Forget tougher: Winnipeg police are getting smarter on crime. And it appears to be paying off.
That was the message from Winnipeg Police Service officials Tuesday as they heralded yet another drop in the city's often-maligned crime rate -- the fifth straight year of declines.
A renewed push towards data-driven policing, combined with burgeoning crime-prevention efforts within and outside the WPS is being portrayed as the reason for the dropping crime rate.
Statistics from 2013 show a 13 per cent drop in total violent crimes over 2012 and a 17 per cent decrease in property-related crimes over the same period.
Looking at a five-year average, violent crime on city streets has dipped 21 per cent and property crime 33 per cent, the statistics show.
Equally important, the severity of violence people are reporting to the WPS is at an all-time low, said Supt. Gord Perrier.
Statistics Canada employs a tool called the crime severity index to gauge not only overall crime rates, but also factors in the relative seriousness of criminal violence.
"The index in 2013 is the lowest it has ever been here in the City of Winnipeg," Perrier said. "We realize we still have a way to go... but we are headed in the right direction."
Police aren't pointing to one particular development as the reason for the drop in crime. And they're certainly not taking all the credit, Perrier said.
Partnerships with the provincial health and justice departments, along with community groups, private businesses and individual citizens are all contributing to creating a safer city, he said.
But that's not to say police are abdicating their role as crime fighters.
Between Chief Devon Clunis's departmental rejigs and his overall vision of crime-prevention through social development and greater use of "strategic and deliberate" police tactics, the WPS is doing its part, Perrier said.
A central part of this is what's been dubbed the "smart policing initiative" (SPI), which wrangles the efforts of civilian crime analysts, officers' experience and technology to deal with emerging crime problems, police said. The evidence-based approach is proving "effective, efficient and economical," Perrier said.
Evidence-based policing involves data-gathering, research and analysis of crime trends. Results of this process are used to guide internal operational decisions and tactics with the goal of eradicating crime problems.
"We are working to predict where crimes will likely occur next, where people of interest are likely to be and provide front line officers with better information to help prevent those crimes," said Perrier.
Police concede so-called "evidence-based" approaches aren't anything new. North American and other police agencies have embraced similar strategies for decades.
But, said Perrier, the difference is what's been happening when the SPI approach blends with other crime-prevention activities taking place in different areas across the city.
The statistical report doesn't paint a completely rosy picture, however.
Impaired driving went up six per cent over 2012, with 472 charges of impaired operation or driving over the legal blood-alcohol limit of .08 being laid.
On the drug front, police saw a 68 per cent increase in the number of simple possession charges laid, and a four per cent rise in trafficking, production or distribution of drugs other than marijuana or cocaine.
Perrier acknowledged a concerning 130 per cent hike in sexual assault with a weapon offences, from 10 reported in 2012 to 23 last year.
He said many of the incidents contributing to the increase are connected to domestic violence. The positive one could take away from this is that it may be showing more willingness by victims to speak up and tell investigators the whole story of their abuse, said Perrier. "That can increase the number of incidents in those areas," he said.
"Domestic violence has long been held as one of those under-reported crime types... It's complicated, and just a sheer glance at numbers doesn't always tell the whole story."
Statistics Canada is to release its yearly national crime statistics report today.
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