With the municipal election only weeks away, and Winnipeg dealing with an ongoing crime crisis, including the potential to set an all-time homicide record, the candidates vying for the mayor’s chair at City Hall see crime as a major issue voters want dealt with by a new city administration.
Candidate Scott Gillingham told 680 CJOB’s The Start, if elected, he’d become the first mayor in history to sit on the police board.
“Council and mayor cannot direct the operations of the police service, that’s why I said I would go back as mayor and sit on the police board,” he said, “because it’s the police board that provides oversight to the police service and helps establish the priorities of policing and how policing is done in the community.”
While 85 per cent of the police budget goes toward salaries and benefits, which are established through a collective agreement, Gillingham said he wants to focus on “de-tasking” police from some of the work they’re doing today, so they can focus on tackling crime.
“Over 50 per cent of calls for service are really, at their core, not police or crime calls, they’re social service calls,” he said.
Gillingham said the city is currently dealing with officers waiting in emergency rooms of hospitals or dealing with non-crime related calls, sometimes for hours at a time, which means they aren’t actively in the community doing their core job of combating crime.
“They need to be freed up from social work and health calls so they can do police work.”
Making those changes, he said, means the city will have to develop closer ties with provincial social services agencies.
Candidate Jenny Motkaluk told 680 CJOB she finds the city’s homicide stats to be “disgusting,” and that Winnipeg’s crime problem is a reflection of a failure by current leadership.
Motkaluk said she’s already written to the police board calling for the removal of chief Danny Smyth, which would be one of her top priorities if elected.
The board itself, she said, is part of the problem under its current structure.
“The single biggest thing that we did wrong, in my opinion, is by abdicating the responsibility for police service to something called the Winnipeg Police Board, which is an unelected and unaccountable board of citizens.
“As mayor of Winnipeg I’m going to lobby very hard to have that police board abolished so that we can return the accountability and responsibility for public safety back into the hands of people who represent the taxpayers, which is mayor and council.”
Motkaluk said she has no interest in taking resources away from Winnipeg police, but rather changing the way those resources are deployed.
“It’s not about the number of officers, it’s about how we work.”
Motkaluk’s campaign isn’t the only one calling for new leadership at the Winnipeg Police Service. Rick Shone told 680 CJOB’s Connecting Winnipeg that, if elected, he would also effect change from the top-down for city cops.
“The police force is suffering a little bit right now with morale and leadership issues, so we need to make some changes there,” he said.
Shone said officers also need to be freed up in order to be able to hit the streets and do their primary job.
“Right now they spend a lot of time sitting in hospitals or doing wellness checks or other things like that, that potentially other organizations that could do it and free up officers — particularly general patrol officers.”
Robert-Falcon Ouellette says the addiction and mental health troubles in our city should be seen as a health crisis, rather than a criminal one.
The former Member of Parliament and current mayoral candidate told 680 CJOB that a lot more needs to come together to tackle crime than just putting more police on the streets.
“We right now are asking the police of the city of Winnipeg to be the Swiss Army Knife, and we cannot build a city with a Swiss Army Knife,” he said.
“We need the specific tools to deal with the right problems at the right time… and these addiction issues should be considered a medical health-care issue.”
Ouellette said there’s a lot more behind the crime problem than most may think, and the mental health and addictions crisis requires more than just law enforcement.
“You need to take a step back and understand what’s actually going on in our city.
“For instance, if you have someone who’s suffering addictions, often their personal life is not going well, family life… they’ve probably lost their job and they’ve probably run out of savings, and they’re out in the street, and what are they doing in order to feed their addictions?”
Mayoral candidate Kevin Klein is currently serving as councillor for the Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood ward, and like his opponent Gillingham, has served as police board chair in the past.
Klein said he left that position due to frustration with government involvement, as well as the budgeting constraint the City of Winnipeg was putting on police.
“We have to focus on making people safe,” Klein told 680 CJOB’s The Jim Toth Show, “on making our neighbourhoods safe again.
“We do that by working smarter, not harder. Having the executive experience I have, I can help the police and help others work smarter, not harder.”
Klein said, if elected, he would like to re-allocate funding within the system to ensure that money for police is used where it’s needed — on the streets.
“The city is in a situation where every nickel that goes to police has to be used on public safety. We need to get our resources — those with a gun and a badge — on the street responding to crime.”
Residents he’s spoken to during the campaign, Klein said, have expressed very little confidence that the current way of doing things has been effective.
Glen Murray, who previously served as mayor of Winnipeg from 1998–2004, says he thinks there are key points the city needs to focus on to reduce crime.
“We need to restore the housing programs and get people into detox right away, from detox into treatment and recovery without a break, and then without a break, get them housed back into settlement in the community,” Murray told 680 CJOB.
“If we can fix those pieces, we will be far down the road quickly toward resolving some of the crime problems, some of the poverty problems, some of the housing problems, and some of the mental health and addiction problems.”
Murray said he would also increase the number of police on the streets, if elected, and wants more outreach programs.
Shaun Loney says getting criminals proper help will ultimately lower crime.
“The honest truth is people who are committing crimes are going to do so over and over again, until they get access to the interventions that we all know work,” Loney said. “I’ve been working in the inner-city with gang members and putting them to work in the labour market. It works remarkably well.”
Loney believes this would help drastically reduce Winnipeg police work load and he says financial support for mental health services will be crucial.
“Instead of asking the police to pay for mental health services, we’re going to invite them to pay for the impact that mental health services have on their agency only,” he said. “When we make that switch, the police see services provided by non-profits as actually being public safety.”
Rana Bokhari believes 10 per cent of the police budget needs to be re-invested in community service in order to prevent crime.
“This is a community issue. If right now we are paying up to 27 per cent of our budget to police services and people can’t get a call back for up to 3-4 hours if at all, then it’s obvious the system is broken.”