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This article was published 31/3/2017 (1635 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg Police chief Danny Smyth visited the West End on March 29 as part of what he says are the Winnipeg Police Service’s efforts to engage more with community groups.
Smyth took part in a town hall at the Magnus Eliason Recreation Centre (430 Langside St.) where he gave a presentation on the police service’s goals and strategies and answered questions from community residents on a wide variety of topics.
Town hall participants were outspoken about their criticisms of the WPS, one woman in particular becoming agitated when the topic of Tina Fontaine’s death was introduced by Smyth. She asked what was being done to ensure that a repeat of Fontaine’s case wouldn’t happen, and referred to Smyth’s presentation as "bragging."
"I’m trying to give you a sense of things we’re involved in the community," Smyth replied. "Don’t take like you’re taking it, don’t take it as bragging."
He said the force takes part in diversity training, which aims to reduce police bias towards Indigenous, transgender and LGBT folks and people of colour. Smyth added that the WPS is focused on building relationships with members of the community, including what he refers to as exploited persons — namely those in the sex trade.
"What we’re talking about is those that exploit or try to come into the community to buy sex, our enforcement is targeted towards exploiters," Smyth said. "My general view around the sex trade is that most people involved are being exploited in one way or another."
Smyth discussed the WPS budget, which is $288 million. He said $40 million comes from provincial grants and another $16 million comes from traffic enforcement.
"The provincial budget will come out next month and if I’m paying attention to the rest of the community — education saw a slash, health saw a slash — so I’m expecting we too will see some budget restraint," Smyth said.
Volunteers from the Winnipeg organization Bar None, a rideshare that offers rides to prisons for family members visiting inmates, questioned Smyth about the WPS’ recent spending on an armoured vehicle and assault rifles.
"An armoured vehicle is a pretty standard piece of equipment for an urban force," Smyth responded. He added that in the past WPS officers have found themselves in situations where they were "outgunned" by those they were trying to apprehend.
When asked about harm reduction for drug users, Smyth said he didn’t have a strong position about it "one way or the other."
"I would say largely that’s a health issue, not one I’m going to weigh into heavily," Smyth said. "One thing I’ve recognized in our community is we don’t have a concentration of persons struggling with addictions like Vancouver, where a safe injection site is necessary. That’s just not the environment in our community."
Smyth also stressed the importance of community participation in issues like gang control and crime reduction, noting that the WPS depends on community groups to identify and respond to problems.
"We try to go where the crimes are happening," he said.
Community journalist — The Metro
Alana Trachenko was the community journalist for The Metro