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Officers taken to task over masks

Police chief memo sent months before viral video

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Winnipeg’s police chief scolded officers for going maskless in high-risk areas — including health-care facilities — in an internal brief last October, amid a sharp uptick in COVID-19 cases in the province.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/02/2021 (723 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg’s police chief scolded officers for going maskless in high-risk areas — including health-care facilities — in an internal brief last October, amid a sharp uptick in COVID-19 cases in the province.

“I have taken far too many complaints from health-care facilities and retailers concerned about our members not complying with mask protocols,” Chief Danny Smyth wrote Oct. 9 in the memo sent to Winnipeg Police Service employees.

The Free Press obtained the document through a freedom-of-information request.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES In an op-ed published last Saturday, Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth lamented the erosion of the social contract between police and the public.

“You have all seen the reminders that have been circulated,” Smyth wrote. “All of you have been supplied with cloth masks, and those working in the community or other higher risk areas have been issued N-95 masks.”

In the memo, Smyth said he expects officers to “comply with established protocols in the community.”

“If you attend a health-care facility — you must wear a mask! If you are working special duty at Superstore — you must wear a mask! In fact, with few exceptions, if you attend an indoor facility, you should be wearing a mask.”

This week, the Free Press asked for an explanation of WPS mask policy for officers, particularly those working in high-risk areas and the community.

Police “adhere to the same provincial health order directions as all Manitobans. When officers are working outside of WPS facilities, they are expected to attempt to maintain social distancing, and when this not possible, to wear face masks,” spokesman Const. Rob Carver wrote in an email Thursday.

However, given the “emergency response nature of police work,” wearing a mask and physical distancing isn’t always possible, he said.

It seems at least one member didn’t read the chief’s memos.

A video of a maskless WPS officer during a traffic stop circulated widely on social media in mid-December.

“Remember, people are constantly watching you — this is a time to model the behaviour we expect from everyone in the community. Stay safe,” Smyth wrote in October. “Watch out for each other, and watch after our community.”

That first viral video, along with a second recording of a confrontational interaction between Patrol Sgt. Kevin Smith and a civilian at some point in 2019, made international headlines.

The video of the mask incident showed Smith had issued a warning to a driver for allegedly failing to switch lanes while passing an emergency vehicle with its lights on.

A female passenger questioned Smith, asking why he wasn’t wearing a mask. Following her questions, Smith said the driver would get a ticket.

The second video showed Smith arguing with a man during another traffic stop. The officer warns he could call for backup, noting: “Then things go real bad, eh?”

In December, the police chief said the WPS professional standards unit was going to conduct a code-of-conduct review over the videos.

At the time, Smyth described the second video as “definitely inappropriate,” adding he was concerned the discussion involved “almost racist overtones.”

Smyth said penalties for code of conduct investigations can range up to dismissal, depending on the findings.

The Free Press requested an update on the WPS professional standards unit’s investigation, including whether a review was completed and, if yes, what the outcome was.

On Thursday, Carver said the service wouldn’t comment.

— with files from Joyanne Pursaga

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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