Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Crime plans join election fray

Volunteers, staff touted as the eyes of police

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Community volunteers and city workers would help the Winnipeg Police Service prevent crime if Judy Wasylycia-Leis is elected mayor this fall.

The former NDP MP for Winnipeg North, who's vying to unseat Sam Katz this fall, pledged Monday to create two new crime-fighting programs within six days of being elected mayor.

The first program, PowerLine, is based on a three-year-old North Point Douglas effort that has reduced the crack cocaine trade and gang presence in the inner-city neighbourhood.

Wasylycia-Leis would like to expand the program to other Winnipeg neighbourhoods by appointing volunteer co-ordinators who would field calls about crime and vandalism and then co-ordinate a response with police and Manitoba Justice officials.

"The point of the program is the less bureaucratic it is, the more success it'll have," she told reporters outside Norquay Community Centre in Point Douglas, flanked by community activist Sel Burrows. "One size does not fit all. We're not going to find a Sel Burrows in every community."

Volunteer co-ordinators would not be subject to police background checks, she said. Burrows dismissed concerns that could enable organized crime to infiltrate the program.

"One of the things we've noticed is the reverse has happened. We have infiltrated organized crime," he said, suggesting criminals are not intelligent.

The second proposed program, City Watch, would see members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500 -- the city's largest union -- aid police by reporting crimes.

CUPE members are willing to do this, provided they receive proper training, said local president Mike Davidson, who also stood alongside Wasylycia-Leis. Similar programs are in place in six British Columbia municipalities, she said.

Wasylycia-Leis also said the Winnipeg Police Association supports the initiative. WPA vice-president Marc Pellerin declined to comment.

The cost of both PowerLine and City Watch would be minimal, said Wasylycia-Leis, though she has yet to cost them out precisely. She claimed Mayor Sam Katz has done little to prevent crime during six years in office.

"Like so many Winnipeggers, I am sick and tired of hearing we are the No. 1 violent-crime capital of Canada," she said.

Katz, however, said he launched a program similar to City Watch in 2004, when 70 waste-management workers were recruited to monitor crime. Winnipeg Transit employees have also been trained to report crime, he said.

"The key thing is, we would hope that what would prevail is common sense, in that all employees and all citizens would report crimes when they see them," Katz said.

The mayor repeated his assertion Wasylycia-Leis stymied federal Conservative efforts to bolster justice legislation while in Ottawa -- something the former MP has denied -- and said he has been instrumental in hiring 155 more police officers, creating a swat team, Operation Clean Sweep, CrimeStat and getting a police a helicopter off the ground.

"Do you really believe Wasylycia-Leis will be tougher on crime than I am?" he asked.

But Wasylycia-Leis said Winnipeg needs even more police officers.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 17, 2010 B1

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