Police team will track down wanted high-risk criminals
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/11/2022 (214 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Fears of violence, crime and a worsening addictions crisis in Manitoba’s capital city have fuelled millions in provincial spending, as the governing Tories try to assert their tough-on-crime stance and appeal to Winnipeg voters with a promise of increased policing.
“We are no longer going to put up with the heinous acts of crime committed by the most violent criminals in our society,” Premier Heather Stefanson said Thursday at a news conference announcing an integrated violent offender apprehension unit. “Today, we say enough is enough.”
Over the past four days, the governing Progressive Conservatives have pledged more than $20 million towards measures aimed at tackling crime, improving public safety or addictions services, including $3.6 million for the Downtown Community Safety Partnership and a $9 million funding increase for homeless shelters, outreach workers and transitional housing.
Speaking at The Forks, Stefanson doubled-down on her government’s support for police and announced $3.2 million for the Winnipeg Police Service and the RCMP to create a unit dedicated to tracking down “violent criminals” wanted on warrants and considered a high risk to reoffend.
“Enough of worrying about the safety of your children as they head to school, out to parks, out with their friends. Enough of worrying about your safety when you go downtown to work or to a sporting event,” Stefanson said at the historic Winnipeg attraction, which was the scene of multiple stabbings this summer.
“Enough of worrying about guns and knives and senseless deaths.”
The multimillion-dollar program is expected to add a total of 12 officers to the WPS and RCMP and pay for increased, high-intensity supervision of offenders on probation and people accused of a crime released on bail.
The premier pledged to do “whatever it takes” to get violent offenders off the streets of Winnipeg and communities across the province, saying Manitobans should be able to go where they want “without a fear of criminal activity taking place, and without fear of harm.”
Public safety and crime will also feature prominently in the upcoming throne speech — scheduled for Nov. 15 — and form a pillar of the Progressive Conservative legislative agenda heading into the next general election, due on or before Oct. 3.
“Today, we are also continuing our efforts to crack down on serious criminal activity by increasing special police units, providing support for more police officers, building an increased police presence — and there is more to come,” the premier said.
Stefanson’s tough-on-crime rhetoric will tap into issues that are top of mind for many Winnipeg residents, as a byelection in Kirkfield Park approaches and the PCs face a battle in the polls, Probe Research principal Mary Agnes Welch said.
Public opinion research shows crime, violence, poverty and homelessness are top concerns for Winnipeggers, she said Thursday.
“Part of it is (public relations) and spin, but there is a little bit of genuine action on issues, which is exactly what — not so much Manitobans writ large — but Winnipeggers, specifically, are looking for,” Welch said of the week-long spending blitz.
In general, the emphasis on fear, violence and crime in the premier’s speaking notes mirror the views of Winnipeggers, Welch said. However, public opinion research also shows many residents want governments to shift away from enforcement and take action on addressing the root causes of crime.
The PCs will need to strike the right balance between the two if they’re to regain pre-election ground they’ve lost in Winnipeg, Welch said.
“Winnipeggers are worried about crime. As much as they are increasingly progressive on those root causes (and) issues, they also don’t want their house to get broken into, they don’t want to have their patio furniture stolen, they don’t really want to see encampments along the river.”
Some credit should be given to the Tories for measures taken to tackle poverty — including increasing welfare rates and boosting shelter benefits — but voters will need to be convinced the PCs can address the significant social challenges in Winnipeg, Welch said.
“Do we as voters think that the Tories are the right ones to enact this balanced approach?” she said. “(Stefanson) could be saying exactly the right stuff, but if voters aren’t buying it, then she may not perhaps get a boost in approval.”
Opposition Leader Wab Kinew pointed out in 2017, the Manitoba warrant task force, which was also aimed at arresting high-risk offenders with warrants, dissolved amid flat provincial funding to the City of Winnipeg. Stefanson was justice minister at the time.
“There’s some politics at work here,” Kinew said. “Manitobans are thinking about safety these days, and it’s important for us as public officials to take that seriously and outline a series of steps that we can take.”
— with files from Chris Kitching and Carol Sanders
$3.2M to track criminals
A new, integrated provincial police unit focused on arresting high-risk offenders with outstanding warrants is expected to launch early next year.
The government announced the new police unit, which will add a total of 12 officers to the WPS and RCMP, at The Forks on Thursday. Manitoba will spend $3.2 million to get the unit off the ground.
“We also must give law enforcement the tools needed to deal with those that have resisted help, that prey on others, and choose a life outside of law,” Premier Heather Stefanson said. “Today, we all join forces in a show of strength and collaboration to say right here, right now to law enforcement: we have your backs.”
Provincial dollars are also being dedicated to increase the monitoring and support of people on probation. Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said monitoring activities are expected to increase by 30 to 40 per cent.
The province will also begin monitoring people released on bail who are accused of violent crimes and are considered at high-risk to break bail conditions.
As many as 50 people could be subject to this new bail program, the minister said. “We don’t want to simply wait until the individuals who probably never should’ve had bail to begin with commit another violent offence.”
Police and law enforcement will be focused on the “most dangerous criminals,” said Stefanson, citing sex offenders, gang members and people involved in homicides or robberies as examples.
The premier took a shot at Ottawa while making the announcement.
“The federal government has imposed changes to bail provisions that allow these dangerous criminals to be released on bail, often ending up in a continuation of the cycle of violent crime,” she said. “Gang members, drug dealers and violent sex offenders must be held accountable for their actions, and we cannot wait for the federal government to implement the much-needed changes to their law.”
Stefanson and Goertzen were joined at the news conference by Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham and WPS Insp. Shawn Pike.
“Creating a warrant unit like this was part of my commitment to Winnipeggers in the recent election and I’m happy to work together with the
Manitoba government, RCMP and other partners to make this happen,” Scott Gillingham said in a release.
“Taking a more proactive approach to crime prevention and getting high-risk repeat offenders off the streets will improve safety throughout the city.”
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.