Chief says 24-7 walk-in service at police stations too costly


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Instead of fulfilling calls to provide 24-7 walk-in service to the public, Winnipeg’s four police stations will be equipped with new crime-reporting options.

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Instead of fulfilling calls to provide 24-7 walk-in service to the public, Winnipeg’s four police stations will be equipped with new crime-reporting options.

This spring, Winnipeg Police Service will begin a 12-month pilot project that lets residents access video/virtual telephone calls, one or two online reporting terminals and a video evidence drop-box within the vestibules of those stations.

“It won’t be the mode that we had in the past, where you’ll be greeted by an officer sitting behind a desk. We were able to redeploy many of those positions into the field, primarily foot patrol. But what we’re trying to do is leverage technology… to enable people to speak to somebody and actually see them in virtual conversation, have terminals within the station so that they can facilitate online and virtual reporting. It’s just trying to help people in what was described as more of a self-service,” police Chief Danny Smyth told reporters following Friday’s Winnipeg Police Board meeting.

The pilot would add the new technology to those sites, with video calls available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.

Smyth said police volunteers would answer the calls and direct them to the best reporting option.

He said people who aren’t comfortable with technology can still call police or go to the downtown station on Graham Avenue.

The west (Grant Avenue), north (Hartford Avenue) and east (Dugald Road) WPS stations have been closed to the public since the pandemic hit in 2020, while the downtown HQ is open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

The police service says the pilot project is expected to cost less than $10,000, while staffing the four stations with officers 24-7 would not be financially viable.

“I don’t think that’s a good use of police resources,” said Smyth, noting the service redeployed 18 positions per station when they closed to the public.

The pilot was announced after two city councillors pushed police to add in-person walk-in service at all hours.

“It’s about being a part of the community… It’s about rebuilding trust with members of the service and it’s about accountability for those members of the service and (ensuring) that they’re (present) and available,” said Coun. Evan Duncan.

Coun. Russ Wyatt, who raised the motion to add 24-7 in-person service in January, said council promised to keep police stations accessible to the public when it reduced the number of them from six to four back in 2003.

Wyatt called the pilot project a “laughable” effort that falls far short of that commitment.

“I think, frankly, that is laughable… We’re talking about people who may have had a serious experience with regards to being victimized, a break-and-enter or even an auto accident that could be traumatic. There should be somebody there 24-7 to meet with them, to talk to them. I don’t think it’s much to ask,” he said.

The low-cost virtual reporting option was announced after the police board heard multiple concerns that this year’s proposed $326-million police capital and operating budget will be stressed by growing demands for police service.

“There should be somebody there 24-7 to meet with them, to talk to them. I don’t think it’s much to ask.”–Coun. Russ Wyatt

Smyth estimates police spent about $11.3 million in 2022 to respond to 53 homicides and another $6 million to respond to fatal traffic collisions. The report notes officers responded to 28 traffic collision fatalities last year, a record high.

The service also plans to hire more 911 staff this year, with an expected cost of $400,000. Smyth said the 2023 budget doesn’t include funding for that, so police will need to find savings to offset the cost.

Council has directed police to find $9.2 million in savings to meet the department’s budget by the end of this year.

Coun. Markus Chambers, chairman of the police board, said the tight finances are a concern.

“It just shows you that the demands are (out)stripping the resources,” said Chambers.

Meanwhile, multiple delegates urged the city to freeze or reduce the police budget to free up resources for community services.

“We cannot keep funnelling money into an incredibly large police force… when they do nothing to address the underlying issues that cause crime in the first place. I think it’s very important that we start looking for alternatives,” said Cole Coughlin.

Council will vote on the final budget for police and all other departments on March 22.

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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