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Jump in calls to Winnipeg police putting strain on dispatchers

Jump in calls to Winnipeg police putting strain on dispatchers
Call volumes to Winnipeg police are up -- and dispatchers are struggling under the weight of lengthy queues, Global News' Amber McGuckin reports

Call volumes to Winnipeg police are up — and dispatchers are struggling under the weight of lengthy queues.

Data obtained via the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act shows authorities responded to 55,073 priority three calls — calls considered urgent but not emergencies — between January and September 2017.

READ MORE: Crime severity spikes in Winnipeg, Manitoba has highest provincial homicide rate

For the same period in 2018, that figure jumped slightly to 58,163 calls.

But by the end of September 2019, cops had dealt with 76,305 priority three calls. That’s a roughly 38 per cent increase from 2017.

“I think it’s fair to first back up and look at the volume of 911 calls that we’re getting to our services,” Stacey Cann, supervisor of communications for the Winnipeg Police Service said.

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“It’s steadily increased over the last three years between five and eight per cent, and it’s also fair to say that the majority of those 911 calls would likely fall into the priority three category.”

Winnipeg police dealing with disturbing spike in carjackings
Winnipeg police dealing with disturbing spike in carjackings

According to police, a priority three call could be anything from a stabbing to a robbery — but the classification of the call depends on each individual event.

Cann says a more serious priority two call is usually differentiated from a priority three call if someone’s life is at risk.

While the number of priority three calls increased substantially over the last few years, the number of priority two calls — deemed emergency, not just urgent — has remained relatively steady.

Winnipeg police chief funding cuts
Winnipeg police chief funding cuts

During the first nine months of 2017, police handled 14,763 priority two incidents.

In 2018, that number declined to 13,566 and further to 13,018 this year.

As far as the increase in priority three requests, police say it’s hard to pinpoint any one factor as being the sole reason behind the dramatic jump.

“I think it’s fair to say the violence has increased,” Cann says.

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“The violence is definitely there and it’s real.”

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Regardless of the more serious calls holding steady in numbers, Cann said the sheer volume of requests for help is putting a lot of strain on 911 operators.

“They’re looking at queues that are sometimes so enormous — and especially if a lot of them are in that priority three category, it’s hard to know which calls are most important,” she said.

“You can’t always go by which call is sitting the longest or which came in first, so I think our dispatchers feel a lot of that pressure.”

“We feel the increase, we feel the burden of the calls that are coming in, and obviously we try to respond to the public as best as we can.”

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While first responders are feeling the strain of the call volume, the police budget is being debated at City Hall.

READ MORE: Winnipeg police chief hints at officer cuts with new proposed budget

The police service is being asked to stick to a two per cent budget increase.

The police chief says that would mean cutting 34 officers and 25 cadets over a four-year period.

The chair of the Winnipeg Police Board, Councillor Kevin Klein says more should be done to address the root causes of crime.

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“We should just look at it as an investment. We spend $100 million or more on crime or public safety and it’s going to go up every year,” he said.

“Why don’t we invest $100 million to put in some solid programs from a federal or provincial base and see the crime investment go down.”

The city budget will be tabled in February and voted on before March 31.

Full press conference – Police Chief Danny Smyth on operational changes
Full press conference – Police Chief Danny Smyth on operational changes