WINNIPEG (CP) - The Winnipeg Police Service is about to launch an innovative approach to crime fighting and prevention it hopes will help the city shed titles such as murder capital of Canada or national auto-theft leader.
The CrimeStat program will use software to track crime according to the offence and neighbourhood so that officers can be quickly redirected to trouble spots.
Divisional commanders will meet for weekly followups to look at the patterns, how they were dealt with and what should be done differently.
The program has proven a success in New York City and Minneapolis, which saw a 40 per cent reduction in eight different kinds of crime in the program's first four years.
Variations are also used in Vancouver and Toronto.
Menno Zacharias, Winnipeg's deputy chief, says it's more than just a computer program or accountability system - it's a change in mindset in how police services are delivered.
"I don't think it should be looked at as a magic bullet, but as essentially the start of a new era in policing in terms of what it is we're focusing on and what it is we're trying to accomplish," said Zacharias.
The first phase of the program - posting weekly charts of crime statistics online - should be up and running by early February. Maps showing where the crimes are occurring will come later.
Mayor Sam Katz first became interested in CrimeStat after hearing how successful it had been in New York City under former mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
After touring police departments in Minneapolis, New York and New Jersey, he was convinced it could work in Winnipeg.
He said holding supervisors accountable is a key element of the program.
For example, if someone is mugged in the middle of the afternoon in an area where there were three patrol cars and two officers walking the beat, questions are asked.
"They expect to get answers and it's important they get the answers," said Katz.
"The whole goal here is not to arrest more people but to have less crime. I don't want us to be the car-theft capital or murder capital of Canada - that's nothing for a mayor or city council to be proud of."
Criminologist Michael Weinrath says CrimeStat is a good application of technology, but its effectiveness shouldn't be overcomplicated.
"Really, we just want to know where a lot of crimes are being committed," said Weinrath, chair of criminal justice studies at the University of Winnipeg.
Weinrath says the idea of trying to identify crime patterns is nothing new, and is often easier in cities of Winnipeg's size than in larger centres like New York.
"In places where it's been successful, the other argument is that the police were inefficient and not very effective in those areas; they didn't keep a very good track of what was going on," he added. "If you're not exercising proper management of your police force, then yeah, it's going to make a big difference."
At the end of the day, Weinrath says police have to track down the people committing the crimes. Current intelligence gathering methods, such as Crime Stoppers or informants are already working well in Winnipeg, especially in gang-related investigations.
The officer who brought CrimeStat to the Minneapolis Police Department in'98 warns his Winnipeg counterparts that it will probably take time to bring all officers and citizens onside.
In the early days of the program in that city, the police union feared it would just be used to blame beat officers for crime instead of holding their commanders accountable.
Residents also were concerned that they'd lose their neighbourhood police presence unless they had high crime statistics that week or month.
But Rob Allen, now the city's deputy police chief, says both the union and citizens' groups stand behind the program, known there as CODEFOR.
Allen says while it's true that some neighbourhoods are seeing fewer officers on patrol than they used to, residents have become galvanized and more responsive to prevention programs and warnings.
"We used to do policing where you'd divide the city into grids of even size and have one cop per grid," said Allen.
"But that's an irrational way of doing policing. You should put police resources where and when they're needed, not so it's always even throughout the city."
Jana Metge, co-ordinator of a community development and revitalization group in Minneapolis, says she regularly checks police statistics online to learn what's happening in both the neighbourhoods where she works and lives.
She applauds the program but says she'd like to see the statistics used for more than just tracking the number of offences in specific areas.
"You can show great stats, but is the liveability really any better?" asks Metge.
"It's a lot better than having no information, but as residents we have to say, 'Is this our reality?' And if it's not, we have to start to look at how we can impact public policy so it talks more about outcomes instead of output."