New police chief Devon Clunis believes Winnipeg can shake the title of crime capital of Canada through the power of prayer.
In an Oct. 11 story in Christian Week News, Clunis said the collective power of all Winnipeggers in prayer will be needed to help police combat violent crime.
Clunis, a superintendent with the WPS, was chosen to replace retiring police chief Keith McCaskill at a news conference Oct. 4.
Clunis declined to comment about his vision for policing at the news conference, saying he wanted to consult with various community groups and the Winnipeg Police Association before telling Winnipeggers how he plans to distinguish his term as chief.
In the Christian Week News story, Clunis also said that he believes the hand of God was at work in moving him up through the ranks of the Winnipeg Police Service.
Clunis told the Christian magazine that his faith is a cornerstone of his daily life, adding that while he didn’t ask God to make him chief, he did pray to become a successful leader who treats people with dignity and respect.
"God still cares, He’s still involved in our lives," Clunis is quoted as saying. "and I believe without a shadow of a doubt the only reason that I am in this position is because God is involved in it. Without a shadow of a doubt."
Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin said he was taken aback by the chaplain-turned-chief’s comments.
"You have to welcome a more enlightened approach to criminal justice issues, but if anyone thinks the power of prayer alone is going to make our streets safer, they’re deluded," Martin said via telephone from Ottawa. "Our crime rates are more a function of chronic, long-term poverty than they are a paucity of faith and religion.
"My party is rooted in the social gospel, but years ago we realized you have to take faith and put it into something more tangible to make it meaningful in people’s lives."
"I’m a little tired of us... being (the) murder capital of Canada," Clunis told the publication. "People consistently say, ‘How are you going to solve that? It’s not simply going to be because we’re going to go out there and police it away. I truly believe that prayer will be a significant piece of that."
"What would happen if we all just truly – I’m talking about all religious stripes here – started praying for the peace of this city and then actually starting putting some action behind that.
"I believe something phenomenal is going to happen in our city. I truly believe it’s coming. I don’t think I’ve arrived at this position just by chance."
Point Douglas Coun. Mike Pagtakhan, who represents some of Winnipeg’s more crime-affected neighbourhoods, said he assumes Clunis was being metaphorical.
"He’s obviously a spiritual guy. Prayer can bring people together. I’m taking (Clunis’ comments) with the symbolism behind it," Pagtakhan said in an interview. "If he wants to bring a sense of spiritual focus to policing, I’ll give him a chance to see what he has to say."
Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie, who also represents crime-affected neighbourhoods, said he believes Clunis is a capable police officer who faces a steep learning curve when it comes to public relations.
"He hasn’t been in the political eye. He’s made a mistake. Prayer is not going to solve our problems," said Eadie said. "He’s got to get used to the sound bites."
Eadie said he didn’t find the new chief’s comments comforting, though he does understand where Clunis was coming from.
"From a Winnipeg Police Service perspective, this is not a solution. However, as I always say to religious organizations in my ward, if praying and getting involved in the church is a way out of addictions, I’m all for that."
St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Fielding, meanwhile, said he could not care less about Clunis’ religious beliefs – as long as he collars criminals.
The Free Press has requested an interview with Clunis but he has not yet responded.