Police chief ‘taken aback’ by public criticism from premier
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Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth admits he was surprised by the public upbraiding he received from Premier Heather Stefanson, but says he isn’t going anywhere for a while.
“To be honest, I was taken aback a little bit,” Smyth said Wednesday during an interview that focused on the Winnipeg Police Service’s annual statistical report.
On Tuesday, Stefanson took direct aim at Smyth, saying she was “really disappointed” with comments he made after a recent wave of high-profile violence in the city, including the stabbing of a Ukrainian refugee at The Forks on Canada Day.
Smyth’s comments, including an assertion that the violent incidents — some of which were life-threatening — were “nothing new,” came after the union for police officers had urged him to do something about the situation.
The premier issued a statement Tuesday throwing her “unwavering support” behind front-line officers after saying she had met with Winnipeg Police Association president Moe Sabourin.
“My phone blew up in the afternoon, for sure,” Smyth said. “The reality is sometimes union tactics can be very political. I do my best not to get pulled into that. One of the things that helps me is our structure. Police governance is structured so that I report to a board. That kind of keeps me at arm’s length from the pure politics of the moment.
“I certainly had an opportunity to speak with members of my board (Tuesday) and they were taken aback as well. But I have their support.”
He said he looks forward to speaking with the premier, who told the Free Press the chief’s comments “sort of seemed to almost normalize these violent activities that are taking place in Winnipeg and I’m very concerned about that.”
Mayor Brian Bowman said he was also surprised at the premier’s comments.
“In my time in office, it is an unprecedented move to weigh in this heavily and directly to a union boss,” Bowman said.
“That’s not something you typically see… I’m sure there are a lot of union leaders at the provincial level who would like to hear from the premier. I would hope she is having those conversations as well.”
Bowman said if Stefanson wants to help Winnipeg police, there is much her government can do.
“Most notably, we need the province to be more effective within areas of their jurisdiction that they and they alone are responsible for, specifically matters related to mental health and addictions, families in crisis,” he said.
“There is more than enough funding that is being provided for the Winnipeg Police Service, but when they are being diverted to (those other) areas… those are resources that could be more effectively deployed combating violent crime, combating organized crime.”
Meanwhile, the police chief said he is not leaving his job.
“I expect to be around for another year or two,” he said.
“These are certainly challenging times for police chiefs across the country. I’d like to see things get to a little bit more of a level set as we come out of the pandemic, before we pass the baton on to somebody new.”
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Wednesday, July 13, 2022 5:44 PM CDT: Updates earlier webbie