'Please hang in there': Police chief worried over risk of burnout pens message to Winnipeg officers
Chief of the Winnipeg Police Service Danny Smyth says he’s frustrated, is urging officers to “hang in there” and is questioning governments’ actions to deal with the meth crisis.
“That’s a pretty bleak picture,” said Kevin Klein, the city councillor who chairs the Winnipeg Police Board.
In a newsletter to members of the police service obtained by CTV News, Smyth paints a dire picture of the workloads officers are facing.
“Today I am tired and frustrated,” writes Smyth, “By what I see going on around us.”
The chief says the homicide unit has been working at a crime scene since Saturday night, dealing with the 25th homicide of the year and had to oversee an in-custody death for a time as well over the weekend.
“They have seen their share of drug and alcohol fuelled disputes turn tragic this year,” writes Smyth. “I see a forensic unit that is being run off its feet.”
“Members are coming to work on their days off to help with major scenes,” he wrote.
Smyth also says the evidence being collected at break-ins and robberies is “outpacing” the service’s ability to arrest and process suspects.
“I worry that we risk burning our people out if this pace continues,” writes Smyth.
Smyth also notes the toll incidents of death and serious injury are taking on the tactical team.
He urges all of his officers to look out for each other.
“Please take care of each other,” writes Smyth. “Be alert for the negative signs of stress.”
Memo unusual: police union
Winnipeg Police Association President Moe Sabourin says the newsletter is unusual.
"Doing this for 30 years, I've never seen a chief's update with that sort of comment," said Sabourin.
The chief says the meth crisis and opioid problems are pushing up call volumes.
He also questioned what’s being done to deal with the lack of drug treatment.
“It’s just hard to tell right now if anyone in government is committed to the actions necessary to help our community recover,” writes Smyth. “ Please hang in there.”
Klein says the letter is a clear sign action needs to be taken.
"Something has to happen now, we have to do something, just looking at it from a health and safety perspective,” said Klein.
City of Winnipeg and Province of Manitoba respond
A statement from Mayor Brian Bowman's office says he agrees with the sentiment of Smyth's letter and says the challenges are not for the police to address alone.
"Mayor Bowman provided ongoing and unwavering support for the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre, and agrees with Chief Smyth that more addictions support is required in our city."
Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen says the province is adding treatment beds and working on a policing strategy to ensure officers are freed up to deal with crime.
"Certainly appreciate the chief's apparent frustration, I think we all recognize that there's challenges out there," said Cullen.
Sabourin says this is not a health issue, it's a crime issue. He says city hall needs to put more cops on the street.
"I do know from the members that they're asking the question, what's the chief going to do for us right now, because we're being run from pillar to post," said Sabourin.
Chief Smyth addressed his letter in a statement Wednesday saying there’s more to come.
“I took the opportunity to thank the members of the Winnipeg Police Service for their tireless efforts in dealing with the epidemic of violence and the excessive calls for service currently gripping Winnipeg,” said Smyth.
“I used the memo to express my frustration to the membership about the lack of addictions resources and what's being done to address this by the levels of government specifically responsible for these services.
“I will make full comment to this on Monday when the WPS releases the 2018 Annual Statistical Report which will outline concerning crime numbers that are affecting our officers and plaguing this city.”