Winnipeg's top cop has defended the practice of "gating," in which offenders are rearrested on outstanding warrants as soon as they are released from jail.
"Our officers have an immense workload... and in the instances recently reported, police were notified of the location of the subjects and the warrants by a third party, and we responded," Chief Devon Clunis said in a two-page statement Monday.
Clunis was responding to several Free Press stories last week by reporter James Turner, who revealed the practice as described by city defence lawyers.
Gating is described as a police tactic in which offenders in jail are suddenly picked up on months- and sometimes years-old outstanding arrest warrants as soon as they leave custody.
The stories covered two court cases -- one in which charges were dropped as a result of an arrest warrant being served by police in an untimely way.
The lawyer in one of the two cases, Chris Sigurdson, expressed surprise and satisfaction in response to the chief's statement.
"So he's admitting they do it on purpose? That's interesting... Well, all I can say is I'm pleased they're admitting it is done on purpose, because up to now all we've heard is that it's coincidence, which doesn't seem to be likely," Sigurdson said.
The issue came to a head last Tuesday after a provincial court judge learned about the practice involving one of Sigurdson's clients.
Police held a warrant for nearly a year and failed to arrest Justin Shorting, 21, for a break-and-enter charge until he was freed on parole from prison for a prior break and enter.
Shorting spent about one hour out of custody -- just enough time to change his clothes and check in with his parole officer -- before Winnipeg police turned up to take him back to jail, court heard.
"I still think it's unfair and I trust the chief to move forward with reforms," Sigurdson said.
Clunis is the second senior police official to defend the practice. Another made virtually the same point.
Winnipeg Police Association president Mike Sutherland said there's a finite number of officers to deal with consistently increasing demands on their time and efforts, and the court system isn't necessarily in tune with this reality.
In his statement, Clunis added there's less red tape for police officers if they wait until the suspect is on the street. Putting through an arrest warrant on someone already behind bars requires a lot more paperwork, he said.
"The process for arresting an in-custody prisoner is time-consuming and in some instances, requires obtaining a warrant as well as a removal order... current calls for service wait while we process the prisoner," Clunis said in his statement.
Short-circuiting the bureaucracy makes more sense in a system the police chief described as "antiquated, inefficient and challenging."
"Reform is needed," Clunis said.
In the meantime, police are stuck with the system, he said.
"This is simply a matter of priority in making the best use of limited resources. We won't apologize for placing priority on citizens' calls... the resources within our system are inadequate to meet demand."
Ordinarily, the Winnipeg Police Service doesn't make its point in public discussions such as this, Clunis said.
But in this case, the police chief said he had to defend his officers.
"It is important that the public understand the reality of warrants within the justice system," he said. The statement then lists the volume of work his officers have to get through on any given day: more than 20,000 warrants in the system.
-- with files from James Turner