Winnipeg Free Press characterization of citizens as vigilantes grossly unfair

The Winnipeg Free Press has taken the position that action by citizens to stop the thieves stealing liquor form Liquor Marts, by making citizen arrests, amounts to vigilantism.

 

Quotes from the Editorial in the October 30, 2019 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press, entitled, Liquor store theft demands complex, costly solutions, stated,

“A second dangerous development is that some citizens have taken the law into their own hands — literally — and tackled and subdued thieves until police arrive.”

“But when it seems that criminals can offend without consequence, some people feel the state has reneged on its end of the deal, and a few frustrated citizens will turn to vigilantism.”

 

An article in the October 31st. 2019 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press an article, Provinces team up against liquor theft, written by Katie May stated,

Here in Winnipeg, police recently warned residents against vigilante justice as local Liquor Marts continue to log between 10 and 20 thefts daily.”

 

What is vigilantism and vigilante justice?

The word ‘vigilante’ has Spanish origins.  It means, to watch or guard.  In other words, to be vigilant.  The word became common in English usage during the 19th century and referred to groups or individuals that attempted to summarily suppress or punish crime outside of established legal boundaries.

In today’s terms, vigilantes are individuals who operate without legal authority and are in fact breaking the law.  Vigilante justice is the act of ‘enforcing’ laws without authority to do so and without regard to due process and the rule of law — again, an illegal activity.

That raises the question, what are citizens in Canada allowed to do and what authority are they granted in terms of intervening when they witness a crime being committed?

Citizen powers of arrest are dealt with under Section 494 of the Criminal Code of Canada:

  • 494 (1) Any one may arrest without warrant:
    • (a)a person whom he finds committing an indictable offence; or
    • (b)a person who, on reasonable grounds, he believes
      • (i) has committed a criminal offence; and
      • (ii)is escaping from and freshly pursued by persons who have lawful authority to arrest that person.
    • (2) The owner or a person in lawful possession of property, or a person authorized by the owner or by a person in lawful possession of property, may arrest a person without a warrant if they find them committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property; and
      • (a)they make the arrest at that time; or
      • (b)they make the arrest within a reasonable time after the offence is committed and they believe on reasonable grounds that it is not feasible in the circumstances for a peace officer to make the arrest.
    • (3) Any one other than a peace officer who arrests a person without warrant shall forthwith deliver the person to a peace officer.

(4) For greater certainty, a person who is authorized to make an arrest under this section is a person who is authorized by law to do so for the purposes of section 25.

The reference to Section 25 of the Criminal Code is also of importance as it authorizes the use of force by citizens when making a citizen’s arrest:

 

Protection of persons acting under authority

  • 25 (1) Everyone who is required or authorized by law to do anything in the administration or enforcement of the law
    • (a)as a private person,
    • (b)as a peace officer or public officer,
    • (c)in aid of a peace officer or public officer, or
    • (d)by virtue of his office,

is, if he acts on reasonable grounds, justified in doing what he is required or authorized to do and in using as much force as is necessary for that purpose.

In layman’s words, here is what these two sections of the Criminal Code mean:

— A citizen who sees an indictable offence being committed (theft, for example, is an indictable offence) has the legal authority to make a citizen arrest.  The important thing is that the citizen must see the actual commission of the offence.  A citizen could not, for example, arrest a suspect whom he recognizes from a video as having committed an offence in the past (police, however, do have the authority to arrest a suspect in that instance).

— If a citizen is acting lawfully and making a citizen arrest, he/she may use force to do so.  The force used must be reasonable in terms of the circumstance.

— Once a citizen makes an arrest there is an obligation to turn the arrested person over to police ‘forthwith’.  In the case of Liquor store thefts that would means there is an obligation to contact police as soon as practicable after such an arrest is made so that police can take custody of the suspect and process the suspect through the criminal justice system.

Citizens, acting within the law and arresting thieves at Liquor Marts are not vigilantes.  They are exemplary citizens who take citizenship seriously.  They should be commended not denigrated.

The circumstance such as the number of suspects, their attitude and whether you are alone with a group of people, and your age and capabilities are determining factors in terms of whether you should get involved when you see an offence being committed.

That brings me to the second point in the above-mentioned mention Free Press editorial:

The nature of liquor store larceny sparks controversy because it appears the thieves are stealing with impunity.  A defining characteristic of a country such as Canada is that when crimes are committed against people and property, good citizens agree to let the state handle it and criminals get busted.”

That in a nutshell is precisely what has plagued policing for at least half a century if not longer.  What the editorial is referencing is what is referred to as the ‘professional model of policing’, which was based on three tenets: random patrols, rapid response to calls for service, and reactive criminal investigation.

Under this model the role of citizens is reduced to reporting crime, after the fact.  There is no cohesion between citizens and the police and no sense of working together toward a common cause or goal.  It is more like a contractual financial agreement; citizens pay taxes and in return receive services.  That may be an acceptable model for refuse collection but not for policing.

It was this model which resulted in alienation between the police and the public and removed the public from the crime prevention equation that led many community groups from the 1970’s and onward to demand some form of community policing; in essence, a return to the model of policing envisioned by Sir Robert Peel.

Peel’s Principles of Policing were introduced in 1829 at a time when policing in England was moving from a watchman model where citizens took turns performing the watchman/policing  function at the community level to a system where policing was moving to hiring peace officers to perform the policing function on a full time basis.   At the time Peel and others were worried that the hiring of full-time peace officers could possibly lead to alienation between the public and the police.

Peel’s 7th Principle (see below) which has become the mantra of community policing advocates addresses the issue of maintaining the link between the community and the police:

Principle Seven

To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen, in the interests of community welfare and existence.  For a complete listing of Peel’s principles and a commentary on each click( here )

The section in the Canadian Criminal Code that grants citizens the authority to arrest can be traced back to Peel’s 7th Principle.  If the public are to be involved in assisting police in the interests of community welfare and existence, they need legislated authority that empowers them to do so in order to make their actions legal and fit into the framework of the rule of law.

The Winnipeg Free Press in their October 30th Editorial  suggests that a defining characteristic for a country such as Canada is that good citizens agree to let the state handle criminal activity and that citizens will mind their own business.  If that is true, then community policing is dead, because community policing envisioned citizens and the police working together to combat crime.

The way to resolve criminal issues is direct and meaningful interaction between the police and the community, where both parties work to support each other in pursuit of a common goal.  That goal in Peel’s words is the absence of crime.   We need to live up to the tradition of ‘the police are the public and the public are the police’.

 

 

Winnipeg Police Policy on marijuana use by police officers

On October 15th, two days prior to marijuana legalization the Winnipeg police Service announced their policy on the use of marijuana by members of the Service.  Here is what it says:

 

Winnipeg Police Service Drug and Alcohol Policy

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has indicated police agencies across Canada are in the process of articulating policies and standards for the use of cannabis in the workplace. Discussions primarily revolve around options that vary from zero-tolerance, to established timeframes between consumption and active duty, to relying on existing fit for duty policies.

With the legalization of recreational cannabis, the Winnipeg Police Service recognizes the need to address the new legislation with all members.

All employees of the Winnipeg Police Service are governed by the City of Winnipeg policy, Alcohol & Drug-Free Workplace. In accordance with this policy, all members of the Winnipeg Police Service must be fit for duty, regardless of the cause of impairment.

In addition, information and training have been made available to all members regarding the personal impact of cannabis use, legislative changes, enforcement of the new legislation and updated supervisor training.

We would like to take this time to remind all citizens of Winnipeg that it everyone’s responsibility to understand the effects of consumption of cannabis in any manner and the possible consequences.

The leading cause of criminal death in Canada remains impaired driving. Cannabis and driving do not mix. The Winnipeg Police Service is committed to keeping Winnipeg roads safe from impaired drivers, regardless of the source of impairment, and enforcing impaired driving laws.  Impaired drivers not only put themselves at risk but also others with whom they share the road.

 

previous post on this blog gave respondents the opportunity to give their views on what the policy should be.  The Winnipeg Police Policy is in keeping with what 43% of respondents choose as their first choice.  It is of interest to note that the other 57% of respondents all favoured a more restrictive policy with 30% favouring total abstinence.

Winnipeg Police policy on marijuana use by police officers should:

Answer Percent
fit for duty approach similar to alcohol use policy 43%  
require total abstinence 30%  
no use 8 hours prior to shift 15%  
no use 28 days prior to shift 12%  
no restrictions on use 0%  

 

 

 

Crime in Winnipeg up 11%* in 2015


The numbers in this post are  based on the 10 crime types tracked by the City of Winnipeg Crimestat program between January 1 2015 and December 31 2015.  

* The original version of the post represented crime numbers  up until December 28th 2015.  

 

City Wide Highlights

The Good

Murders are down by 19%,  with 22 compared to 27 in 2014.

Attempted theft of motor vehicle is down 10%.

Sexual assaults are down 4%.

The Bad

Theft of motor vehicle is up 3%.

Non-commercial robberies (muggings) are up 3%.

Shootings are up 9%

Break and enter other (stand alone  buildings) are up 10%

The Ugly

Residential break ins are up 19%.

Commercial break ins are up 22%.

Commercial robberies are up 36%.

 

District 1

District 1 saw an overall increase of 15%*.  The  increase can be largely attributed to break ins other (57%), residential break ins (29%),  attempt theft of motor vehicle (17%) and theft of motor vehicle (12%).   Most other categories were static. On a positive note murders dropped by 50% to 7 from 14 in 2014.

District 2

District 2 saw an overall increase of 20%*, led by commercial break ins (51%), commercial robberies (21%), break and enter other (18%), residential break ins (15%), and theft of motor vehicle (17%).

District 3

District 3 was the only district that saw a drop in crime, down 5%*.  Attempt theft of motor vehicle was down (22%), theft of motor vehicle down (19%), break and enter other down (16%), commercial break ins down (14%).  Commercial robberies were up (44%), as were sexual assaults (29%), and residential break ins (14%).

District 4

The increase in District 4 was 16%*.  The biggest factors contributing to the increase were commercial robberies (83%), commercial break ins (50%), residential break ins (20%) and non commercial robberies (10%).

Downtown

The area defined as the ‘Downtown’ saw an increase of 6%.  The offences that pushed the numbers up in the downtown area were primarily break and enter other (143%), and residential break ins (32%).

Observations

  1. Residential break ins were up in all four Districts ranging from 14 to 29%, with a city-wide average increase  of 19%.
  2. The number of stolen vehicles went up in all districts except District 3 which saw a reduction of 19%.
  3. Break and enter other increased in all districts except District 3 which saw a reduction of 16%.
  4. Commercial break ins  went up 22% city-wide but were reduced by 14% in District 3.

Questions

  1.  What, in policing terms, was done differently in District 3 compared to the other three Districts in 2015?
  2.  Were a significant number of personnel assigned to the other three Districts shifted to  District 3?
  3. What steps will the Winnipeg Police Service be taking to address the significant increase in the number of break ins and robberies?

A future post will provide a further breakdown of crime by Electoral Wards, as well as a look at  some specific neighbourhoods.

*Update

The statistics in the original post which covered the period from January 1, 2015 to December 28 2015 have been amended to correspond to what currently appears on the Crimestat site which included the last 3 days of 2015.

The changes made are as follows:

City wide rate changed from +9% to +11%

District 1   from +12% to +15%

District 2 from +18% to +20%

District 3 from -6% to -5%

District 4 from +15% to +16%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you afraid of the Winnipeg Police?

The following is a quote from a recent article by Marc Montgomery:

Critics of the “creeping militarization” say when police appear more and more often in body armour and military clothing, with automatic weapons and armoured vehicle, it creates distance and fear between the population and the forces.

Members of the Winnipeg Police Service wear body armour on a daily basis, carry semi-automatic pistols, have access to an array of weapons and now have an armored vehicle. That begs the question;

 

Don’t Like the Gurkha, so sell it.

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I have observed the discussion about the Winnipeg Police purchase of the Gurkha armoured vehicle with both amusement and concern:  Amusement because all the usual suspects, those being sociologists, and the media have  neatly filed into place and have said exactly what they would be expected to say:

1) that this is another step forward in the militarization of the police;

2) that  the process was flawed and lacked public input and transparency;

3) that  the Police Service pulled a fast one on the Police Board;

4) that the operational need for an armoured vehicle has not been justified;

5) that it is too costly.

 

And concern, because the Police Service has done a poor job of providing background information and justification for the purchase.

One might ask the question: Where were all these people who have concerns about militarization and costs  when the Police Service launched its air force?

I agree that in a day and age where Police Boards provide oversight of police departments, the process used to acquire this piece of equipment was perhaps less than politically astute.  The result is that the Police Service has lost the ability to make purchases of this type in the future.

As well, I have yet to hear any really sound arguments being made by the Police Service other than in general terms as to how this piece of equipment will add value.  The Police Service was probably caught flat-footed on this one because they had no intention of this becoming a public discussion at this point in time.  There probably is a communications strategy in the process of being developed to deal with this issue and justify the purchase but I’m surmising it was not intended to be used until some point in the future, so it was not fully developed and ready to go at this point in time.  They should however have anticipated that the purchase of an item such as the Gurhka could not be kept under wraps indefinitely and been better prepared to deal with it when the information became public.

All that being said the question remains, can this purchase be justified as an operational need?

As a former police officer, I am personally aware of discussions for the need of an armoured vehicle that go back 30 years – long before ‘militarization’ had become a buzz word.  The situation that gave rise to the discussions was an armed and barricaded scenario in St. Boniface where a man shot his entire family and then barricaded himself in a house, armed.  Police were faced with a situation where a young child had been shot but was still alive, laying in the front yard with no means to safely perform a rescue.  Since that  incident there have been many others, perhaps not as dramatic but still of a nature where some form of armoured vehicle would have served a very useful purpose.

I would suggest that if the Police Service scratch its collective memory they could provide a long list of scenarios that would justify the need for an armoured vehicle even in the minds of the most jaded opponents.

In terms of cost, although $350,000.00 seems like a big number when amortized over the predicated useful life of such a purchase, it amounts to less than $20,000.00 a year.

Deployment

Although I personally do not support carte blanche  militarization of policing I do support the purchase of military type equipment in situations where the need can be justified for operational reasons.The devil as always  will be in the details.  The manner in which this piece of equipment will be deployed will show the intent of the Police Service and could go a long way to silence the critics.  If it is rolled out willy nilly, however, the police will run the risk of losing public support.  It should be used in situations where its use can be operationally justified.

Political Will

If this is really seen by the Police Board, the Mayor, or City Councillors as an example of the police overstepping their authority and acquiring a piece of equipment that either the police don’t need or that they philosophically disagree with, let them step forward and justify their position and then sell the damn thing (I dare you).  There is a market out there for these types of vehicles.

 

 

The Whistle Blew, Was Anyone Listening

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We know from the Quebec experience that even in a sophisticated developed country like Canada, some politicians at the municipal level engage in fraudulent activities for personal gain.

Over the years some Winnipeg contractors have bemoaned the fact that some company owners and contractors have had a too close and cosy relationship with civic politicians and senior civil servants in the area of property development.

A parcel of land may have a very low value based on how it is zoned.  If a zoning change or variance can be obtained the price of a given parcel of land can greatly increase in value overnight.

Zoning changes and variances are obtained through civic standing committees usually based on the advice of senior officials in the administration.

Then there is the whole issue of awarding city contracts which greatly broadens the field of play into areas such as  water and waste, road and building construction, snow clearing, garbage and recycling pickup and a host of other soft services such as consulting contracts which the city regularly enters into.

The problem has been that business owners and contractors have been  loath to come forward and file formal complaints because many rely heavily on city business for their livelihood.  They have not been confident that a complaint would result in the required changes, and they cannot afford to be black-balled.

Based on media reports it would appear that we are now in a position where a number of people with apparent knowledge of alleged wrong doing have come forward to police.  Naturally police need to establish the credibility of the individuals coming forward and  assess the validity and reliability of the information they are providing.  If the individuals are credible and the information passes the initial test, there would appear to be a basis to initiate an investigation.

Lets hope that the appropriate approaches were used to ensure this matter was dealt with properly and that an opportunity was not lost.

Corruption at any level of government undermines both democratic principles and the workings of a  free market economy.  All available steps must be taken to investigate and prosecute corruption.

Muggings in District 1

Between January 1st.  and October 9th. there have been 520 muggings in District 1.  That is an increase of 4% over last year.

This is what it looks like on a map.

Source:  Winnipeg Police Crimestat website

A close-up view of the immediate downtown area looks like this

Source:  Winnipeg Police Crimestat website

Can you say ‘crime cluster’?