A community coalition calling for increased accountability from the Winnipeg Police Service outlined accusations of racial profiling, unreasonable vehicle stops and carding at the hands of police at the Thursday Winnipeg Police Board meeting.
The group, the Police Accountability Coalition, wants improved civilian oversight of police, cuts to the police service budget and for officers to stop using some tactics.
In a news release Thursday, the new coalition said it’s comprised of more than 90 community organizations who have come together in support of Black Lives Matter — and to make recommendations to achieve change, including using the existing police budget to purchase body cameras.
“Racial profiling and the disproportionate use of deadly force against Black and Indigenous community members have been compounded by the lack of community resources to address poverty, addictions and mental health issues,” the coalition wrote in its statement.
Dorota Blumczynska is the executive director of the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba — and a member of the coalition.
“We need to look at where we put our investment as a community, the largest investment, and yes we need to reallocate resources, to more community response, to more crisis intervention and mental health supports, and social workers and afterschool programs,” Blumczynska said at the end of her presentation to the police board.
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“There is a position and a place for a Winnipeg Police Service, but it has reached beyond its scope and beyond its capacity — bring it back to what it is intended to do and support our communities, all of our communities.”
Before her passionate plea for reallocated police funding, Blumczynska told the police board that IRCOM had met with Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth and senior police brass about concerns colleagues raised about their interactions with police in 2019.
She said two young Black colleagues had been arbitrarily stopped by police and asked for identification multiple times while those IRCOM staffers were doing their jobs, driving children to sports practices or games or doing other community work late into the evening.
Blumczynska said those concerns weren’t listened to at the meeting with police brass. Instead, she said they were told Winnipeg police have policies against arbitrary stops and that “carding” was only a problem in Toronto.
“We were not believed, we were not heard, we were met with a superficial response,” she said.
Speaking to the board, she pleaded for answers on whether any policy review or concrete actions to address their concerns took place following the 2019 meeting.
Speaking to reporters following the meeting, Smyth said he thought he had reacted to Blumczynska’s concerns appropriately.
“We had the opportunity to introduce her to the division commander and ultimately, meetings with the community sergeant. They listened to what was being told to them,” he said, adding that it’s clear her expectations weren’t met.
“If that means a formal investigation by professional standards or that means trying to determine where our communication broke down, that’s what those (community) relationships are intended to do.”
When asked by reporters for his reaction to the accusations of racism and misuse of tactics, he said he doesn’t agree with but respects the views of the coalition.
“We are part of the community, we’ve been part of the community from the inception, we’re a partner with the community. Our role, really, is to work with the community to address some of the issues that our community is experiencing,” Smyth said.
The police chief added he sees a distinction between advocates like the newly-formed Police Accountability Coalition and other activist groups like Winnipeg Police Cause Harm, a police abolitionist group whose members also spoke at the board meeting Thursday, criticizing increased foot and transit patrols amid the pandemic and the role of police radar and the use of its revenue.
The coalition is “looking for dialogue, they are looking to express their concerns and look for change. I think that’s a prudent way to approach things,” Smyth said.
“Social justice — those are legitimate concerns, and certainly we have been part of that and part of the problem and we need to be part of the solution as well. I have no issues with any of that, but there’s a big difference between working as a partner in a community and then doing everything you can to eliminate an institution.”
Meanwhile, Smyth warned of “tough conversations” about cuts to positions and police services if there was a move to reduce the budget.
Any reduction to the police budget would lead to “tough conversations” about cuts to positions and services, Smyth said.
“We’re not talking about budget stuff on the margin, it is cutting positions, so do we want to give up traffic, do we want to give up investigations, do we want to give up community support, do we want to give up foot patrols? These all come with eliminations of positions,” he said.
Winnipeg Police Board chair Coun. Markus Chambers said the coalition’s concerns will be taken seriously.
“From what the community is saying, that is what they feel is happening, so I can’t discount that,” he said.
“Are we asking the right questions, are we finding the right information, are we able to inform the policies that will make the changes?” he told reporters.
“Recognizing that the changes won’t be immediate, that they will have to be incremental, but will help to stop the practice of what’s being perceived as dehumanizing interactions in some racialized communities.”
However, he was lukewarm to the idea of cutting the police budget, pointing to violent crime rates and the methamphetamine and opioid crisis as issues that would make reductions difficult.