor Brian Bowman deferred to the WPS when asked how he felt about the changes.

“The Mayor supports the Chief of Police in making operational decisions he deems appropriate,” he said in a statement.

Many city councillors applauded Winnipeg police on the move.

“Something had to give, the calls for service are up and as a result there’s more general patrols needed, and this is a response to that,” Winnipeg deputy mayor Markus Chambers said. Chambers is also the vice-chair of the Winnipeg Police Board.

“We often forget that we’re all seeing the crime and we’re feeling it, but they’re (police) dealing with it every day and they’re out there every day, and I think it shows you where our resources are at,” Winnipeg Police Board chair Kevin Klein said. “So now we have to take them from other areas of the service and put them on front line duties and investigations, so I think it was a great example of allocating resources as necessary, but there’s a cost.”

A cost that is a concern among some city councillors. Coun. Ross Eadie says although he supports the move by Winnipeg police, he is concerned about taking resources away from other areas.

“I’m concerned, this is what I was concerned about going into the future, that this escalating crime means we’re going to deal mostly with response, not proactive policing,” Eadie said.

“So I am concerned about that, but the chief is doing what he needs to do here.”

The Winnipeg School Division will see the bulk of the crime prevention officer reductions, but said they support the WPS for now.

“The details of changes to the WPS education program have yet to be reviewed by the Division, however, we respect the WPS decision and need to redirect its resources, hopefully for the short term as the in-school programs are also important for crime prevention,” said spokesperson Radean Carter.

The City of Winnipeg has seen a spike in violent crime in 2018 and 2019, with homicide 40 on Nov. 4. The record, set in 2011, was 41.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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