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Enhanced camera surveillance, stiffer panhandling fines floated in safety report

The Manitoba Police Commission says the province should consider enhanced security cameras, a crackdown on panhandlers and other measures to improve safety in downtown Winnipeg.
The Manitoba Police Commission says the province should consider enhanced security cameras, a crackdown on panhandlers and other measures to improve safety in downtown Winnipeg. Joe Scarpelli/Global News

A recent spike in crime in downtown Winnipeg could be reversed with high-tech public surveillance cameras, a crackdown on panhandlers and other measures, the Manitoba Police Commission said in a report released Tuesday.

The 46-page report from the civilian advisory group says authorities should consider adding to the nine closed-circuit cameras already installed in public areas downtown, and adopting video analytic software.

That software could detect and alert police to threatening motions and could extend to facial recognition, commission chair David Asper said.

“There’s technology which allows it to recognize certain behaviours, so assaultive behaviour for example will draw the alert to video monitors,” Asper said.

As for using facial recognition technology to identify individuals in public spaces, Asper said there was a lot of discussion about the idea and it needs “further consideration.”

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The report also recommends new penalties for panhandlers on roadways. They currently face fines, which Asper said is ineffective against people who cannot afford to pay.

The report recommends changing the provincial Highway Traffic Act.

“There is the possibility of amending this provincial legislation to address solicitation at intersections. This may also allow stronger penalties than fines,” the report states. Asper did not specify what the stronger penalties might be.

The commission also suggests greater involvement of groups other than police – more foot patrols by business and non-profit groups, and new powers to allow people other than police to deal with those who are publicly intoxicated.

Downtown Safety Partnership
Downtown Safety Partnership

The report also says chronic offenders may have to be forced into addiction treatment.

“If individuals are truly not wanting or willing to explore treatment and instead choose to do short periods of incarceration, it would be interesting to explore the possibility of eliminating that choice for them,” the report states.

“This would involve establishing a ‘chronic offender designation,’ where an individual has been shown to commit a certain number of offences under the influence of drugs or due to mental health issues and has in the past has not availed themselves of community resources being confined to residential treatment for a period of time.”

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Asper said the commission considered concerns about individual rights regarding the proposal.

“We had quite a robust discussion about this, obviously, because we are trying to balance liberty interests with the legitimate interests of society in punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation,” he said.

Winnipeg has tied its record annual number of homicides this year, and a rash of recent liquor store robberies has prompted the government-run outlets to start installing more security at entrances.

Winnipeg police not invited to press conference

In an email to media sent after the report was released, Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) Chief Danny Smyth said his service had not been notified about a press conference held to tout the report Tuesday, and had not been invited to take part.

He said the WPS had one meeting with the Manitoba Police Commission in October and had been asked for information, but not to make recommendations.

While Smyth said he is still reviewing the report, he said he was surprised by its conclusion.

“The conclusion of the report stated general findings that this is not a policing issue, and that the police should not be the lead agency,” he wrote in the email.

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“This statement comes as a surprise.

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“The WPS remains committed to Downtown Safety and will continue to advance the strategy outlined in our strategic plan.”

The Opposition New Democrats said the report focuses on security and does not address poverty, addiction and other factors that contribute to crime.

“We see a report that fundamentally does not deal with the root causes of the issues we are seeing,” NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine said.

Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said he hopes to see many of the recommendations in the report implemented following further consultations with the public, police and other levels of government.

–With files from Shane Gibson

Winnipeg’s public, private sectors look for ways to coordinate on downtown safety
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