December 10, 2019

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Police chief's frustration boils over

Smyth fears officer burnout due to city's meth crisis, mayor agrees more needs to be done

Mayor Brian Bowman says he agrees with an impassioned letter penned by his police chief Tuesday that fired shots at all levels of government for not doing enough to help law enforcement handle the methamphetamine crisis ravaging the city.

"Mayor Bowman agrees the challenges faced by our city are not for the police to address alone. It requires the support from other levels of government on multiple fronts," Jeremy Davis, Bowman’s press secretary, said in a statement written on the mayor’s behalf.

In the letter, Chief Danny Smyth also singles out a number of WPS units for praise, including homicide and the newly formed guns and gangs unit. (Sasha Sefter / Free Press files)</p></p>

In the letter, Chief Danny Smyth also singles out a number of WPS units for praise, including homicide and the newly formed guns and gangs unit. (Sasha Sefter / Free Press files)

"The mayor is grateful for the efforts of the women and men of our Winnipeg Police Service and the tremendous work they continue to do each day."

On Tuesday, WPS Chief Danny Smyth sent an internal memo to all city police officers saying the force is being overrun with calls for service and its resources drained by spikes in violent and property crimes driven by methamphetamine use.

The letter came on the heels of a weekend during which his officers were dispatched more than 2,100 times and the police communications centre received more than 4,100 calls for service.

Smyth’s message to his rank and file was clear: hang in there.

"I am tired and frustrated by what I see going on around us... I see a forensics unit that is being run off its feet providing support services at crime scenes throughout the city. Members are coming to work on their days off to help with the major scenes," Smyth wrote.

"The evidence being collected by our forensics personnel at break-ins and robberies is outpacing our ability to arrest and process those being identified as responsible for these crimes. I worry that we risk burning our people out if this pace continues."

So far, 2019 has been a busy and difficult year for the WPS. The homicide unit is already dealing with 25 cases, while there were only 22 slayings recorded during all of last year. If the current pace continues, it’s likely Winnipeg will surpass its record for most homicides in a calendar year — 41, set in 2011.

Police have also repeatedly warned that calls for service and property crimes are on the rise compared to 2018, pointing to the popularity and proliferation of methamphetamine in the city as the likely culprit.

At a news conference scheduled for this Monday, Smyth said he plans to make additional comments on the issue. That day, the WPS will release its 2018 annual statistics report. He indicated the report will "outline concerning crime numbers that are affecting our officers and plaguing this city."

Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said Wednesday that the provincial government "certainly appreciate(s) the chief’s apparent frustration."

However, Cullen was quick to point out efforts by the government — including the creation of Rapid Access to Addictions Medicine clinics and the release of the Virgo report — to address this issue.

"We certainly recognize that there are challenges out there. There’s no silver bullet. There’s no magical solution for the challenges we face. That’s why we’re taking a whole of government approach to this," Cullen said.

Cullen also revealed that he will be hosting the police chiefs of Manitoba’s major law enforcement agencies at the provincial legislature today for a meeting on public safety and policing strategies. He said the meeting has been in the works for roughly two weeks and was not set up in response to Smyth’s letter.

In his letter, Smyth stressed the current situation constitutes a public health crisis that police won’t be able to arrest their way out of.

"We can enforce the laws and we can intervene to help people recover from trauma and stress, but we need to be able to divert people to the help they need to recover. We know there are not enough shelters, stabilization units and treatment centres," Smyth wrote.

"I will continue to press our government to take action to help us. I will continue to advocate for the community. It’s just hard to tell right now if anyone in government is committed to the actions necessary to help our community recover. Please hang in there."

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

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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History

Updated on Wednesday, July 17, 2019 at 5:05 PM CDT: Full write through

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