A beefed-up police presence in Winnipeg's downtown and the North End likely reduced the number of violent assaults and robberies against strangers last year, a local criminologist said.
A Winnipeg Police Service administrative report released Thursday shows violent crime in the downtown and the North End dropped last year following a plan to increase police presence in high-risk areas and use crime analysis and intelligence to identify high-value targets. In 2012, one extra cruiser operated 24/7 in the highest crime areas in the downtown and the North End, the street-crime unit conducted expanded patrols on weekends from May to September and police expanded the number of officers deployed to the street-crime unit for duties related to the gang response and suppression plan.
Eight additional foot-patrol officers were assigned to the downtown in January 2012, bringing the total to 16.
The report said the violent-crime-reduction strategy has had a "degree of success."
In 2012, Portage Avenue districts -- which include the area around the University of Winnipeg, Portage Place, the sports and entertainment district, and commercial areas around Portage and Main -- saw a 14.5 per cent reduction in the number of violent crimes, which includes assaults, sexual assaults, homicides and robberies. Last year, 361 violent crimes were reported in these districts, down from 422 in 2011.
The number of violent crimes against strangers also dropped. The report said 270 violent crimes against strangers were reported in the Portage Avenue districts, down from 343 the previous year -- a 21.3 per cent decline.
The North End police district, which includes an area bounded by McGregor Street to the west, Dufferin Avenue to the south, Salter Street to the east and Burrows Avenue to the north, saw an 18.9 per cent drop in violent crime overall in 2012 and a 29.6 per cent reduction in the number of violent crimes against strangers.
In 2012, 215 violent crimes were reported in the area, down from 265 in 2011. The number of violent crimes against strangers dropped to 100 in 2012 from 142 in 2011.
Overall last year, the entire city saw a reduction of 3.4 per cent in violent crimes and a 7.7 per cent drop in the number of violent crimes against strangers.
University of Manitoba criminologist Frank Cormier said greater police presence in high-crime areas likely reduced crimes of opportunity -- such as assaults against strangers -- as people are less likely to commit these types of crimes if they see a police cruiser in the neighbourhood. He said police presence would likely not have an affect on the number of homicides in a given year since the majority of homicides involve interpersonal violence between spouses, relatives and friends.
Cormier said it's difficult to measure trends over a one-year period since many variables that cause crime fluctuate depending on factors such as the age of a population and the state of the economy. He warns the new violent crime data may not change some people's perceptions that parts of Winnipeg are not safe to visit.
Winnipeg had the highest violent crime and homicide rates in the country, according to a Statistics Canada survey of police-reported crime data for 2011.
"Some people will see this as a positive sign that police are doing something a little bit different and there are other people who are absolutely resistant and basically set their opinions that a place is dangerous or not dangerous and no amount of data will change their perception," Cormier said.
Downtown BIZ executive director Stefano Grande said crime in the downtown has been trending downward in the last few years. He credits the additional resources -- including police cadets and extra foot patrols -- with making the area safer. He said he wants to continue to see more police in the area during evenings and weekends, and thinks people's perceptions of downtown safety will slowly change if crime continues to decline.
"The reality is, it is pretty safe," Grande said.
Protection and community services chairman Coun. Scott Fielding said the numbers are going in the right direction, and he would like to find out what part of the strategy has worked well and whether the approach could be used in other parts of the city.
"There's lots more work that needs to be done and crime is still a major concern," Fielding said.
A police spokesman was unavailable to comment.
Portage Avenue districts (includes area around the University of Winnipeg, Portage Place, sports and entertainment district, and commercial areas around Portage and Main)
All assaults: 230
All sexual assaults: 25
All robberies: 106
All homicides: 0
Total violent crime: 361
All assaults: 277
All sexual assaults: 34
All robberies: 107
All homicides: 3
Total violent crime: 422
North End (which includes an area bounded by McGregor Street to the west, Dufferin Avenue to the south, Salter Street to the east and Burrows Avenue to the north)
All assaults: 147
All sexual assaults: 14
All robberies: 54
All homicides: 0
Total violent crime: 215
All assaults: 168
All sexual assaults: 21
All robberies: 73
All homicides: 3
Total violent crime: 265
-- source: City of Winnipeg crime-reduction strategy report