'Just barely holding things together': police chief calls for more action in midst of homicide spike and meth crisis
WINNIPEG – The city is one homicide shy of breaking a grim record, after another violent week in Winnipeg began with the death of a 20-year-old man. Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth says with this spike in homicides and a meth crisis – the police service is exhausted.
From 2014 to 2018, there was an average of 24 homicides per year in Winnipeg, according to Statistics Canada. This year, Winnipeg police say there have been 40 already, one shy of the record set in 2011. This spike is pushing police resources to their limits.
“We are just barely holding things together right now and it’s really having a strain in the community for sure and its having a strain on our front line workers,” Smyth told CTV’s Maralee Caruso on Wednesday. “We hope that we’ll get enough of a grip on some of this that things will start to kind of get back to normal, but I don’t know what the new normal will look like until we really start to address this.”
Smyth said the police service will be shoring up its homicide unit by adding a third shift of members to help cover the back log of cases. As well, more resources will be moved to the front line. Smyth said to do this, the Winnipeg police will have to reduce service in other areas. He did not specify which areas will be affected.
Smyth said the homicide unit has never been faced with these numbers of homicides before.
“They are exhausted, and the support units that help them both in our uniform operations and units like forensics – they are really stretched and exhausted as well.”
Smyth said these homicides are an indicator of the real concerns and problems out in the community.
METH CRISIS CONTRIBUTING TO HOMICIDE SPIKE
“Meth has gripped this town and it’s contributing,” Smyth said.
There are two sides to the rise in violence, Smyth said. One is gang violence, independent drug traffickers, and gun violence that comes with the distribution of meth.
He said the Winnipeg Police Service received federal funding to create the Guns & Gangs unit earlier this year. Smyth said this unit is addressing this side of the crisis, but there is another contributing factor.
“You’re seeing many people caught up in the throes of addiction where their behaviour is reaching criminal.”
Smyth said take a look at the rise in property crimes to see an example of this. According to data from the Winnipeg Police Service CrimeMaps – in July 2015, there were over 27,500 incidents of property crime in the city. That number has been rising steadily. In July of this year there were over 46,500 incidents of property crime.
“Much of that is driven by addiction,” Smyth said.
METH CRISIS REQUIRES ACTION
Earlier this week, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman called for an urgent meeting with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and Prime minister Justin Trudeau to address the violence of the past few weeks. Since Oct. 1, there have been 10 homicides – four of which occurred in the past week.
Smyth said Bowman’s call for the meeting is important, as all three levels of government play a role in dealing with the crisis. He said he’s been meeting with Public Safety Canada on the federal level to talk about Winnipeg’s issues.
“What’s happening in Winnipeg is kind of unique to other cities. There is no other major city in Canada that is being gripped by meth in quite the same way,” Smyth said. “There has been some movement at the federal level. So I hope that the premier and the prime minister will look to see where other action can be taken.”
“With that being said, we’ve been talking about this for three years now and we’re still talking about it and haven’t taken a lot of definitive action – it has become a crisis now.”
Smyth said the work of organizations like the Bear Clan Patrol, the Morberg House, and Main Street Project, have been doing their best to “help the fight,” but more needs to be done.
And as for the future of the city – Smyth has a hopeful message.
“We are a resilient town – we always have been and I trust we will be able to get through this as well.”
-with files from Maralee Caruso