Public trust in city police declines: survey

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The perception of Winnipeg police has worsened and more people think the force is overfunded, according to a recent public opinion survey.

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The perception of Winnipeg police has worsened and more people think the force is overfunded, according to a recent public opinion survey.

At the same time, respondents also believe crime is increasing year over year and many think there are too few officers on the street, the poll shows.

The Winnipeg Police Service public opinion survey, presented Friday to the Winnipeg Police Board, was conducted by Prairie Research Associates over a week in August. A total 600 city residents were surveyed by phone.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES

Confidence in the Winnipeg Police Service is down — 61 per cent this year, compared to a high of 81 per cent in 2015.

It found 73 per cent of respondents believe crime has increased in the past year — which is unchanged from the last survey in 2019, but more than double the proportion in the two previous surveys, which are conducted on behalf of the board every two years.

The survey found the public perception of police is generally lower than in the past — with 55 per cent rating the quality of the WPS as excellent or good, a drop from 64 per cent in 2019 — and the lowest to date.

Meantime, 46 per cent said police in Winnipeg are doing a good job, a drop from 64 per cent in 2019. Just 36 per cent think police in Canada are doing a good job, compared to 60 per cent in 2019.

Confidence in the WPS is down as well — 61 per cent this year, compared to a high of 81 per cent in 2015.

JESSICA LEE / FREE PRESS FILES

WPS Chief Danny Smyth noted as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, trust and confidence in institutions across the board are down.

WPS Chief Danny Smyth noted Friday, as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, trust and confidence in institutions across the board are down.

“I do think the pandemic is part of it, and we’ll, like everyone else, work through this and try to address these concerns,” he told reporters following the meeting.

The pollsters found people ages 18 to 34 tended to be less positive about police than those 35 or older. Meanwhile, people living in the inner city don’t think as highly of police as suburbanites — just 39 per cent of those in the inner city thought police provide the same quality of service to everyone, compared to 52 per cent overall.

Citizens tend to rate property crimes as the most serious issue in their neighbourhoods, the poll found.

WPS public opinion survey

Officers responding quickly is the most important aspect of policing, the 2022 survey said. However, it rated speedy response as what the WPS is worst at, with 45 per cent of those surveyed saying city cops did an excellent or good job.

Downtown safety is also down from 2019 — just eight per cent feel at ease walking in the area at night, compared to 12 per cent in the last survey. People from the inner city have a slightly higher opinion, with 16 per cent rating it as a safe place to be on foot after the sun goes down.

About one in five think the WPS is overfunded — 19 per cent of respondents this year, compared to nine per cent in 2019 — while 37 per cent think it’s underfunded. The force was allocated $320 million this year, which accounts for 26.8 per cent of the total City of Winnipeg budget.

The pollsters found 49 per cent of people think there are too few police officers in the city, while just eight per cent said there were too many.

Supt. Dave Dalal said calls for emergency services, including police, fire and ambulance, are on track to reach 750,000 this year, compared to a total 671,364 in 2021.

In past surveys, the majority of respondents thought the number of officers was about right, but that opinion has diverged to either too many or too few over time.

Asked for his key takeaway from the survey, Smyth said: “The one trend that I see occurred is we’ve seen a shift of people into that average response… I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, it’s average… Then we are seeing a slight increase in people that have a poor opinion of us. It’s still the minority but it’s trending up a little bit.”

Meantime, calls for service continue to increase significantly, the police board heard Friday.

Supt. Dave Dalal said calls for emergency services, including police, fire and ambulance, are on track to reach 750,000 this year, compared to a total 671,364 in 2021.

Once fire, ambulance and other calls are parred out, that will still result in more than 500 calls for police dispatch every day, Dalal said, including many that are resource intensive.

Among those resource intensive calls are homicides: 38, as of Sept. 3, which is almost double the yearly average prior to 2019.

Prairie Research Associates said the margin of error for the survey was plus or minus four percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

erik.pindera@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @erik_pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera
Reporter

Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.

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