A new foot patrol has been rolled out in downtown Winnipeg and the executive director says it will be growing in the coming months.
The Downtown Community Safety Partnership (DCSP), which is a partnership between the Manitoba government, City of Winnipeg, Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, Winnipeg Police Service and True North Sports + Entertainment, first deployed its patrol team about two months ago.
The patrol replaces Downtown Winnipeg BIZ WATCH.
Unlike the bright red uniforms worn by WATCH members, the DCSP team sports black jackets with bright green toques.
Greg Burnett, the executive director of the DCSP, said the uniforms are part of a strategy to look more approachable.
“It’s less of an enforcement look,” Burnett said. “We want to make sure that all the members, people in the community, those at risk, the business community, see us as a welcoming presence.”
The patrol, known as the CONNECT Team, aims to enhance the safety and well-being of Winnipeggers.
The current focus is on understanding the needs of individuals and appropriately connecting them to available resources.
There are about 18 members to start, but Burnett is hoping to more than double that number over the next few months.
Burnett said the DCSP is looking to add additional teams with medical training to provide 24/7 support downtown and potentially reduce the workload of first responders.
“We have a great partnership with police, fire, paramedic service and we’re going to work together with them to find out exactly how this is going to work,” Burnett said.
“It’s probably a little preliminary to get into the details on what that’s going to look like but there’s a lot of good work ahead.”
The DCSP is also teaming up with the Indigenous community.
OPK Manitoba, an organization that primarily works with Indigenous men who have had involvement with gangs, and/or the criminal justice system, currently joins the DCSP patrol on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Mitch Bourbonniere, a community outreach worker with OPK, is hoping his volunteers will soon be part of the patrols on a daily basis.
“It’s especially important to have an Indigenous presence when we do this work,” Bourbonniere said.
“There’s a lived experience with our volunteers at OPK. Lots of our folks have been in similar situations that we encounter on the street and they can relate.”
The DCSP was formally established in April 2020.
A communications centre will also be established to better connect the downtown community and DCSP teams and partners and facilitate a timely and appropriate response to those in need downtown.