Murders are at an all time high. Assaults, robberies and theft are rampant. Our streets are more unsafe than in recent memory. Retailers are being robbed daily. Homeowners are having their personal property vandalised and stolen. In the minds of many their homes are no longer a place of security.
The question is, what are we going to do? Are we going to wring our hands and bemoan this current sad state of affairs or are we going to demand action?
The problem is, even if enough people got together and demanded action who do we direct such a demand to? Our Mayor and City Councillors who are responsible for the oversight of policing in Winnipeg? The Police Board or the Police Service? Or should we go straight to the Chief of Police?
The 2015-2019 Winnipeg Police Service Strategic Plan outlined four goals and objectives for that time period. The Police Service’s mission statement is, “Build safe and healthy communities across Winnipeg through excellence in law enforcement and leadership in crime prevention through social development”. The specific goals are stated as, “less crime and victimization, engaged communities, effective and efficient service and a healthy organization”.
The goals sound laudable enough but when the entire approach is predicated on the flawed strategy of “crime prevention through social development”, the chances of success are limited. One has only to look at what is happening on our streets and to look at the crime statistics. The goals are not being achieved. The crime rate is rising, calls for service are increasing, and response times are suffering.
Our Mayor seems totally preoccupied with the budget — limiting the size of any tax increase and cutting services is the order of the day. Nobody wants to pay higher taxes but by the same token nobody (except the criminals) wants to see a continuation of the lawlessness we see on our streets, in our stores and even in private homes. The Mayor and the Police Service seem to be in lockstep doing the crime prevention through social development and addressing root causes two step. Its not working and the public is getting tired of hearing the same music and watching our leaders dance the same dance.
The time is right for our leaders to dig deep and reassess how Winnipeg is policed, and how it should be policed. The recently announced study being conducted in conjunction with Harvard University is a step in the right direction. Our police officers have become so entangled performing tasks that fall outside the scope of policing that there is limited time to concentrate on their primary mission. We need to decide what we want our police to do.
Back in 1974 when the eight municipal police departments were amalgamated into the Winnipeg Police Department (as it was then known), every officer was issued with a set of regulations that governed the police and outlined what their function was. It outlined the primary objectives of the Police Department as: “The safety of the lives and property of citizens, The preservation of peace and good order, The prevention of crime, The detection of offenders, The enforcement of the laws”.
The reason I believe we are at a crossroads is because we have wandered a long way from those objectives outlined in the early 70’s. We must decide what we want from our police. Do we want our police officers to be social engineers? Do we want our approach to crime prevention to be based on a social development strategy? Do we want to task our police officers with the job of addressing the root causes of crime?
We need our police officers to get back to the basics: keeping citizens and their property safe, preserving peace and order, preventing crime, arresting offenders and enforcing the law.