Winnipeg violence focus of phone call between mayor, prime minister –

Winnipeg violence focus of phone call between mayor, prime minister -
Violent crime spike prompts Winnipeg police to re-assign front lines; will impact public services
The surge of violence in Winnipeg was a main topic of conversation during a phone conversation between Mayor Brian Bowman and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday night. 

Bowman posted a tweet shortly after the talk, saying Trudeau called and the mayor appreciated the opportunity to discuss public safety and the need for all levels of government to work together.

Smyth said to deal with a spike in homicides officers have been pulled from integrated projects with the RCMP, including Project Devote — a task force focussed on missing and murdered cases involving exploited victims — and a joint intelligence unit. In total, 74 officers have been redeployed.

The mayor also stressed the need for the timely implementation of the national illicit drug task force recommendations, a spokesperson from Bowman's office said.

He also said to assign more officers to general patrol and foot patrols downtown, traffic enforcement will be reduced and the checkstop program will be scaled back, three community police stations will close to the public temporarily, and school-based education programs will be reduced.

"In addition, the mayor will be following up with Minister Bill Blair to discuss other public safety measures," an email from the spokesperson said. Blair is a former Toronto police chief and currently Canada's minister of border security and organized crime reduction.

District police stations in east, west and north Winnipeg will close to the public temporarily and people who come there will be sent downtown. The hours of service at the downtown police headquarters will also be reduced, to be open between 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.

Earlier in the week, Bowman said it was time for him, Trudeau and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister to meet face-to-face-to-face.

An in-person summit "is absolutely warranted to ensure we are as aligned as possible, to co-ordinate our resources in ways that will make a meaningful difference in the short and long term in our community," Bowman said at the time.

The Winnipeg Police Service is going through a rapid reorganization that will see stations close to the public temporarily, officers pulled from a joint task force, and traffic enforcement reduced as police cope with a spike in violent and property crime.

"The victims and their families don't care what level of government is going to help. Something has got to change, and change is difficult, but that means we need to scrutinize how we allocate our resources."

Smyth said the changes are needed to address a backlog of cases and the health and wellness of our frontline officers who have been put under a tremendous amount of strain."

Bowman said during the call Thursday the two leaders "committed to meeting in person as soon as our schedules can accommodate."

In response to Bowman's tweet, Trudeau posted one himself, saying "keeping our communities safe is our top priority" and promising to work together "to reduce violence in Winnipeg and across Canada."

Every category of violent crime has gone up this past year, with the exception of arson, said Chief Danny Smyth, with the Winnipeg Police Service.

Pallister — the first of the western provincial leaders to meet with Trudeau since the Oct. 21 federal election — said on Tuesday the topic of violence in Winnipeg would definitely "be on the agenda."

We cant keep scrambling the way we have been, Smyth said. We have never had this many homicides in such a short period of time.

Winnipeg is in the middle of what police have called an unprecedented rash of violence, with 11 homicides in 30 days. The city has had 40 homicides so far this year, just two away from establishing a new record.

Smyth said property crime has been reported in every area of the city, and mentioned brazen thefts at liquor and other stores.

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WPS Chief Danny Smyth addresses the media regarding the recent violent incidents in Winnipeg. (Jamie Dowsett/CTV News)

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.

READ MORE: Winnipeg group calls for less policing, more community resources following recent violence

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.

Police say in total 74 officers are being reassigned to the other areas of focus at this time – to deal with backlogs and the spike in violent crime in #Winnipeg

“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.”

“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.

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

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.

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.