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Canstar Community News
The Winnipeg Police Service's 2019 annual report details the bloodiest year in the city’s history with a spate of brutal murders that rocked the community and a rash of liquor thefts driving a significant spike in property crimes.
"It has been a remarkable year for our community in terms of crime and crime statistics. The level of brazen crime we experienced is alarming. Violent crime and property crime are well above our five-year averages, and our five-year averages are well above the Canadian average," WPS chief Danny Smyth told reporters Friday following the report's release.
There were 44 slayings in Winnipeg in 2019, which doubled the previous year’s total (22) and marked an 81 per cent increase over the city’s five-year average.
Of the 44 cases — 89 per cent of which led to arrests—an abnormally high number of them involved children as both victims and suspects.
Smyth pointed to the killings of Jaime Adao, 17, on March 3, Jakira Moore, 14, on Oct. 26, and Hunter Straight-Smith, 3, on Oct. 30 as "heartbreaking and unforgettable homicides" that shocked Winnipeggers.
Eight youth were also charged in connection with homicides in 2019, which marked a 166 per cent increase over the previous year and a 135 per cent jump over the five-year average.
"We don’t have a lot of homicides that involve children. This was a remarkable year in that not only did we have victims, we had suspects who were children as well. We don’t see that often. Let’s hope that’s not a common thing," Smyth said.
Friday’s press conference came at a time when calls to defund police departments have been picking up steam across the continent in the wake of the death of George Floyd, 46, at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25.
Smyth said he believes the community needs good policing now given the current crime trends, but that as things stabilize down the road, he remains open to reallocating some police funding to social services.
There was also a significant spike in firearm offences last year — both over the previous year (38 per cent) and the five-year average (92 per cent). The same held true for youth charged with firearm offences — a 116 per cent increase over 2018 and an 85 per cent increase over the five-year average.
In total, 76 adults and 13 youth were charged with firearm offences last year.
"We’ve become aware now that we’ve got firearms that have been smuggled in from the States. We’ve got firearms that have been stolen from break-ins. We’ve encountered firearms that have basically been manufactured like ghost guns," Smyth said.
"We’ve experienced a little bit of all of that. We’re still fortunate that we don’t experience the kind of shootings seen in the United States, but they have risen… I don’t think a week goes by where we don’t arrest somebody that’s in possession of a firearm."
Drug crimes (564 total) fell by 18 per cent from the previous year and 42 per cent from the five-year average. In part, the drop can be explained by the legalization of marijuana, police said.
Smyth said he supports the decriminalization of petty drug possession more broadly, since he considers it an issue that needs to be dealt with through the lens of public health, not policing.
"Our goal is to go after the major traffickers and suppliers… You’re going to see that possession charges have consistently dropped, and they’ve dropped again this year, because that’s not a good use of our resources," Smyth said.
"If you’ve ever heard me speak about drugs in this city, I always preface it as a health issue… People who are caught up in addictions, we don’t want to criminalize that. We don’t want to send them into the justice system."
Violent crime on the whole saw a four per cent increase in 2019 over the previous year, and a 17 per cent increase over the five-year average. Property crimes rose 14 per cent (year-over-year) and 47 per cent (over the five-year average).
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
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