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Exclusive: ‘It works best when we are a team’: Winnipeg police board chair

WPS Board chair David Asper spoke with Geoff Currier on CJOB Thursday. .
WPS Board chair David Asper spoke with Geoff Currier on CJOB Thursday. . Shannah-Lee Vidal / CJOB

Everybody has their own idea of what Winnipeg police do, or more to the point, what they should be doing.

There have been stories about how officers are kept out of active duty while tending to suspects high on meth, officers being tied up in court for contested traffic tickets, and officers tracking down runaway children in the care of Child and Family Services.

READ MORE: Tina Fontaine reported missing multiple times in weeks leading up to her death: court

On Thursday, David Asper, chair of the Winnipeg Police Board, spoke exclusively with CJOB’s Geoff Currier.

Asper said the Board has been making a significant effort to get out in the community to understand how citizens feel about the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS), and what people think police priorities should be.

“It represents a third of the city budget. Its an organization that has to function somewhat proactively but also be fluid,” Asper explained. “There is a very complicated matrix of factors that go into public safety”

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Asper, who was a lawyer in the past, said it is a challenging task for the Board — overseeing the operations of the force, because the members can never know the exact job that is being done.

“You’re never going to know even remotely as much as the people doing it day in day out… we can’t even begin to know what police officers do,” Asper suggested, adding that he has been ‘enormously impressed’ with the job being done by local officers and police chief Danny Smyth.

READ MORE: Effectiveness of Winnipeg’s Air1 operations to be reviewed

According to Asper, the Board has collaborated with the police service to develop a five year strategic plan, which is available for viewing online.

The plan is updated each year, and is built on four pillars:

  1. less crime and victimization
  2. engaged communities
  3. effective efficient service
  4. healthy organization

Within that plan, Asper said, comes the task of allocating resources with a limited budget, which has increased each year by the rate of inflation, but not more. Asper said the budget, without a doubt, puts constraints on what police prioritize.

“The budget is finite — there is only so much the police service can do.”

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Asper responded to a number of listener emails and questions:

Traffic tickets and enforcement

Regarding officers supposedly meeting traffic ticket quotas and appearing in traffic court, Asper said despite complaints, the Board has heard the public is largely in support of traffic enforcement.

“The police service does a bi-annual deep survey of the public, and that almost always reveals that traffic safety and traffic enforcement is a priority for people,” he said.

However, Asper noted that traditional enforcement may be declining in favour of technology, pointing to the use of traffic cameras.

“It is clearly the most efficient way to do things,” he said.

Texting and driving

Asper said the growing instances of distracted driving are a concern.

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“Its a huge issue. Both federal and provincial governments have proposed significant changes to the highway traffic act.”

But, Asper suggested, public education is the most realistic solution to the problem.

“You can only enforce as much as you see it happening… people need to understand how dangerous it is,” he said.

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“It should become like seatbelts… everybody has got to get to the point where they just put the phone away.”

Helicopters and armoured vehicles

When asked why the police need hugely expensive equipment, such as Air1 and the ARV, Asper said the answer is not cut and dry.

Anyone who has ever had the benefit of those vehicles wouldn’t question them, he said, mentioning the river rescue April 17 when Air1 was essential in finding a woman clinging to a tree in the icy Red River and guiding rescue crews to her location.

Dramatic video shows rescue of Winnipeg woman from icy Red River
Dramatic video shows rescue of Winnipeg woman from icy Red River

WATCH: Dramatic video shows the rescue of a Winnipeg woman from the frigid waters of the Red River.

The police can not be all things to all people, Asper stated. “Thought needs to be given to build a sustainable model.”

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Asper said the work of the police force is largely affected by the degree to which citizens are engaged. He used the example of the Jets celebrations during round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

READ MORE: Jets win game 5; fans erupt at Whiteout Street Party

“People vastly outnumber the police, but people are policing themselves — they are behaving,” Asper said. “It works best when we are all engaged, when we are a team”.

Other topics of discussion:

  • school resource officers — community-based policing (high school or elementary)
  • child and family services — police contact with kids in care
  • disconnect between the police and the community — a divide between police and First Nations
  • human trafficking
  • community groups (Bear Clan)
  • methamphetamine
  • diversity on the force
  • legalized drugs

“The great news is that, by and large, the public has a lot of confidence in our police service, as does the Board,” Asper said.

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“The Board’s role is to make sure that continues.”

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