It has come to this: the people we count on most to help us in times of crisis have declared they’re desperately in need of assistance.
That Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth should feel compelled to speak publicly about law enforcement being overwhelmed daily by the increase in crime attributed to the city’s methamphetamine crisis should be seen as no small thing.
In fact, it’s a very big deal. In releasing a letter he sent to his troops last Tuesday, and then later speaking to a Free Press reporter about the unmanageable stresses being experienced by police as a result of the current crisis, Mr. Smyth has clearly decided the only way forward is to make sure the public and the politicians they elect are fully aware of the gravity of the situation.
"I am tired and frustrated by what I see going on around us," the chief wrote last week in an internal memo to all city police officers, just a few days after a weekend in which WPS personnel were dispatched more than 2,100 times and the service’s communications centre received in excess of 4,100 calls for service.
Mr. Smyth expressed concern about the demands on police outstripping the service’s ability to respond, and worry that "we risk burning our people out if this pace continues."
On Thursday, Mr. Smyth and police chiefs from other parts of the province met at the legislature with Justice Minister Cliff Cullen. While the session reportedly included a positive discussion and across-the-board agreement that the situation is critical, the WPS chief emerged seemingly less than satisfied by what he heard.
"I don’t think they’ve acted swiftly enough," Mr. Smyth told the Free Press. "There’s a lot of good recommendations on the table and I would like to hear a commitment that some action is coming."
Specifically, the action Mr. Smyth says is most necessary is an expansion of the resources available to provide treatment and recovery for the fast-increasing number of people struggling with addiction.
When the time came for Mr. Cullen and Premier Brian Pallister to respond, what they said didn’t seem to be what Mr. Smyth was hoping to hear.
No commitment to fast-track new strategies, staffing and facilities for addiction treatment. No promise to give drug users who decide to seek help more, and more frequent, points of access to drug treatment and support. And certainly still no consideration of the introduction of safe-injection sites that could reduce the harm drug users are inflicting on themselves.
While he admitted the province is playing catch-up in its handling of the meth crisis, Mr. Pallister made only vague references to the need to act quickly and "the need to be doing a better job of learning about best practices from (other provinces) because we’re all facing similar situations."
A lofty and legitimate goal, to be sure. But waiting to see if other provinces’ actions are effective will not address the immediate crisis described by Winnipeg’s police chief.
The impassioned wording of Mr. Smyth’s letter to WPS staff encapsulates the frustration of a police force and a community awaiting decisive action.
"It’s just hard to tell right now if anyone in government is committed to the actions necessary to help our community recover."
The next line was directed to the people under Mr. Smyth’s command, but it could fairly be directed to all Winnipeggers who await the Pallister government’s next move:
"Please, hang in there."
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.