September 21, 2017

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'In any other city...'

On Oct.31, Winnipeg police Chief Keith McCaskill said he'd release a strategic plan with crime-reduction targets within two weeks. It's a familiar story.

Six months ago, on May 5, he told a Free Press reporter to expect a strategic plan with crime-reduction targets "shortly." Remember, he was sworn in on Dec. 10, 2007 -- nearly four years ago.

It looks as though McCaskill only mentioned the long-awaited plan because he was under pressure to say something after Winnipeg's 34th homicide of the year. Since then, the city has seen its 35th homicide, a record for Winnipeg. He also argued murders are hard to prevent. Strategic plans matter in crime prevention because careful planning in other cities has proven McCaskill's argument wrong -- or at least, wrong enough -- over and over again.

Across the continent, when police reorganized themselves to reduce crime overall, they cut the homicide rate in the process. That happens because homicides are often committed by habitual criminals who also commit other crimes. The key is to attack the culture of crime, not to parse over particular offences.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/11/2011 (2137 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

On Oct.31, Winnipeg police Chief Keith McCaskill said he'd release a strategic plan with crime-reduction targets within two weeks. It's a familiar story.

Six months ago, on May 5, he told a Free Press reporter to expect a strategic plan with crime-reduction targets "shortly." Remember, he was sworn in on Dec. 10, 2007 — nearly four years ago.

It looks as though McCaskill only mentioned the long-awaited plan because he was under pressure to say something after Winnipeg's 34th homicide of the year. Since then, the city has seen its 35th homicide, a record for Winnipeg. He also argued murders are hard to prevent. Strategic plans matter in crime prevention because careful planning in other cities has proven McCaskill's argument wrong — or at least, wrong enough — over and over again.

Across the continent, when police reorganized themselves to reduce crime overall, they cut the homicide rate in the process. That happens because homicides are often committed by habitual criminals who also commit other crimes. The key is to attack the culture of crime, not to parse over particular offences.

From New York to Los Angeles, from Newark to Memphis, the results are consistent: Cities that reformed their police deployments, targeted prevention and rehabilitation programs and modernized intelligence systems all saw significant reductions in violent crime over time thereafter. We're seeing 40-year lows in most cities' homicide rates.

The crime-prevention revolution isn't an exclusively American phenomenon, either. In Toronto in 2004-05, police Chief Julian Fantino and successor Bill Blair attacked gang violence with a campaign called Project Pathfinder.

Their goal: destroy two gangs fighting to control the neighbourhood of Malvern. Innocent residents were living with the sort of fear we've come to accept as routine in Winnipeg's own North End. Given the "not my problem" attitude pervasive here, it's worth repeating the objective was to destroy the gangs, not to manage them, or contain them, or explain them.

In a single morning raid in May 2004, Toronto police arrested 65 gang members in one sweep, pressing hundreds of charges. Both gangs were crippled, but the arrests didn't stop. The Toronto strategy: patiently assemble intelligence and then charge as many offenders with as many different crimes as possible. Even if a gang member got a light sentence on the first charge, they'd inevitably face more trouble on their third charge, or their eighth, or their 50th.

Malvern is now considerably safer. The same strategy has been used with success in three similar operations in other neighbourhoods since.

That's what happens when police chiefs focus on delivering outcomes and focus less on distractions like helicopter procurement. And in Malvern, don't forget, Fantino and Blair had to work with the same Criminal Code we've got here in Winnipeg.

Continental murder rates are plummeting. But a few cities stand out as exceptions. Edmonton and Winnipeg are among them. What do these exceptions have in common? Each has a police department that has been operating without a proper crime-prevention plan.

When Edmonton's murder rate spiked this summer, Mayor Stephen Mandel and other officials demanded a plan from Edmonton police Chief Rod Knecht. Knecht had a good excuse for not having one ready: He was only sworn in on June 7. His plan was public by Aug. 10.

I don't take any pleasure in criticizing McCaskill. When he was appointed, I joined the crowd at city hall and literally clapped and cheered, believing McCaskill would change things.

The probable cause for his strange indifference to strategy: Nobody in a position of oversight is pushing him to have a strategy.

With that failure in mind, let's use the "in any other city" test again, since Winnipeg fails it so often. In any other city, the chief's crime-prevention plan — or lack thereof — would normally be overseen by a civilian police services board.

Over a year ago (Oct. 30, 2010), I wrote a column complaining that the province had passed a law in 2009 to create the Winnipeg Police Services Board, yet there was no sign a board would be appointed any time soon.

Another year has gone by, and still no board — and no tough questions from reporters or stakeholders to ask why not. Attorney General Andrew Swan surely is unique; any other New Democrat would have created 10 whole bureaucracies in the time it's taken Swan to fail to create just one.

If Winnipeg wants to fight crime, what it needs most is at least one person in a position of authority who'll demand change in weeks or months instead of years. Police are looking for a man or a woman who fits that description. If you see anyone who does, be sure to file a report as soon as possible.


Brian Kelcey served as a political adviser in the mayor's office. He blogs at

stateofthecity.ca

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