Mayor Brian Bowman is accusing the police union of engaging in “fearmongering,” in the lead-up to the launch of an attack ad produced by the Winnipeg Police Association.

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Mayor Brian Bowman is accusing the police union of engaging in "fearmongering," in the lead-up to the launch of an attack ad produced by the Winnipeg Police Association.

The 30-second video, which the union said will begin airing on local television Sept. 10, features a young woman as a victim of a home invasion, taking refuge in a closet while frantically trying to reach 911 but being placed on hold.

The voiceover says: "Why is Winnipeg 911 not fully staffed? Ask Mayor Bowman. When you dial 911 – Every. Second. Counts."

The police association has been critical of city council’s decision to hold the Winnipeg Police Service annual budget increases to inflation, arguing it only hampers response times and crime rates aren’t dependent on inflation.

Bowman said Wednesday the police association has been "consistently" critical of city hall during the past four years, following his election win in 2014.

"What we don’t want to see is a return to the days when this union and other special interests were calling the shots at city hall. I don’t think Winnipeggers can afford to go back to those days," Bowman said. "I don’t think the (police union) approach... one that is hostile and certainly one that engages in fearmongering -- is the way in which we build a safer community for all of us."

 

 

 

The reported increase in violent crime incidents is becoming an issue in this municipal election campaign (voters go to the polls Oct. 24; Bowman is running for a second term).

At least one council candidate, Garth Steek, is focusing on the city’s seeming inability to respond to an increase in home invasions in River Heights, and has been critical of council’s downtown safety initiatives (which focus on improved street lighting and additional funding for uniformed "watch" and "ambassador" patrols operated by area business improvement zones).

Mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk’s first campaign announcement promised to increase the number of police in schools, and provide additional funding for citizen patrol groups and crime prevention initiatives developed by others

While the police union has not endorsed any candidate, Bowman described Motkaluk as "their candidate," and accused the organization of writing her policing policies.

Maurice Sabourin, president of the Winnipeg Police Association, said the 911-centred video was prompted by Bowman's repeated refusal over the past three years to meet with the union to discuss its concerns over how the WPS budget is impacting public safety.

"When we’ve tried to meet with (Bowman) specifically on police budget, we’ve always been denied," Sabourin said.

"Over the past three years, with the inadequate police budgets that (Bowman's) been supplying to the service, he’s the one that should have to answer why 911 calls are being placed on hold for, some instances, a ridiculous amount of time."

Statistics compiled by the WPS over the years, however, tend to undermine the police union's concerns.

The data show the overwhelming majority of calls to 911 are handled in 10 seconds or less, police are sent to roughly half of all calls, and only about a quarter of which are considered an emergency.

 

 

 

However, Sabourin said it's common for "urgent" calls to be placed on hold for long periods of time.

Callers to 911 are "hiding in their closet or they’re hiding in the basement because someone is breaking in," Sabourin said. "Is (the 911 video) graphic? Yes. But does it bring attention to the problem with public safety in Winnipeg, and I would say it does."

WPS data show there were 290,040 calls to 911 in 2017, an increase of five per cent from 2016.

A report to the Winnipeg Police Board in June said 911 staff in 2017 were able to respond to 92.9 per cent of calls within 10 seconds, a response percentage consistent for several years.

Maurice Sabourin, president of the Winnipeg Police Association, said it's common for "urgent" calls to 911 to be placed on hold for long periods of time. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Maurice Sabourin, president of the Winnipeg Police Association, said it's common for "urgent" calls to 911 to be placed on hold for long periods of time. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The incidents of violent crime in 2017 were 10 per cent higher than the five-year average, and property crimes 17 per cent higher than the five-year average.

Bowman said the police service budget has increased every year -- and he expects it to do so going forward, but not with the same percentage increases of the past.

Until 2018, annual increases to the police budget outpaced those of other civic departments. Between 2010 to 2018, the city's operating budget increased 32.2 per cent, while the police service budget increased 55.4 per cent during the same time period.

Currently, the police budget accounts for 27 per cent of the city’s $1.081-billion operating budget.

Bowman blamed the city's meth abuse crisis for fuelling the recent increase in violent crime, adding the crime rate won’t decline until there are long-term addiction treatment facilities in place.

"We’re going to continue supporting the Winnipeg Police Service through sustainable budget increases," the mayor said.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca