Former WPS chief Clunis to head Manitoba public safety training development
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The province has hired a former Winnipeg police chief to lead efforts to develop consistent public safety training programs for law enforcement officers and community wellness teams across Manitoba.
Devon Clunis, who was chief from 2012-16, is tasked with framing and implementing the new Manitoba Public Safety Training Strategy, which stems from the government’s 2020 review of the Police Services Act.
His objectives include strengthening ties between police agencies and communities through collaboration.
“Many people have different ideas, but I think the best approach for all of us moving forward is for us to sit down and collectively define what we want policing and community relations to look like,” Clunis said at a Wednesday news conference at CityPlace in downtown Winnipeg.
“Within the province (and) the Winnipeg police, we do have some of the best training you’ll find anywhere on the planet, operationally speaking,” he said.
“The major shift which is coming now in policing is going beyond the operational pieces — looking at socio-economic factors and determinants of crime, and health and all of those pieces.”
The strategy will establish the foundation for recruit and in-service training, he said.
Clunis believes the province already has some of the best policing practices.
“I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, saying that it’s perfect, because nothing is,” he said. “But, we have a great foundation from which to start.”
He said policing is going through “its greatest evolution, probably in the last 200 years, since the inception of policing.”
“Policing has become far more complex since I was a rookie,” he added. “We need to enhance the training to prepare our people to help them deal with what we’re seeing out in the policing environment.”
The strategy’s initial framework must be completed by Jan. 31. No budget amount has been attached because the strategy has not yet been developed, a spokesperson for the province said.
Clunis, who signed a one-year contract up to $25,000, will chair a steering committee that will develop and implement the initiative, which was announced Wednesday by Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen.
According to the province, Clunis will consult communities, police services and other agencies, and give advice to help municipalities with local safety and well-being efforts.
Clunis became Canada’s first Black police chief when he was promoted by the Winnipeg Police Service in 2012.
He’s been doing consulting work in Canada and the U.S. since retiring from the WPS after a 29-year career.
He was Ontario’s first inspector general of policing, spending just over a year in the role before leaving in December 2021.
Goertzen said the initiative is aimed at ensuring training is consistent for law enforcement agencies which have varying powers — from municipal police to conservation officers.
“We want to… look at what the future of police training and other law enforcement agencies is in the province of Manitoba,” the minister said.
The Police Services Act review also identified a need to ensure communities are doing the “right thing” to reduce crime.
The WPS trains the majority of law enforcement officers in Manitoba, with courses available at RRC Polytech and Assiniboine Community College in Brandon.
Former Winnipeg police chief Jack Ewatski (1998-2007), who joined Clunis and Goertzen at the news conference, said a person’s feeling of safety depends on factors such as the relationship between a community and police.
The public must be given a voice and have a role in identifying and solving any safety challenges, he said.
“Gone are the days when decisions regarding safety and security are made solely in isolation by public safety leaders,” said Ewatski, chair of public safety at ACC, which is a partner in the provincial strategy.
Police services are waiting to see what the steering committee comes up with.
The strategy will use WPS training as a reference point for the rest of Manitoba, said support services Supt. Chody Sutherland, who oversees the inspector of the training academy.
The academy has had 42 recruits in its last three classes, and it also trains others including Health Sciences Centre’s security officers and provincial sheriff’s officers.
Sutherland noted the WPS has made trauma-informed training mandatory for officers. A new program which provides trauma-informed leadership training for supervisors and the “higher level” was recently approved.
“We’re always morphing to the needs of the community,” said Sutherland. “There’s lots of things we can add to, and certainly we’re open to change where we need to.”
West district officers have launched Project Reclaim to tackle an increase in property crime in the River Heights and surrounding neighbourhoods.
As part of efforts to engage with residents, police teamed up with the Winnipeg Freeze, a Manitoba Junior Hockey League team, to hand out flyers to about 500 homes Wednesday evening.
The NDP weighed in Wednesday.
“Manitobans deserve to be safe. That’s why our team has announced a plan to end chronic homelessness that would connect people with safe housing and make communities safer for everyone. It’s important police training changes are made in consultation with communities, including those connected to the addictions crisis, the mental health system and those supporting MMIWG families,” justice critic Nahanni Fontaine said.
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Wednesday, November 2, 2022 7:23 PM CDT: Image updated