Cart before the horse


We have a much-ballyhooed helicopter, a cadet program and a fully-staffed Tac team. A new look and philosophy is coming, we’re told.

But more importantly, why doesn’t the Winnipeg Police Service have one of these?

Link to the document is at top of this post

I’m not trying to hijack Menno’s recent post. But after taking even a short glance through the VPD document — no doubt part plan, part PR move — you realize something.

The Winnipeg public has no publicly-available yardstick of what they can expect from the WPS.

On the most available communications forum, the website, I can find tons of useful and relevant information, like the code of ethics, descriptions of different facets of the force and most importantly, crime prevention and safety information.

But nowhere that I see can I find a document that shows what the WPS has identified as a crime problem, what’s going to be done about it and how the efficiency in getting the job done will be measured.

The VPD plan speaks plainly and openly about the problems the city has with non-resident fugitives, for example [that led to the Con-Air program in the mid  2000’s].

But just as important as being up front about the city’s crime problems, the VPD also proposes — and publicly states — how it will work on meeting a stated goal

“The VPD is committed to making Vancouver the safest major city in Canada.” – the goal

OK. that’s pretty nebulous and unwieldy. If I’m living in Vancouver, how is my police department going to get us there?

VPD says the road to getting there is by setting the following targets.

OK. great. Sounds peachy. I’m still thinking it sounds a little wonky and fluffy.

But, VPD says to the public, here’s how we’re gonna do it (one example presented only here, the rest are in the report):

So, from this, as a law-abiding member of the public who is concerned with property crime, I can say with certainty:

“The VPD has stated it will reduce property-related crime by 20 per cent by 2012 and said how it will do this. If by that time, they haven’t met their target, I’m going to do something about it — write letters, make phone calls, address the police board, vote differently etc).

And, I’ll be justified in doing it because I was promised ‘X’ and it wasn’t delivered.

In some sense, that’s accountability. Everyone who cares knows what’s going on, on a certain scale, I feel empowered as a citizen.

While I have every confidence the WPS brass has identified Winnipeg crime trends and is doing something about it, that confidence is based largely on faith, and not on anything tangible that’s been put before the public.

For example, Winnipeg’s particular problem of offenders thumbing their noses at court orders and breaching conditions makes me feel like I’m living under a persistent cloud of lawlessness.

Behind virtually every major violent crime is a prior offender who’s out on bail, parole, probation, a recognizance etc.

Police officers hate this as it demeans their position of authority. The public hates it because it makes the justice system look like a joke and feels like the criminal element is everywhere.

And while we have faith that the police will do their best to continually clean up the mess, do we — do they, the officers and the victims of crime — have any assurances from the brass that cracking down on reoffenders is a priority at all?

Other than comments made in the media should the issue come up, nope.

There’s no paper – save for a tiny city council report here and there – that demonstrates this issue (one that’s an example of many other crime issues in the city) is even on the WPS’ radar.

We got a helicopter that will cost millions to purchase, staff and operate with very little advance warning, public discussion or meaningful debate. It wasn’t even in the WPS business plan – something that no longer seems available to the public.

Somehow, the whirlybird became a priority and was immediately acted on, despite there being no clear stated goal for what it is supposed to accomplish and measurable performance indicators for how well it’s achieving that goal.

The WPS is a mega-million dollar business.

But without a clear planning document and public disclosure of what its priorities are for the city, it fails to look like a well-managed one to the people of Winnipeg.

‘Honesty’ removed?

The former deputy chief of the Winnipeg Police Service has an interesting post on sweeping changes to the WPS’ motto, mission statement and overarching philosophy.

Menno’s key ‘food for thought’ statement:

“Changes to an organization`s vision, mission and values are usually a precursor to the development and unveiling of a comprehensive strategic plan.  Such a plan would generally include goals, strategies and measurable performance indicators.  It is not known if the Winnipeg Police Service  developed strategies and performance indicators.  If they have not, then the vision and mission statements are essentially meaningless.”

Side note: I find it amusing that the WPS – known for stolid secrecy and being tight-lipped at the best of times – is having their top-level, non-tactical operational plans leaked on the internet by a former high-ranking employee.

Too bad the force can’t be a little more forthcoming about their non-tactical plans. Seems like it would save them some embarrassment.

No one can reasonably expect them to dish on ongoing criminal or internal investigations, but stuff like this? What’s the harm of including the public a bit?

The BIZ boundaries

Yesterday, I questioned the Downtown BIZ’s contention that only 5.7 per cent of the city’s crime happened within their boundaries. Those boundaries are [map provided courtesy of the DT BIZ]

Downtown BIZ boundaries

North is Higgins Avenue to just east of Main Street

West is just west of Hargrave but also Spence Street just past Ellice Avenue.

South is the Assiniboine River along Assiniboine Avenue.

East is the Red River and includes The Forks.

They also kindly provided this statistical chart:

Crime stats from the DT BIZ

And as much as I can see that the problem has to do with outlying areas outsize the zones contributing to a skewed total number of crime incidents that the BIZ folk must pare down to reflect their zone of operations, I’m still not buying it.

Here’s what the BIZ had to say, and it’s totally fair and understandable.

“Downtown is in District 1, however, District 1 comprises a much larger area than the actual downtown boundaries.

(There is definitely a lot of crime in that district, but it’s not happening in the BIZ zone boundaries. Because we are only responsible for those boundaries, that’s what we report as crime in downtown.)

Because of this, we actually take the time to add up all of the 11 neighbourhoods that make up downtown each month and report the resulting crime stats up that way. That’s where the numbers came from in the Trends report and the ones we continue to talk about.”

The above chart says that between July 10, 09 to July 10, 2010, there was one homicide within the BIZ zone. And technically, that’s true.

Get just outside the reporting period, however, and one learns that there were three there in 2009: interactive homicide map

So far this year, however, there have been none.

I should add that technically, homicides are a poor indicator of crime and safety in an area given that the crimes usually don’t involve the public at large but are rather crimes of passion committed in the heat of the moment.

But, as the BIZ spokesperson said, it’s the perception that downtown is crime-ridden that’s an issue.

“One of the messages we are always trying to get across to people is that crime in downtown is more about perception than actual safety. Many people feel their personal safety is threatened when they are panhandled, whether they are in any danger or not.”

Well if that’s the case, a recent CBC story indicates that people’s negative perceptions of crime in the area are hardening, not becoming more positive.

The perception of safety in Winnipeg’s downtown during the day is on the decline, a public opinion survey commissioned by the Winnipeg Police Service suggests.      -edit-

“It seems that confidence in daytime safety downtown has eroded across all neighbourhoods,” wrote the unidentified police official who summarized the poll findings in a report.

In a poll done in 2008, more than half the 400 Winnipeggers surveyed agreed with this statement: “During the daytime, downtown Winnipeg is safe.”

The number dropped to about 40 per cent in the most recent poll, conducted by Dataprobe Research of Winnipeg.

Most troubling is that even people living downtown feel less safe during the day, the findings suggest.

In 2008, 85 per cent of the people surveyed agreed the downtown was safe. In the latest poll, the percentage dropped to 42 per cent, although only 4.75 per cent of those surveyed identified themselves as downtown residents.


This was from February, 2010. I remember writing it based on the work done by Sean Kavanagh.

Now, I sympathize with the BIZ folk. Their job is not an easy one. As I clearly stated yesterday, I admire them in a lot of ways. But when you’re confronted by pictures like this:

Portage and Garry Assault July 13, 2010 ---Shaun McLeod photo

You begin to question the stats.

I’m not saying they’re wrong or fudged. They just feel that way to a guy who’s spent the last few years of his life looking at crime and justice in the city fairly closely.

But then again, I’m in the reality business. So I like to think.

Dear Downtown BIZ:

As much as I admire many things you do — and I’m being sincere — I’d like to point out something.

You can’t use your own survey data to prove that everything’s rosy without being up front about it.

(Downtown BIZ trends PDF – read the fine print).

Sorry to be a stickler, but you don’t explain how the data was collected and from how many people.

5.7 per cent, eh? What?

The Winnipeg Police Cadet program has yet to see any street action [but it looks as if they have recruit class #1 in the can] … so phrasing the sentence as if it’s happened is misleading.

What are “smaller incidents” of crime, exactly?

Same as above for the cops moving their HQ to the Canada Post plant. Hasn’t happened yet, can’t tell what the impact will be. I’d guess it won’t do much as most police officers hate foot patrolling. At the current PSB, other than cops crossing the street to hit up Tim Hortons at the College, there wasn’t much of a presence, beat-cop wise.

Downtown crime — a comparison in pictures:

Crimestat map of occurrences from Jan 1 - July 10, 2010

This represents the number of robberies, sexual assaults, muggings, shootings, car thefts, homicides etc in the downtown and outlying areas for the last 6.5 months. [Lots of muggings, I note.]

But here’s the map of the entire city’s crime incidents in the same period:

Entire city, crime incidents Jan 1-July 10, 2010

As one can see, the North and West ends of the city are particularly crime-addled, which is nothing new. But this police CrimeStat map seems to show a slightly more than 5.7 per cent incidence of crime in the downtown and outlying areas.

Here’s last years, as a comparison:

[Actually, I can’t do this, because CrimeStat won’t let me go back to Jan. 1, 2009. Hmmmm.]

So, this is just the last 30 days:

”]So, how is it even possible that only 5.7 per cent of the city’s crime happened downtown?

I note the BIZ doesn’t attribute the claim nor give a date range when the stats were generated:

“Downtown crime represents only 5.7 % of all crimes that happen in our city”

(April 1, 2009 11:30 p.m. to April 2, 2009 2:30 a.m.)

Or, maybe they pulled it from one of their own surveys.

A side note:

Don’t know how proudly I’d be displaying this —

Most people know what a den of misery Zellers is. Hardly a downtown selling point. 80,000 sq. ft of hell. I’d rather shop at Giant Tiger.

UPDATE: According to a BIZ staffer (and fellow former The Projector editor), the Zellers revamp includes an overhaul of the famed basement grocery store. That’s good news.

She’s also sending along the stats that allowed the BIZ to arrive at the 5.7 per cent crime statistic. More discussion of that to come.

Random sex assaults on the rise

This should give citizens pause:

Winnipeg Police/ Crimestat

A 39 per cent jump in the number of sexual assaults in the city year over year, according to preliminary police statistics.

These do not include “known suspect” sexual assaults, which were removed from the publicly-available CrimeStat in January 2008 on the belief that the average citizen doesn’t need to know about domestic-violence related cases. Some disputed this move, claiming that in order to have a truly informed picture of the state of crime in the city, one did need to be able to note those cases.

“If you want to paint an accurate picture of a neighbourhood, you have to go behind closed doors — the most dangerous place to be in terms of crime victimization is in the home,” University of Winnipeg criminologist Steven Kohm told me [and the readers of the Winnipeg Free Press on Oct. 30, 2008.]

“Kohm said reporting everything on CrimeStat could contribute to the re- victimization of people through a loss of privacy. But by not doing so, police run the risk of lessening the severity of sex assaults between intimates or family members. Ultimately, what gets reported by police through CrimeStat speaks to the heart of what the crime-tracking website’s real function is, he said.

“What I find most upsetting about this is the whole issue about ‘what is CrimeStat?’ What is it supposed to mean to the average citizen of Winnipeg… how is it supposed to make me safer?”

What’s interesting to note is that since Jan. 1, 2010, the number of “known offender” sexual assaults reported to police [the number is likely much, much higher] is 117. In the same period in 2009, there were 120 reported across all city neighbourhoods, so there’s parity, if not a skint decline.

[True to their word, however, the WPS did find a way to track “known offender” sex assaults separately from CrimeStat. Kudos].

But the current data shows it’s clear the risk of being randomly sexually assaulted is on the rise. Over the last few months, my newsroom colleagues and I have turned to each other more than once to say — ‘Bizarre. Another sex assault.’

For those wanting a trip to see how many stories have been done, check here.

Reality II

I am waiting for a cab downtown at 2 a.m. By all accounts, I am minding my own business. Minding the fact, as well, that there’s a bunch of other people nearby arguing.

Thinking to myself, ‘boy, I’m glad I’m not part of that mess,’ one of the guys from the argument approaches.

Uh oh.

Shaun McLeod photo


Poor guy. His friend looks horrified for him. I would be too.

Angry city.

The reality

To anyone who says that crime in Winnipeg is down or dropping, Look closely at this man, who was attacked and bear-sprayed on Selkirk Avenue Thursday morning.

Think he’d believe you?

H/T to the Parking Authority agent who called it in and tried to help the guy. As well to Shaun McLeod who got to the scene quickly.

Nobody, don’t care who you are, deserves this.

Shaun McLeod photo

City admits problem with downtown boozing

As referenced my post from earlier today – about the plans from CentreVenure for a “four district model” of a revitalized downtown – the agency (and therefore the city) finally makes a tacit admission that selling booze out of vendors at hotels on Garry Street at 9 a.m. has had an impact.

From CBC News:

” The city said a key part of the proposal will be addressing safety and “public comfort” by developing a public safety plan for the four districts and working with the provincial government to “resolve the impact” beverage rooms and a handful of low-rent hotels have on the area.

Many business owners on north Portage have complained about public intoxication, vagrancy and panhandling that accompanies the sale of liquor in the area.”

Good to hear at least the problem isn’t being totally ignored. It’s a miserable one. Office workers on Garry have told me about the hassles just getting into work in the morning.

You step outside for fresh air at your own risk…

Thanks to all who wrote in with comments on Facebook and here at the blog.

Licencing Mayhem

Google Maps

It was more than a year ago that I wrote about how business owners on the north east section of Portage Avenue felt as if the MLCC – Manitoba’s liquor commission – were ‘licencing mayhem’ by allowing beverage rooms and low-rent hotels (usually housed in the same building) to sell cheap king cans of beer to people starting at 9 in the morning and throughout the day.

They were tired, they said, of the rampant drunkenness, vagrancy, fights, threats and hooliganism and public urination.

The above map shows just a few of the places in the heart of downtown where booze is available cheap and early.

In Today’s FP,  we see that there’s a new plan to save downtown courtesy of CentreVenture, the city’s downtown development agency.

A key feature to this plan is:

an 11-block sports, hospitality and entertainment district, or SHED, would encompass the MTS Centre, the Winnipeg Convention Centre, the Metropolitan Theatre and the Burton Cummings Theatre. It would be designated a tax-increment financing zone, which is an area where property tax revenues from new development can be used to help fund even more development. —-Kives

And it sounds great to a guy who has no head for numbers.

But I’d just want to add that prior to doing this, the city should first consider making the area a ‘zero-tolerance’ zone for public intoxication, panhandling and vagrancy. That means, to start, no more cheap booze sold to anyone, at any time, period.

We could look at the Minneapolis example of how officials — with help from corporations — completely revamped the Nicollet Mall, once a haven for petty crime and drug dealing — and turned it back into a favoured destination for tourism and other folk in the city.

Until these crime-related issues are addressed first, no amount of boutique hotels or TIF zones will make people go downtown and stay downtown – especially after 5:30 or 6 p.m.

Currently, you cannot walk from Portage Place [a notorious drug-dealing hub for street gangs] to the Richardson Building without being hassled by someone wanting something, change, a smoke, whatever. Often, the hasslers come in packs.

These beverage rooms and hotels are simply feeder zones that fuel the downtown’s demise. And we allow them to stay open.

Unless this changes, nothing else will, I suspect.

UPDATE: Steve Lambert of the Canadian Press news agency sends this link via Facebook:

Here’s a slide that shows the income levels of downtown Winnipeg residents:″

Thanks, Steve!