Mayor should push for cameras


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As much as Winnipeg police like to talk about the importance of community involvement, there is a often a sense -- both inside and outside the service -- that cops are separate and apart from the rest of us.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/11/2014 (3118 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As much as Winnipeg police like to talk about the importance of community involvement, there is a often a sense — both inside and outside the service — that cops are separate and apart from the rest of us.

From their perspective — or at least some of them — it’s that we don’t understand them. Or maybe we don’t appreciate them enough.

That wasn’t the feeling I got Wednesday when Supt. Danny Smyth announced at a nationally televised news conference that police had made two arrests in the attack on 16-year-old Rinelle Harper and another brutal sexual assault of a 23-year-old woman that same early Saturday morning.

Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press The River Walk that follows the Assiniboine River just east of the Donald Street Bridge where a sixteen-year-old girl was attacked by two men and left to die, according to police.

Police, the community and yes, even the media, had come together to help identify the suspects and make the arrests. Smyth acknowledged as much. He called the public response “tremendous” and suggested the story had impacted officers in a personal way.

But it was the underlying emotion that went with Smyth’s words that said even more than the words he chose. At times there was palpable anger at the nature of the attacks that reportedly involved a baseball bat. At other times, there was deeply felt gratitude at the family’s “trust.”

I wasn’t surprised by how much or how obviously he cares. I’ve known and admired Smyth for more than 25 years, since the son of a cop was a rookie constable and the only officer at the 1988 J.J. Harper shooting scene who did the right thing by keeping proper notes. He’s a good guy and obviously a good cop, and he was the perfect person to make the announcement, and not just because he’s in charge of the major crimes unit.

Smyth isn’t the only cop, senior or junior, with those kinds of deep feelings about victims of crime and their families. But my sense of it is Smyth’s emotions came from an even deeper place. It wasn’t only the viciousness of the riverside attack on Rinelle, it was her age, her race, her innocence and the still unsolved killing of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine. And, perhaps, his knowing Rinelle might well have been added to Canada’s list of hundreds of aboriginal murdered or missing women and girls had she not been able to crawl out of the river her attackers pushed her into, only to be attacked again and left to die.

All of which, I suspect, caused police to take the extraordinary step of asking Rinelle’s family if they could release the name of the teen, which is how the family came to grant Smyth and his homicide officers their “trust.”

“I felt it was really important to humanize her,” Smyth said. He shouldn’t have to “humanize” a 16-year-old who has been attacked and left for dead, but obviously he felt the need. And it worked. Once her name was released through the media, the public responded with tips to follow.

So, as it happened, did a constable who works downtown. He’d heard the media accounts, recognized a possible link between the attack on Rinelle and a similar assault on a young woman a couple of hours later near Sherbrook Pool. Smyth credited that unnamed officer and the information provided with being pivotal in the swift arrests.

But there was something else that helped. Surveillance cameras.

Not any of the 18 surveillance cameras the Downtown Biz says police have in central Winnipeg, but privately operated cameras on buildings along south Broadway.

“Some of the camera footage was used to piece together the timelines,” Smyth acknowledged.

Which brings me to an old refrain.

Police shouldn’t have to rely on private cameras. The downtown needs more police surveillance cameras, and they need to be monitored 24/7.

This case is yet another reminder of how useful surveillance cameras can be and the need to take another look at expanding their reach.

Hopefully, our new mayor is listening. After all, Brian Bowman is not only a privacy expert, he’s Métis.

Who better to understand the issue and to champion the creation of a complete network of centrally monitored surveillance cameras in the downtown? A network would help police protect the city’s most targeted and vulnerable population — aboriginal women and girls like Rinelle Harper — and bring a heightened sense of security downtown for all of us.

After all, as Smyth suggested, whether we recognize it or not, there should be no divide.

We’re all in this together.

Would you feel safer downtown if there were more surveillance cameras? Join the conversation in the comments below.


Updated on Thursday, November 13, 2014 7:08 AM CST: Adds photo, adds question for discussion

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