Incoming Winnipeg Police chief Devon Clunis is disappointed with media outlets which misconstrued his comments about the power of faith to fight crime to a Christian news magazine.
Clunis told local media this morning that his comments in ChristianWeek news were twisted out of context by media outlets, which suggested he thought crime could be fought by prayer alone or that he would require members of the Winnipeg Police Service to pray.
"The important piece of what I also said there was ‘prayer backed up by action,’" Clunis said.
"I’m a little bit disconcerted that what was presented as a message to bring people together and to unify this community is now being spun in a somewhat of a negative light."
Clunis, a 25-year veteran of the WPS, was chosen at the beginning of the month to replace outgoing chief Keith McCaskill. Clunis has been one of the WPS chaplains for the past 14 years and his Christian faith is vitally important to him.
Clunis had turned down all requests from local media outlets Tuesday to explain his comments, with the exception of the CBC, giving that news organization an interview Tuesday morning for its local morning show and then following it up again this morning on the national program, The Current.
Clunis attended the morning news briefing, but before it began, media were told questions could only be asked on the scheduled topics – which did not include Clunis’ controversial comments.
Clunis left the briefing after the presentation of a new online reporting system and would not take questions about his prayer/faith comments.
However, he returned after the conclusion of the formal news briefing and did answer questions for about eight minutes.
Clunis said he focused on prayer in the interview with ChristianWeek because it has a Christian audience, but he added his focus was following up prayer with action to make Winnipeg a better place.
Winnipeggers should volunteer at their local school, Neighbourhood Watch or other activities designed to improve the community, he said, adding that was the message media had omitted from his comments.
"Whatever it takes, whatever appeals to you, that’s what I want you to use."
'Everyone believes different things': Katz
Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz, who was in Ottawa when Clunis’ comments were reported by mainstream media, said he has yet to speak to the incoming chief to find out exactly what he meant.
"What he said and how it’s interpreted may not be the same," Katz told reporters Wednesday. "What I’ve seen is irrelevant. I want to hear it from the chief."
Katz said he has no idea whether Clunis has received media training and declined to answer questions regarding how prepared the incoming chief is for his new, higher-profile role.
"Why don’t we discuss what the real issue is. The real issue is crime and safety in our city. What we want to do is decrease the amount of crime, decrease the number of homicide, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. That’s the objective here," Katz said.
"Now if this chief comes out with a plan and he’s given the opportunity to do that, we’ll all be members of his fan club. And I think that will take time, so maybe we should all just slow down."
The mayor was not present at the Oct. 4 Public Safety Building press conference where the incoming chief was introduced to media and declined to spell out his ideas about policing.
Katz said that was the proper course of action for Clunis.
"The incoming chief specifically stated he wanted to consult with others in the department and the community before he shares his plan with the media, which I think is an astute thing to do," the mayor said. "Why don’t you wait to see what the plan is before you judge someone?"
As for whether prayer can combat crime, Katz was non-commital.
"The only thing I can tell you, it’s everyone believes different things," the mayor said.