Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The good, the too bad and the ugly

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It eats up the biggest piece of the civic tax pie, yet it took until last week for the Winnipeg Police Service to release its annual report for 2010 -- providing the public with police-related information that's immediately dated.

That rant aside, it was good to read about the hard work of our city's finest and some of the awards presented in 2010. One went to constables Lana Borroughs and David Aitken for their life-saving efforts after they rescued a baby born face down in a toilet.

Const. Michael Laberge was praised for his efforts to save a young boy from the high and fast waters of the Red River.

The diligent work of counterfeit cop, Kathryn Antymis -- recognized as a top Canadian in her field -- was worthy of mention as was Staff Sgt. Bud Guest, founder of the busy and zealous street crime unit.

With science becoming increasingly important to policing, Sgt. Karen Tymchuk received a nod for her work in forensic investigation and her leadership in developing procedures and fleshing out issues that significantly contributed to the continued level of excellence in her unit.

Sgt. John Burchill was invested into the Order of Merit of the Police Forces by the then-Governor General Michaelle Jean for his hard work over many years researching and bringing about best police practices. An educator, speaker and published writer, some of his work meant putting charter issues and new law into plain-speak and then putting it into practice -- work that's been welcomed in departments across the country.

But that award is so 2010. Unexpectedly, the Winnipeg Police Service was unable to find a place where Burchill could put his police training and law degree to work. A big loss, the officer, who spearheaded the investigation that led to the full exoneration of Thomas Sophonow years after his conviction for the 1981 murder of Barbara Stoppel, has moved on and now works in a university setting.

There was chit-chat about helicopters, new logos on cars and the cadet program but, as usual, the meat-and-potatoes -- the crime numbers -- garner the most attention.

And 2010 was celebratory in the sense that police report a decrease in violent crime -- down nine per cent overall.

Now, about that nine per cent. The already-old data may not be as positive as the spin doctors would have us believe. It's difficult to measure violence with the numbers supplied by the service. The lion's share of violent crime is tied to assaults, but the service doesn't differentiate between a push-and-shove bar dispute and a vicious attack with a tire iron. National statistics suggest that minor assaults are increasingly being written off, leading to a drop in the overall rate of violence that overshadows a general upward trend of the more serious attacks.

Winnipeg police do, however, track domestic violence and note that crimes involving domestic matters were up three per cent in 2010 and incidents where both parties were charged jumped by 36 per cent.

If crime numbers have any relevance (and do they really?), it's only when they are compared over extended time. And if that's the case, the first decade of the new century really is nothing to celebrate. Homicides in 2010 were up almost 40 per cent over 2000.

Sexual assaults were up 21 per cent during the same period, as were robberies (18 per cent) and firearms offences (26 per cent.)

The 2011 annual reporting from the police may not come until 2013, but the service's CrimeStat computerized reporting of some specific crimes for 2011 is hardly encouraging.

Homicides spiked savagely in 2011 -- up 86 per cent -- and set a new, dubious record. Almost half of the 39 killings were set in the beleaguered North End.

Shootings were up nine per cent in 2011 over 2010, almost a third of them in the North End.

But while robberies were up 18 per cent between 2000 and 2010, the good news is that CrimeStat reporting tells us that business and non-business robberies were stable with no increase in overall numbers for 2011.

That good news didn't hold in District 1, which includes our struggling downtown, where the numbers say that commercial and non-commercial robberies were up (six per cent and eight per cent respectively) in 2011.

Sexual assaults remain a priority. They were up in 2010 and the trend is continuing, according to CrimeStat -- up 12 per cent citywide with a 38 per cent bump in District 1 for 2011.

It's clear that the Winnipeg Police Service will have a lot of frontline work in the coming 12 months. And it's the kind of work that piques the interest of academics, social justice advocates, policy makers and the ordinary taxpayer.

Many organizations produce quarterly reports letting stakeholders know the lay of the land and very few of them carry the heavy profile that the police do.

Hopefully, the tardy arrival of the latest annual report from police is just a blip and not a new practice.

 

Robert Marshall is a retired Winnipeg police detective.

rm112800@hotmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 7, 2012 J6

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