Winnipeg Police Service chief Devon Clunis stressed one of his goals is to make police officers more visible in the community.
Clunis, who took over the position from Keith McCaskill in November, is showing he’s not exempt from that mission. Winnipeg’s top cop participated in the eighth of 14 planned community forums at Elmwood High School on April 16.
"I really want people to see me face-to-face and hear what my vision is," he said. "It’s one thing to read about it in the paper, or hear about it on television, but (it’s another) to actually meet me, see the passion I do have."
Residents brought up concerns ranging from gang activity to break-ins to youth crime. Many expressed a desire to see more police in the neighbourhood as one element of a remedy.
"The common thread through all of this so far has been ‘we want to get to know our police officers,’" said Clunis. "And that really doesn’t cost us anything."
Clunis said division commanders also attend the forums, and then take the information from each meeting back to their respective offices for discussion.
"I want to see them put forward a strategy to implement," he said. "On a 90-day cycle turnaround: ‘what do we have and what are we doing?’ Every 90 days, I want feedback.
The room was only about half-full for the Elmwood forum, and that number included numerous police officers and several leaders of community organizations invited to let residents know about their programs. Clunis said he wasn’t discouraged by the turnout and low number of people expressing concerns, as he was glad that there were people there who just wanted to meet him and see what he had to say.
"If there were a lot of issues, believe me, they would bring them forward," he said.
Sandra Somerville, whose mother’s Elmwood home was recently broken into, said she was discouraged by police response, telling Clunis it took over a month to hear from officers.
However, Somerville was able to speak with an officer after the forum to help clear up her concerns about the incident, and she feels confident in the WPS.
"I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many police officers in one environment," she said. "He’s able to reiterate the issue of building a culture of safety. These officers are the heartbeat of the organization, so they’ve heard it before, and now the community’s hearing it. Things will change."
Barbara Chatelain, a Stadacona Street resident, spoke during the open mic part of the forum, expressing concern for her own safety while worrying about the futures of children who live in the neighbourhood. She considered herself a Clunis proponent to begin with, and was further encouraged by the response.
Chatelain took the chief’s message that all community members need to be involved in crime prevention, joining the Citizens On Patrol Program at the forum.
"We can be a community again," she said. "It’s the police chief, and his people, and the community together."