Violent crime wave taking toll on community, cops: police association
Union leader calls on WPS chief to act in aftermath of bloodstained week at The Forks
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The union representing Winnipeg Police Service officers is calling on police Chief Danny Smyth to tackle an increase in violent crime, noting attacks on innocent people appear to be more common.
Winnipeg Police Association president Moe Sabourin pointed to several recent incidents, including one on Canada Day, when two Ukrainian refugees were attacked at The Forks.
“The victims are, as far as we’re concerned, innocent bystanders,” Sabourin said Thursday. “It seems it’s more everyday people who are being targeted in these situations.
“We’re extremely concerned for the safety of the citizens of Winnipeg, and also for our members, who’ve been exposed to the same amounts of violence.
Officers have been bitten and punched by suspects recently, Sabourin said, adding violent crime isn’t confined to downtown or the North End; serious incidents, including homicides, are occurring all over the city.
“The level of crime, especially violent crime, is extremely concerning,” he said.
Recent incidents, including three attacks in five days last week at The Forks, should make Smyth “really concerned about what’s going on,” the union leader said.
In response to Sabourin’s comments, Smyth has called a news conference Friday afternoon to address the issue.
Police have so far declined to comment this week on violent-crime trends, initially saying Smyth would answer questions when the 2021 annual report is released next week.
The WPS latest monthly statistical report shows a jump in reports of violent crime. The number of reported incidents increased by 18.3 per cent between April 2021 and March 2022 compared with the previous 12-month period.
The total was 3.7 per cent higher than the five-year average.
In March, as Manitoba’s last remaining COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, reports of violent crime were 19.7 per cent higher than March 2021.
Sabourin said burnout and post-traumatic stress disorder levels among officers are “way above what we’ve seen in the past” due to the heavy workload.
General-patrol officers going from call to call have no time to do “proactive” policing or patrols, he said.
In the short-term, Sabourin wants the chief to increase the minimum standard of 28 two-person cruiser cars per shift; one or two additional cars in each of the city’s four divisions would be a good start, he said.
“We really need to get back to having general patrol resourced properly,” he said.
The incidents at The Forks haven’t done any favours for the reputations of downtown or the city, in general.
“Any time you have matters of public safety, like every community in Canada has issues of public safety, it’s obviously not something you want to see in any community,” Mayor Brian Bowman told reporters at a Winnipeg Transit funding announcement Thursday.
He said the attack on the Ukrainian refugees was a “terrible situation that nobody wishes for.”
Both men were attacked with bear spray and one was stabbed near Israel Asper Way and York Avenue at about 10:40 p.m. last Friday.
Good Samaritans who helped the men, who are in their 20s, said the victims were attacked after accidentally bumping into a group of people and apologizing.
“We don’t want to see anyone being hurt, whether they’ve lived here for their entire life or they are refugees,” said Bowman. “Our thoughts are with the victims of that particular incident.”
Asked if he is satisfied with the public communication from Smyth, Bowman said he cannot direct the police chief and will let him respond to the media “in due course.”
“Obviously, the more forthcoming they can be, in a timely way, we’d obviously welcome that,” said Bowman.
Premier Heather Stefanson, who attended the transit event, cited the need to address factors, such as mental health and addictions, which contribute to crime. She said the province has a mental health and addictions strategy to help people in need.
Stefanson said police officers are doing “amazing work” and need to be supported.
“It’s a difficult thing when they go out every single day and they don’t know what they will face,” she said.
The major crimes unit is looking for multiple suspects in the Canada Day attack.
The stabbing victim is hoping to be released from Health Sciences Centres soon, said Julya Zan, a Winnipegger who stopped to help the man after the incident and has visited him in hospital.
In one of the earlier incidents, two men in their 20s were stabbed and a woman suffered minor injuries when two groups were involved in a June 29 altercation outside The Forks Market at about 12:30 a.m.
Police said Thursday two 15-year-old girls and an 18-year-old man have been charged in the incident. All three were released on an undertaking.
Before that incident, a father and daughter were attacked, allegedly by three teenage girls, in a parking lot at The Forks Market at about 8 p.m. on June 27.
— with files from Danielle Da Silva
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.