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Do police give different treatment to different neighbourhoods?

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If it happened in a rich neighbourhood, the police would have responded differently.

How often have we heard this and wondered if it is true?

The average suburban neighbourhood is very different from the core of most Canadian cities, including Winnipeg. While poverty does not cause crime, it certainly correlates with it.

Any Winnipeg police officer will tell you working in the North End and downtown is different from working in "the burbs," especially since the 1974 amalgamation that integrated six stand-alone police departments into one.

Inevitably, the focus and deployment of resources are concentrated where the problems and greatest needs are -- in the impoverished areas. It is a continuous challenge to balance resources in problem areas, while retaining the ability to respond as effectively and quickly to less-frequent emergencies in the suburbs.

Police and other service agencies have a growing awareness and acknowledgement of the challenges of social inequity across our city. Social problems only get worse if we fail to address the root causes. That is why we've renewed our focus on partnerships and proactive crime prevention. The police service has embraced numerous initiatives to improve the ability to listen and engage Winnipeg's diverse groups, communities and problems, redirecting resources away from simply reacting to crimes and into community-oriented programs to prevent crime.

Extraordinary resources are devoted to investigating crime, helping vulnerable people and tackling social problems. Therefore, the bulk of police services is committed to the neighbourhoods experiencing social challenges and the resulting symptoms of crime.

Officers and dispatchers continually struggle to balance capacity, knowing when someone in the suburbs calls the police, they expect and deserve an appropriate response. That one call may be the only time in their life they have contact with the police, and it may be perceived as the one time they receive direct value for their tax dollars.

At the same time, crime in our core neighbourhoods directly affects safety for the whole city, and it needs to be a focus.

We also need to respond to emergencies for every citizen with the same importance, regardless of the neighbourhood or whether they are rich or poor, advantaged or disadvantaged.

So yes, the police response may differ depending on your neighbourhood, but in the completely opposite way many people think.

If you are from a neighbourhood experiencing more criminal activity, you're likely to get more resources, according to your needs, because that is where most of our crimes and other problems are occurring. This includes uniform patrol time as well as the many highly trained investigative and support specialists and services the police maintain. One aspect of policing I am most proud of is our tendency to defend underdogs; when people are vulnerable, we tend to go out of our way to try to help them.

Citizens in the suburbs generally pay higher taxes, and the police may sometimes patrol those neighbourhoods less. But this is necessary in order to achieve the ultimate goal of making all neighbourhoods equally safe for every citizen.

The goal is to reduce the need for concentrated police resources in hot spots and problem areas, and for people in every neighbourhood to feel equally safe around their homes and workplaces.

For those who believe policing services are proportionately linked to the affluence of a neighbourhood, it's true, just not in the way most people think about it.

 

Staff Sgt. Bob Chrismas is in his 25th year with the Winnipeg Police Service.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 2, 2014 B2

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