The Winnipeg Police Board is being lobbied for several law enforcement changes, including a call to cut the Winnipeg Police Service’s budget by 10 per cent next year.
The Police Accountability Coalition, a group of more than 90 local community-based organizations, argues those funds should instead be directed to supports for mental health issues, addictions, and other community needs.
The group is also calling for all WPS interactions to be recorded on body cameras, and for an end to "carding, street checks, racial profiling, and the use of facial recognition technology."
Coalition member Louise Simbandumwe told the board Thursday she came to Canada as a refugee and initially trusted the local police force before her experiences changed that perception.
"Over the years, I’m really sad to say that my trust in the police service has been undermined and eroded," she said.
Coalition member Dorota Blumczynska told the board she works with two young Black men at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba, who reported being repeatedly and arbitrarily stopped by police when leaving their jobs. Blumczynska said the young men work late helping youth connect with homework programs, community centre offerings and sports practices.
"(They) came forward to talk about their direct, lived experience of being arbitrarily stopped, of being carded, of being accused of being in a vehicle they couldn’t possibly have the means of owning, of being questioned why they were in the communities that they were driving in at the hour that they were driving at," she said.
Blumczynska said the young men took part in a meeting with the WPS about the matter a year ago, but were told Winnipeg police officers don’t engage in such practices.
"We took the risk of leaning in and sharing these tremendous points of pain, and what we had the courage to say was left at the door when the service left our building," she said.
WPS Chief Danny Smyth said he doesn’t support arbitrary stops and expects officers to treat all community members fairly. He said tensions remain high for police officers, amid calls to abolish the service, with individuals recently following and videotaping officers on the job.
"At times, it’s a grind for our members and they’re doing their best… but they’re faced with a lot of stresses," he said.
The police chief said he does not believe such surveillance of officers is linked to local Black Lives Matter protests, which were held to oppose police brutality and systemic racism.
Smyth said he welcomes the chance for further discussions with the coalition. He said he’s not sure how to address other groups who’ve declined to speak with police about their complaints.
"There is a big difference between working as a partner in the community, and then doing everything you can to eliminate an institution," said Smyth.
The police chief said he doesn’t oppose police body cameras but isn’t convinced the technology would offer a "panacea" for all policing complaints.
"I’m just not sure that the $8-million to $10-million investment will give us the benefit that we need," said Smyth.
Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River), the Winnipeg Police Board chairman, said the discussion on reducing the WPS budget is taking place just as rising crime rates and the meth crisis increase the demands on police.
Chambers said those budget pressures make it difficult to determine how police funding could be cut. He said he does see a need to explore how city council and other levels of government can better fund non-profit community support groups.
"We have to look at aligning the services and the resources we have to better meet the needs of the community," he said.
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.