If a suspicious package is left in a crowded place for a period of time, Winnipeg police say the right thing to do is call 911. The heightened security environment is a direct result of the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15 that killed three people and injured 264. The fear effect has rippled across North America and around the world, once again raising the security ante.
In Winnipeg, police have evacuated Winnipeg Square and The Forks as a result of suspicious packages, and there have been three bomb threats at post-secondary institutions.
The same scenario has played itself out hundreds of times in other cities in North America since Boston, where transit systems, libraries, schools, courthouses and airports have been closed and evacuated because someone left a bag unattended.
They've all been false alarms, but Winnipeg police Const. Jason Michalyshyn says law enforcement cannot afford to dismiss such reports following the devastation caused by two amateur bomb makers in Boston who had no obvious reason for wanting to destroy innocent lives.
A suspicious package can include a bag that "doesn't look right," is out of place or has been left in a spot for a long period of time, with no information as to who might own it, Const. Michalyshyn says.
Police will respond to each report differently depending on the information received, he said. In some cases, police might deploy specialists, but in many cases officers may simply remove the bag for further inspection.
The new police-response policies for suspicious packages is just one in a series of security initiatives that were launched following 9-11, but there is a limit to how much security the public can tolerate.
Ultimately, the state cannot guarantee everyone's safety, but it can encourage citizens to keep their eyes and ears open, which is a good policy, whether the threat is terrorism or simple theft and vandalism.