A community group leader believes the need for area residents and stakeholders to work more closely with police is greater than ever in light of a recent homicide in St. Boniface.
On the morning of June 2, police were alerted to a body found behind the 200-block of Dumoulin St. The victim, Kyle Devasconcelos, 23, died from upper body injuries after a serious assault. He was at a nearby party when an argument with a male acquaintance escalated into a physical confrontation, police said. Two days later, Jorden Fries, 23, was arrested and charged with second degree murder. According to media reports, Devasconcelos had gang ties.
"It’s obviously troubling to hear about somebody found dead in your community. I can’t recall the last time something like this happened here," said area resident Matt Allard, president of the Old St. Boniface Residents’ Association.
"But I still think St. Boniface is a safe place to live," he added. "It’s a great community."
Allard has helped organize an upcoming community forum with Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Clunis, which is aimed at residents, service providers and business owners in the St. Boniface area. It was arranged before the recent homicide.
The public event will be held at Notre Dame Community Centre (located at 271 avenue de la Cathédrale) on Thurs., June 27. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. and Clunis will lead a discussion from 6 to 8 p.m. A pizza supper will be provided.
"It will be a great opportunity to talk about a safer community and to get information out," Allard said.
"It’s a definite positive from Chief Clunis’ administration and it shows he has a clear commitment to community engagement. There will room for questions and people can say what’s on their minds."
One veteran city police officer said there is a need for better engagement between police and the community.
"While the basic principles of policing and what we strive for are still the same, everything has also changed," said Staff Sgt. Bob Chrismas. "This includes age, race, gender and the public relationship with government agencies and accountability."
Chrismas, who is studying for a PhD in peace and conflict studies and has written a book published by McGill-Queen’s University Press called Canadian Policing in the 21st Century, said collaboration has become a key word in modern-day crime prevention.
"In terms of the community, I believe in crime prevention through social development. Basically, it’s understood that preventative approaches are better than traditional reactive approaches," Chrismas said, adding that, as a rule of thumb, spending $1 in crime prevention saves $7 spent by the social service sectors in responding to crime.
"Agencies can work better together to help the vulnerable. What drives me are the small things, such as when I get a call from a social worker saying ‘you know what you’re doing is saving lives?’" he said.
"The goal of the forums is for the police to come out and listen to the community. To work effectively with the public, we need to hear their concerns and work together."
Chrismas has worked with both missing persons and as a duty officer assessing front line policing operations during his career. Getting everyone involved in crime prevention, he said, is a big priority now.
"We’re working to improve police and community partnerships, with the word community encompassing the whole spectrum — government and non-government agencies, businesses, organizations and citizens," he said.
In light of balancing the roles of police officer, student and now author, Chrismas feels a great sense of achievement in getting his first book published.
"It is a peer-reviewed book and I had four rounds of reviews and the book has more than 600 sources. It was a lot of work, but it’s a great feeling. I’m starting to feel like building on the public record and leaving a legacy is important. If it helps the police help one child, then it’s all worth it," Chrismas said.
"And thinking about everything I researched, it all comes back to the same thing," he added. "Sir Robert Peel (who is acknowledged as the founder of the British police force) said ‘the people are the police and the police are the people.’
"We bring professional tools, force and authority, but we need to work more closely with the community. We can’t address community concerns well in isolation. We know today’s social problems are too complex and far-reaching for one social agency to deal with. We need to all work together."
Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) said everyone in the community should be proactive when it comes to safety.
"It’s very positive to have Chief Clunis coming to talk to residents of our community and I’m very much looking forward to sharing with him our priorities for St. Boniface."
Chrismas’ book is now available for pre-order and will be on bookshelves on Sept. 1. To learn more about the book, visit www.mqup.ca