WINNIPEG -- As police face calls for defunding in the wake of Black Lives Matter rallies, Winnipeg's police chief says it is too early to defund the police service, as it could put the community at risk.

On Monday, following a Police Board Meeting at City Hall, Police Chief Danny Smyth said he was pleased with the community and the police officers in how they handled the Justice 4 Black Lives rally at the Manitoba Legislature on Friday. Smyth estimated more than 15,000 people were in attendance.

Following the rally, Justice 4 Black Lives Winnipeg circulated a petition demanding change from the Winnipeg police, the City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba.

"Above all else our group supports and advocates for complete abolition and defunding of the Winnipeg Police Service," the petition reads. "We strongly believe in the ability of local communities, grassroots organizers and grassroots organizations to provide what their community needs directly, in order to effectively and efficiently step in and take over what legal responsibilities the police currently have."

The petition says organizations including Mama Bear Clan, volunteer organization AYO, Klinic Community Health and Spence Neighbourhood Association show what this concept looks like in practice, and said a large chunk of the city budget would be better allocated to support community initiatives.

It also calls for a complete ban on the use of knee-holds and choke holds for the Winnipeg Police Service – a tactic used by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin which led to the death of George Floyd.

Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree murder. The charge has not been tested in court.

Smyth said these tactics are not part of an officer's training and are not condoned.

As of Monday afternoon, the petition had more than 25,000 signatures.

Smyth said more discussion has to be had as to what defunding looks like, and how it would impact the community.

"It's a little bit too early to just say defund the police and forward that all to social services," Smyth said. "If you were to just rip a large segment of the budget all at once, then I think you would be putting our environment into a more volatile place than it is now."

He said there are different ideas about what defunding the police could look like, and said there is room for more conversation.

Smyth said he believes that these grassroots organizations do need sustainable funding, but said Winnipeg's environment needs to be more stable where organizations and police work together before police services are withdrawn.

"All along, I've been advocating that we need to look at that model of crime prevention through social development, and working in elements of working closer with the community – all communities," said Markus Chambers, deputy mayor of Winnipeg and vice-chair of the Winnipeg Police Board.

"We need to do better."


Smyth said Winnipeg police are open to wearing body cameras and said they are talking in earnest with the city about it.

Winnipeg Police announced in 2015 they would start a $1 million pilot project for some officers to wear body cameras. But the pilot project was shelved in 2016 as a way to save jobs when the Winnipeg Police Service was facing up to 80 layoffs due to a funding shortfall.

Smyth estimated a body camera program for the Winnipeg police would cost between $8 to $10 million, which would include processing and storage.

"It is an expensive undertaking, but that is not an excuse not to do it," Smyth said.

Coun. Kevin Klein, chair of the Winnipeg Police Board, said the police board is pushing for a body camera program, and said many other jurisdictions across North America are already using them.

"We need to take action," he said. "If we are going to be leaders, and lead through this crisis and lead through what embarrassed humankind, then we need to put our money where our mouth is and stop passing the buck."

Klein said he will be putting a motion forward at the Assiniboia Community Committee meeting regarding the use of body cameras.

“We can’t play politics with this you know this is a time for action not just talking," he said.

-with files from CTV's Jeff Keele