Crime top of mind for Manitobans as year comes to end Record number of homicides, brazen shoplifters top concern for half of Winnipeggers in poll

Sparked by a record number of homicides and a shocking, unrelenting wave of retail thefts and robberies, crime has become the No. 1 concern for many Winnipeggers who can't wait to see 2019 end.

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This article was published 30/12/2019 (1009 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Sparked by a record number of homicides and a shocking, unrelenting wave of retail thefts and robberies, crime has become the No. 1 concern for many Winnipeggers who can’t wait to see 2019 end.

Half of the Winnipeggers — among the 1,000 Manitobans — who participated in a recent Probe Research poll commissioned by the Free Press put crime at the top of their list of concerns, up from about 30 per cent in three previous quarterly surveys during the year.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen a number for one particular issue being quite that high; it really is quite unprecedented,” said Curtis Brown, a principal at Probe.

The poll asked Manitobans for “the most important issue or concern facing your community.”

Overall, 39 per cent of participants ranked crime as their top issue, and drugs ranked as the second issue, both inside and outside the Perimeter.

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Brown says drugs didn’t even register among Manitobans’ top issues until 2017.

Health and infrastructure are now less top of mind, ranking as the top issue for just nine and eight per cent of Winnipeggers, respectively, compared with 21 and 12 per cent last spring.

Longtime social worker Mitch Bourbonniere said that the biggest change he’s seen this fall is in how brazen shoplifting “raids” across the city have been.

“It’s almost thuggery, where people feel they can do what they want, burst into Liquor Marts and everyone’s scared,” he said.

“As a Winnipegger I don’t feel like there’s anything much different happening, myself, but certainly it’s the topic of the day, for sure.”

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The city has recorded 44 homicides this year, including the fatal stabbings of a three-year-old while he slept and 14-year-old girl, in separate incidents. Police say methamphetamine-fuelled crime is straining their resources.

Bourbonniere said he hopes the spike is a fluke. Despite the 41 homicides recorded in 2011, the number between then and now has been steady at about 27.

The poll reveals that suburban Winnipeggers are more concerned about crime than those living in the core, where much of the violence is taking place.

Bourbonniere says that’s likely because of the media exposure. “If you’re seeing that on the news every night, you’re going to be concerned,” he said.

Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, which represents about 1,100 businesses, is trying to stimulate more activity so people feel safer on the streets.

“It does come down to perception,” said Kate Fenske, the group’s CEO.

Methodology

Probe Research conducted an online survey of 1,000 Manitoba adults from Nov. 27 to Dec. 10 and asked “what you consider to be the most important issue or concern facing your community today.”

Respondents were recruited through random digit dialing, as well as 305 randomly selected Manitobans from Probe’s proprietary online panel. Probe said a random survey of this size would have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

BIZ has helped install new lighting in Graham Avenue bus shelters, while True North Square’s new Hargrave St. Market is bringing more nighttime activity to the core.

The BIZ also has a team of 30 Downtown Watch Ambassadors, who took more than 4,000 service calls this year, while its eight homeless-assistance workers often have their hands full linking vulnerable people with resources.

“For us it’s really about showcasing the things that are unique to downtown… and that we are working on safety,” Fenske said.

Meanwhile, Brown noted that 17 per cent of people downtown rate meth as their top concern, more than double the other areas of the city, which he says is a “massive difference.”

The Probe results suggest crime is far less of a concern in rural and northern Manitoba, with 22 per cent placing it as the top issue. That’s compared with jobs and the economy, which ranks first for 13 per cent of rural Manitobans, compared with just five per cent of Winnipeggers.

Earlier this month, the Manitoba Police Commission’s downtown safety report recommended Winnipeg better co-ordinate foot patrols, improve the use of closed-circuit surveillance cameras and beef up enforcement of panhandling.

But for Bourbonniere and Fenske, the poll shows the need to address underlying mental-health and social issues.

“We know that there are challenges right now and I don’t think we’re going to figure them out unless we come together as a community,” Fenske said.

“This is not just a downtown issue.”

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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