An ounce of prevention: Phoenix’s social worker, in-depth

Phoenix Sinclair

To say it’s disheartening hearing the evidence that’s coming out at the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry would be beyond an understatement.

But among the litany of facts painting the picture of major systemic breakdown — a portrait of ignominy becoming clearer each passing day — there are moments of fascinating clarity.

One of them came today, in the testimony of veteran CFS caseworker Laura Forrest, who, like many of her colleagues, was asked towards the end of her time on the stand to comment on the nature of the CFS system in general and improvements which could be made to it to better protect Manitoba kids.

Forrest handled Phoenix’s case for a few months, and despite her failure to physically see and visit the child in following up what was considered to be a low-risk potential maltreatment claim, it was Forrest who finally put together all the available information to determine the little girl’s background equalled nothing less than a high-risk situation.

And her parents’ negative attitude and disregard for CFS and its work was a huge factor in her finding, which a review noted was largely ignored a few weeks after she came to this conclusion.

Fast forward to today, and Forrest is no longer an intake worker with CFS, handling crises and complex cases as they poured in by the bucketsful.

She now works delivering services to families as a case worker — a step removed from the process of initial contact and assessment of cases by CFS. (EDIT: she’s actually doing foster-care placements, but left intake in 2009 to move to a family service position with CFS till recently).

Off the top, Forrest readily admitted her workload was high — if not huge — in her time in intake, and that continued till she left that unit in 2009. By then, several reviews of Phoenix’s case had been done, and changes implemented by officials to try and ensure no similar situation ever happened again.

“My practice was to do the best I could with what I had,” she said.

Forrest says she was never consulted or interviewed about any of the reviews that were done or findings made, something she says she would have liked to have seen happen just because the investigations analyzed her work. It also may have been educational for her, she said.

“What’s the answer to workload issues?,” Commission lawyer Sherri Walsh asked her today — toward the end of Forrest’s lengthy testimony.

She paused a while before speaking.

“I guess, it’s a big answer. Because it’s not as simple as telling a system, ‘these are all these standards you should be following and that will take care of everything. We deal with really complex family situations. And depending on where they’re coming from, lack of community resources, increased issues with respect to addictions, mental health, which makes things much more complicated – families placing their children into care at much more, much higher numbers.

The system can try and change as much as it can sometimes, but if everything else around, in our community is also escalating in terms of their needs and their problems that they’re trying to deal with, I don’t know how we can keep up, to be honest.”

“In my experience — over 20 years — things have changed. It’s not easier to do my job.

Not withstanding changes in the system?

“Yeah. I mean, I think that we all try to do the very best that we can, whether people can believe that or not. We have a lot of hope, we have a lot of belief that people can make changes, that families can make changes. Sometimes I find if I didn’t have those, that would be very very difficult, because sometimes that’s all you have with a family.

So, is very simply one answer to the workload concerns reducing the need? Prevention?

“Well, prevention would be helpful. So if you could look at some prevention programs that could be in place even within [the] system, we had those — we had a couple of them — and they were helpful in terms of dealing with families that had teenagers out of control. But those programs were changed and something else came about as a result of that. So I think that it would be helpful if we found practical interventions that would actually really, adequately meet family needs in a realistic fashion.

We can tell them what we think we need them to do, but if they can’t do it because they don’t have enough food, they don’t — they’re struggling maintaining the three or four or two kids in their home because they’re a single parent and they don’t have a lot of resources  — I think we have to be fair and mindful that these are people that are working hard to do the best they can.

We have to come up with better solutions as to what we can offer them for intervention. So that could be helpful — some practical intervention, some more practical and more available resources. I always hope for that and I know other people do. And I know the community resources try as much as they can as well with what they have. But, you know, to say that one system has to make all the change and that will take care of everything and no child will be harmed again — I don’t know if that’s going to happen by just looking at one system.

You say that protecting children can’t just be put on the shoulders of the child-welfare system. 

“We have that burden. But it would be helpful if we had other supports and resources. Not for us, but for the families.

We talked about community resources and addressing issues of poverty, employment, education, child care — those are all things that would help, ultimately, with workload?

“Yeah. These are all the things that our families struggle with and we have to try and help them overcome those. Sometimes it’s very difficult.

Was there anything about (Phoenix’s family’s) circumstances, either in terms of their factual circumstances or the nature of services that were being delivered by the agency that stood out in your mind as compared to other families that you were working with?

“This family situation was fairly similar to many families I had dealt with. Whether it was single parent dealing with addictions issues, conflict with the other parent, struggling to manage in child care, relying on other family members. It wasn’t unique in itself. There are certain things about it that make them different but often times I dealt with families that struggled with poverty … parenting … addictions … mental health. It was more common than not.

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You can follow my live blog on the inquiry by finding any Phoenix-related story on the home page of the Winnipeg Sun website.

Shawn Lamb: the record, for the record

(Chris Procaylo/Winnipeg Sun/QMI)


In recent days, many have requested the publication of accused Winnipeg serial killer Shawn Lamb’s extensive record of criminal court convictions in full, given his case has raised so many questions about chronic offending.

I present it here, in full, for the public record.

Entries listed note the court centre where the convictions were entered, the charge and the resulting sentence imposed.

Background on what you’re about to read below can be found here, here, here, and here. And here.

  • 1976/08/18 Toronto

Attempt Fraud

Conditional Discharge, 1 yr probation

  • 1976/11/02 Barrie 

Theft over $200

Theft under $200

Breach probation

Break, enter and commit offence

6 months jail on the theft over, with lesser periods noted concurrent on other charges.

  • 1979/04/13 Barrie

Break, enter and theft

18 months jail, the sentence was appealed and reduced to 9 months

  • 1979/05/30 Barrie

Break, enter and theft

6 months jail consecutive to sentence already being served

  • 1979/09/25 Barrie

Possession of a narcotic

15 days jail

  • 1979/11/27 Guelph

Escape lawful custody

9 months consecutive to sentence already being served, later appealed down to time in custody.

  • 1979/12/14 Port Hope

Mischief

30 days concurrent with sentence already being served

  • 1980/07/07 Barrie

Drug possession

Possess for the purpose of trafficking x2

9 months and probation on possession, 2 years on the trafficking counts.

  • 1980/12/21 Winnipeg 

Armed robbery

Assault peace officer x2

2 years on the robbery, 6 months on each of the assault PO counts (consecutive)

  • 1984-04-18 Winnipeg

Assault causing bodily harm

5 months jail

  • 1984-11-29 Winnipeg

Theft under $200

1 month jail

  • 1985-02-28 Winnipeg

Assault cause bodily harm

Mischief

6 months on the assault, 1 month concurrent on mischief. Assault sentence was hiked on appeal to 12 months to be followed by 18 months of probation.

  • 1987-03-11 Barrie

Assault x2

Assault

Fail comply with bail conditions

6 months consecutive on the first two assaults, 3 months each on the other assault and bail breach, consecutive.

  • 1987-08-20 Guelph

Attempted obstruction of justice

Assault

Fail comply with bail conditions

Fail attend court (in Calgary, Alberta)

Theft over $1,000

Fail comply with probation order

5 months less a day on each charge, concurrent

  • 1988-06-06 Chilliwack, British Columbia

Assault

30 days and 2 years of probation

  • 1988-08-05 Vancouver

Care and control of a vehicle while over .08

$600 fine and 40 days time in custody noted

  • 1989-04-19 Edmonton

Mischief

$250 fine and 10 days time in custody noted

  • 1989-11-15 Edmonton

Utter threats

Possession of a weapon

1 day jail on each charge.

  • 1990-01-29 Edmonton

Uttering a forged document

30 days jail

  • 1990-07-12 Edmonton

Theft under $1,000

Obstruct peace officer

$200 and 15 days time served on the theft; $50 and three days time served on the obstruct

  • 1990-07-16 Edmonton

Theft over $1,000

3 months

  • 1991-02-21 Edmonton (RCMP High Prairie arrest)

Theft under $1,000 x2

Fail to appear

Fail to attend court

Fail bail condition

$200 fine on thefts plus 20 days jail, $100 fine on fail appear plus 10 days, $100 fine plus 10 days on attend court breach, $200 plus 20 days on bail breach

  • 1991-03-13 Slave Lake

Assault

5 months jail 

  • 1991-08-01 Edmonton

Theft under $1,000

$50 fine and 10 days TIC

  • 1992-02-06 Slave Lake (Slave Lake RCMP arrest)

Sexual assault

4 years prison plus a 5 year firearms prohibition

  • 1992-06-08 Innisfail 

Fail to comply with probation order

30 days concurrent with prison sentence

1993-06-17

PAROLED

1994-06-29

PAROLE VIOLATION, RECOMMITTED TO PRISON

1995-11-28

STATUTORY RELEASE

1995-11-28

STAT RELEASE VIOLATION, RECOMMITTED TO PRISON

  • 1996-07-05 Edmonton

Assault

9 months

  • 1997-07-09 Edmonton

Fail to appear

Theft under $5,000

1 day on fail to appear, $150 fine and three days TIC on theft

  • 1997-12-19 Edmonton

Break, enter and theft

4 month conditional sentence and 1 year probation

  • 1998-09-17 Winnipeg

Possession of property obtained by crime over $5,000

Public mischief

3 months on each charge consecutive plus two years of probation

  • 1999-06-23 Winnipeg

Utter forged document

Possession of property obtained by crime

30 days jail and a restitution order

  • 2000-01-14 Winnipeg

Utter forged document

Possess property obtained by crime over $5,000

Utter forged document

Possess property obtained by crime under $5,000

Fail to comply with bail condition

45-day intermittent sentence on first 2 charges, 30-days intermittent on next two, 1 day on the bail breach

  • 2000-04-06 Winnipeg

Unlawfully at large

30 days consecutive to sentence already being served

  • 2000-09-11 Winnipeg

Unlawfully in a dwelling house

Assault cause bodily harm

Fail to comply with probation order

2 years jail and two years of probation

  • 2001-09-11 Winnipeg

Possess property obtained by crime under $5,000

Fraud over $5,000

1 year jail on each charge concurrent

2001-09-22 Winnipeg

Possess property obtained by crime under $5,000

Fraud over $5,000

1 year concurrent with sentence already running

  • 2002-03-26 Winnipeg

Utter threats

Time served of 68 days

  • 2003-04-25 Winnipeg

Theft under $5,000

Utter threats

Assault peace officer

Time served of 6 months and 7 days

  • 2004-12-24 Winnipeg

Fail to comply with bail order x2

Fail to appear

Time served of 45 days on each charge concurrent

  • 2005-06-30 Winnipeg

Utter forged document

Break, enter and theft

Theft under $5,000

Theft over $5,000

Posess. property obtained by crime under $5,000

12 months jail with 11 months TIC noted and 3 years probation

  • 2006-08-31 Winnipeg

Assault peace officer

Possess property obtained by crime under $5,000

Time served of 115 days

  • 2007-09-07 Winnipeg

Possession of property obtained by crime under $5,000

Theft under $5,000

Posession of stolen credit card

6 months jail and 274 days of pre-sentence custody noted

  • 2008-11-07 Winnipeg

Carry concealed weapon

Possess property obtained by crime

Time served of 205 days

  • 2009-01-16 Winnipeg

Attempted Robbery

18 months conditional sentence, 3 years probation, supervised

  • 2010-05-26 Winnipeg

Possession of property obtained by crime — motor vehicle

Forgery x9

Theft under $5,000

Robbery with violence x2

13.5 months at double credit (27 months) noted, 19 months going forward AND the resumption of the 2009 conditional sentence order and the 3 years supervised probation.

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Mr. Bear goes to downtown Winnipeg

(James Hope Howard/Slurpees and Murder)

William Bear’s penchant for getting whacked out on sniff and wandering around downtown Winnipeg scaring people because of the large knife he carries in his pants likely saved his life.

The irony of existence sometimes amazes me. So does its cruel sadness.

Such was the case of the 34-year-old chronic substance abuser, who, (setting aside his criminal record) has racked up 53 documented Intoxicated Persons Detention Act arrests in his relatively short adult life.

He was picked up on Fort Street after a frightened member of the public called 911 to report a weirdo was walking around downtown in broad daylight with the weapon. Police rush into the area, and find Bear, staggering around.

In the plastic shopping bag he was carrying was a king can of beer.

Given his long and dated history with Winnipeg’s finest (and the fact he was out on ‘supervised’ probation), Bear’s locked up and spends the next 33 days behind bars.

A few days after he’s nabbed, the Austin Street rooming house he once called home is firebombed — allegedly by a woman looking to get payback on a relative but missed the target, killing five people Bear likely knew.

Bear’s arrest “might have saved his life,” Judge Fred Sandhu heard today.

In any event, Bear’s released soon after the fatal fire and picked up again just recently causing a disturbance outside the Main Street Project. Cops note he’s got a black rag soaked in paint thinner on him.

In the plastic shopping bag he was carrying was a can of beer.

By Friday, Bear, who hails from Berens River, is likely going to be back in the city.

But — despite his truly awful personal circumstances — he could be considered one of the lucky ones. He’s obtained help from a program to get him into housing and is on the waiting list for the Bell Hotel on Main Street.

For his part, Bear swears he’s headed straight from jail to a detox program, but said he wasn’t interested in staying at the Sally Ann in the interim due to some issues with drinking and drugs on its doorstep.

He was carrying the knife in his pants because of the brutal assaults many shelter-less people experience in the city, he said.

“This city’s kind of rough,” the soft-spoken Bear said. “People carry guns, people carry knives.”

Sandhu expressed worry that Bear — with his history of getting out of his mind on sniff — could end up harming or even killing someone without really realizing what he was doing.

However, given the nature of the charges he pleaded guilty to, there’s little Sandhu could do to keep Bear locked up.

“If you’re walking down the middle of the street and there’s nobody there, might be a couple of panhandlers … or somebody that you think [is] selling drugs, how do you feel? Normally, you’d think, ‘this is not very safe,’” Winnipeg police Chief Keith McCaskill told the Winnipeg Sun’s editorial board on Wednesday.

Perception of safety downtown is just as important as the reality, McCaskill said.

If people perceive they’re unsafe, then it’s really the same effect is if they’re actually unsafe.

The goal is to get more people — including cops — into the area on a permanent basis.

McCaskill said he believes having the police headquarters right in the heart of downtown will help as more cop cars will be around, and more officers will be in the skywalks and on the ground as they go about their days.

For example, crime — especially vehicle break-ins — drops noticeably when a Jets game is on, he said yesterday.

The equation: more people, more activity equals fewer problems. Better perception. Better perception of safety.

The police service is already involved a crime prevention through environmental design study in the area, and has pledged more cops and bike patrols for 2012.

But it must be said: as efforts to continue to try and get more people into the beleaguered area, we as a society have to do more to help people in circumstances like Bear’s get right — if they want the help.

Barring that, we need to implement a system to keep the chronically drunk, high or vagrant out of the downtown proper — no matter the time of day.

Loitering in front of MEC? Off you go. Camped out in front of Portage Place or Giant Tiger? Sayonara.

It’s the only way downtown will ever have a chance to truly change its image and make it a truly genuine option as a place to live in Winnipeg.

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Homicide and violence reduction

(James Turner)

It’s official. Winnipeg has broken its annual record for total number of homicides following the death of a man in the downtown Saturday.

That makes 35 ‘officially tallied’ killings (Criminal negligence causing death, dangerous driving causing death and impaired drive cause death cases aren’t counted.)

Now, it bears mentioning that five killings happened in once instance, during an alleged firebombing in Point Douglas this summer.

Nevertheless, here we are. A sad marker for our city, one that nobody likes to see.

On a positive note, I present here a few — a few — examples of what other cities with high rates of violent crime have tried to do to address the issue.

It’s interesting stuff all around.

1] Chicago:

Chicago’s CeaseFire program evaluation

2] Jacksonville, FLA.

Reducing Murder: A community response

3] District of Columbia

Homicide Reduction Strategy

4] Richmond, Virginia

Intelligence Led Policing

5] TAVIS Toronto (link)

The Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy

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Homicide: best practices

[Note: For those looking for how to commit the perfect crime as the headline could suggest, this post is not for you.]

There’s been a lot of debate lately over the Winnipeg Police Service homicide unit’s operations, largely driven by a former supervising sergeant’s labour board complaint about how he was treated and how he believes the Winnipeg Police Service’s transfer policy hampers the effectiveness of the unit.

As previously stated, I won’t go into much greater detail about the Labour Board hearing so far, as it’s really Mike McIntyre and the Free Press’ baby (Links hereherehere and here).

But there’s a question I’ve been asking myself and finally dug into a but yesterday.

What, from an operational/internal POV makes for a (quote-unquote) good/effective homicide unit? The rate at which crimes are solved? Convictions? Response times?

Turns out a retired homicide commander in the U.S. wondered the same thing in 2007-08. A rising national homicide rate was worrying him and he began formally asking around among his peers.

Timothy Keel’s study, published by the FBI, is available here.

He sets out the issues as follows:

Nationally, the number of homicides reported by police departments to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program is on the rise.1 Equally disturbing, the clearance rate for those crimes continues to decline.Law enforcement officials are increasingly concerned about the reasons for these statistics and what they can do about them. Although most homicide unit supervisors are confident in their detectives’ abilities to solve cases, they might be asking themselves if, from a management perspective, their current practices and procedures allow for the highest possible clearance rate.

To explore these issues, the author conducted a study of homicide units across the country. He developed a questionnaire that pertained to a variety of operational and management issues and focused on how the well-performing units investigate homicides.3 Departments chosen for this study met two criteria: 1) they have more than 25 HPY (homicides per year) over a 5-year average, and 2) they submit crime data for the UCR Program.4 Eighty-one departments received questionnaires, and 55 completed and returned them.responses.

The finer points of the article break down trends and arrive at some kind of consensus about what ‘best practices’ are for murder police and their bosses. The summary goes as follows, bolded bullet emphasis mine.

Keys to a Successful Homicide Unit

  • No more than five cases per year as a primary for each detective
  • Minimum of two, two-person units responding initially to the crime scene
  • Case review by all involved personnel within the first 24 to 72 hours
  • Computerized case management system with relational capacity
  • Standardized and computerized car-stop and neighborhood-canvass forms
  • Compstat-style format
  • Effective working relationships with medical examiners and prosecutors
  • No rotation policy for homicide detectives
  • Accessibility to work overtime when needed
  • Cold case squads
  • Investigative tools, such as polygraph, bloodstain pattern analysis, criminal investigative analysis, and statement analysis
  • Homicide unit and other personnel work as a team
Personnel Rotation

The issue of rotating detectives out of the homicide unit after a set period of time, regardless of their effectiveness as an investigator, is a relatively new phenomenon plaguing many supervisors. While the concept of a rotation policy may have benefits from a management perspective, this study suggested that chiefs considering implementing such a policy for homicide detectives should proceed cautiously. For example, only 3 of the 55 departments had a rotation policy of any type within their detective division. No department with an average of over 80 HPY (ed: homicides per year) reported having a rotation policy for homicide detectives. Even agencies that currently have a rotation policy extend the period of time that a detective can remain in the unit.

[Aside: interestingly, Keel’s ‘study’ also reports a rise in clearance rates [clearance meaning a suspect was arrested/charged] when a prosecutor visits the homicide scene. But the involvement of prosecutors can also take away from clearing a homicide, likely because the lawyer demands more evidence be gathered prior to officers charging someone.]
Departments that typically involved a prosecutor in the early stages of an investigation had a higher clearance rate on average. The average clearance rate became progressively lower when prosecutors became involved during the later stages of an investigation. Conversely, departments that require detectives to consult prosecutors before issuing an arrest warrant had a 6.6 percent lower clearance rate than those that did not have such a requirement. Perhaps, departments that allow detectives to use their judgment pertaining to prosecutor notification and prosecutors comfortable enough to allow detectives that discretion have a better working relationship.
Typically, the Winnipeg Police Service’s homicide clearance rate has been very good, with — by my counting — roughly four out of five homicides being cleared by charging a suspect.
Annual reports from the WPS say 81 per cent of homicides cleared in 09-10 and 08-09. 
Seventy-seven per cent were cleared in 07-08, up 23 per cent from the year prior. 
Time will only tell how 10-11 and 11-12 pan out.
But no matter what police do in terms of the HR structuring of the unit, the investigators placed there, and the vagaries of their working conditions, Keel’s report is blunt when it comes to the number one thing cops need to solve killings — an aspect desperately lacking in the city when one considers the most recent unsolved murders in Winnipeg.
When questioned about the biggest barrier to achieving higher homicide clearance rates, one common theme occurred among all ranks: the lack of public/witness cooperation.
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Major Crimes: A week in review III

Confession: When I sit down on Saturdays to construct these link-based posts, I take a couple of minutes to think about what comes immediately to mind — to me — over the last seven days in Winnipeg. They’re by no means comprehensive or complete. As well, although I work for CBC Manitoba, and many of the outbound links refer back to CBC stories, I do take it as a matter of fairness and balance on this, my personal blog, to reference the good work done by other media outlets.

That being said,

The nearly four million-dollar police whirlybird versus the $2 laser pointer drew, I’d say, the most number of hits and comments of all the crime-related stories in Winnipeg this week [sadly]. Looks like Sheldon Friesen of Toronto Street got more than he bargained for with his eBay purchase. However, while former dep. chief Menno Zacharias makes a point in his blog about how police responded with a heavy hand to the incident, there’s an argument to be made that the WPS had no choice but to throw the book at the accused in hopes of getting its point across. Put another way. If I walked up to a cop on the street and shined a laser pointer in his or her eyes, how would I expect to be dealt with? Common sense tells me I wouldn’t be treated like a silly prankster.

Quoth Menno:

When police over react, the media will over react, which is what we are seeing.  One news outlet actually featured a rambling interview with the suspect marvelling at how by simply  using a two-bit laser pen, he was almost able to bring down a 3 million dollar helicopter.   This only serves to sensationalize what is a serious issue.  The suspect was nabbed quickly and efficiently by the police.  No fanfare was needed.

I think what fuelled what he perceives as fanfare is the fact Chief McCaskill was already slated to appear on a radio show the morning that the event took place. There was no question that he needed to be asked about his views on what happened, and it went from there.

(TVB)

Interesting article here on the rising number of laser pointer “attacks” on aircraft in the States.

2] Moving on: The Winnipeg Free Press is to be commended for purchasing and publishing the complete transcript of the Justice Dewar decision that landed him in hot water with the public and the Canadian Judicial Council. While the flames of outrage abated somewhat this week, Gordon Sinclair’s apologia today appears to have reignited them. But let’s face it: Unless you read or hear the whole thing, it’s really impossible — not to mention morally murky — to pass judgment on the judge.

The whole affair reminds me of one of my favorite moments from the acclaimed HBO show, The Wire: anti-hero Omar in one episode fends off a poorly-planned and executed revenge plot:

3] The Winnipeg Police Association made some noise this week about the Downtown BIZ requesting $100,000 to ensure their downtown watch program keeps a’running and dragging vagrants and drunks to the tank. The WPA told The Sun’s Tom Brodbeck (twitter @tombrodbeck) that tasks like this are a major reason the newish Winnipeg Police Cadets are around and that the cadets are better trained to deal with the drunks than the downtown watch folk. In a statement to Brodbeck, WPA president Mike Sutherland makes an interesting observation:

The reality is that the Downtown Biz is seeking its own private police force to be paid for by the taxpayers of Manitoba. Putting aside the legality of such a request (which is, as you probably know, the subject of ongoing legal proceedings), I share the concerns of his members as they relate to public safety in the downtown area. I just disagree with the best and most cost efficient way to deal with that concern. I remain steadfast in my view that if the real concern is to provide the most effective and cost effective service to his members, Mr. Grande would embrace the concept of diverting the funds that exist to the Cadet Program. Unfortunately, the perception left is that Mr. Grande is more interested in feathering his nest than addressing the real concern.

But Chief McCaskill appears to be on the side of maintaining the BIZ patrol, saying if the Cadets were to absorb it, it would negate the officer-assistance role the light-blues do for officers.

It’s hard to fathom that this dispute couldn’t have been forseen prior to the Cadets coming online late last year, but here we are.

Personally, I’m with Sutherland on this issue. The city can hire up to 200 Cadets [who also raise the potential rate of viable recruits for future police officer classes]. Hire another 50, try and grandfather in and train as many Downtown Watch patrollers as possible and assemble a 24-7 Winnipeg Police Service Cadet downtown patrol program.

They’re already based on Graham Mall. Just from an optics perspective, it would look like a no-brainer for the WPS.

As an aside, my colleague Katie Nicholson put forward a great story on Friday regarding the rising costs and effort going into dealing with drunks downtown.

4] The federal department of justice has its hands full with extraditions lately, with the latest arrest on behalf of the U.S. government coming this week. It appears one part of this particular drug-conspiracy case has been covered by crack Vancouver Sun reporter Kim Bolan (twitter: @kbolan her blog — The Real Scoop — is here). I note with interest a passage from her February feature story on a sentencing hearing for businessman Silvano Cicuto:

According to U.S. prosecutors, Cicuto is a member “of a drug trafficking organization based in part in British Columbia,” who, with co-conspirators, arranged for large quantities of ecstasy and a similar synthetic drug called BZP to be delivered to New York.According to court documents, the DEA first got wind of the drug ring when a confidential informant told agents in June 2009 that “he had met and spoken with a Canada-based individual named Shaun Sunduk who distributed large quantities of ecstasy pills.” The informant passed along Sunduk’s number and the DEA called for some sample pills.

They arrived on July 1, 2009 in a small package from New Westminster, where Cicuto was living.

Through Sunduk, the DEA’s agent ordered 100,000 more pills from the B.C. drug gang. Sunduk referred to Cicuto as his “boss” in texts to the agent. Cicuto called the DEA plant directly several times, complaining in one call that his driver had been robbed of 100,000 pills.

Court documents say Cicuto, who the DEA agent called “the old man,” used sophisticated drug trafficking jargon to describe the potential of his ecstasy and relayed messages as to when his couriers would be crossing the border.

After one driver was arrested in Minnesota, Cicuto complained to the undercover agent that “Sunduk’s people had lost the shipment of 100,000 pills and that he was no longer working with Sunduk.”

Given Sunduk’s impending (and now executed arrest at his home in Grande Pointe just south of Winnipeg), prosecutors quickly moved to seal the criminal complaints in the Cicuto case and not prejudice his right to a fair trial.

But given the prosecution’s assertion that a drug mule is willing to testify against Sunduk — it proves again the U.S. system of massive penalties for drug offenders often provide a huge boost to law enforcement to go ‘up the ladder’ in an effort to try and hit larger targets.

It brings me back years to the work I did for the Winnipeg Free Press who allowed me to head to Montana to cover my first-ever trial (seriously) — that of Tim Morneau, a Winnipegger who was ultimately convicted of smuggling massive amounts of ecstasy across the border and is serving a 20-year sentence.

In a post trial interview, the State’s District Attorney, William Mercer, explained why the ‘up the ladder’ strategy is one employed so often (From my WFP blog called, ironically, The Crime Scene in April 2009):

But for all our obvious efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate criminals, there’s one thing the U.S. in their stiff sentencing laws that I’m sure criminal investigators in our country salivate over.

That is: a workable and successful method of getting low-to-mid level criminals to roll over on the “big man” (as Morneau called his ecstacy connection) because doing 30 or 40 to life just can’t seem worth it after the jail cell slams shut – or is just about to.

At least this is what Mercer claims is really behind the high sentences many criminals – including drug traffickers – receive in the U.S. for the large part.

“Drug cases are built on co-operation,” Mercer said. Only slightly tongue-in-cheek, he added that the stiff prison time can be seen as “tremendous incentives” for inmates to co-operate with investigators so they can go after the top-guns in the drug world.

“Our goal is to root out entire organizations,” Mercer said.

5] I note that CTV Winnipeg has a story coming Tuesday on MPI compensation for car thieves injured in crashes, an issue that I’m sure will enrage a few out there, because nobody likes car thieves, better yet ones who get ratepayer money to help in their healing.

At the end of the day, I suspect there’s only one thing to blame, and that’s MPI’s no-fault insurance policy. Besides, MPI isn’t shy about suing car thieves for the damage they cause. Whether they ever recoup the money, however, is another story.

6] Underplayed this week was the tale of Fred Skelton, an old man who was caught with a massive collection of sick child porn years ago. Crown and defence say they could live without him going to jail, but the judge could still order it.

(Robert Tapper)

7] As expected, an appeal has been filed in the case of two police officers accused of perjury and other offences. Lawyer Robert Tapper told me this week that he’ll point to a section of the trial transcript from its first day that he believes shows identity was not a live issue in the case [click picture to enlarge]. What Tapper will point to is a comment by Const. Peter O’Kane’s defence lawyer Sheldon Pinx on the exhibits that jurors were given [Lines 18-22].

I have very little left over from my notes this week: other than a former drug addict filing for restraining orders against her former dealers [that’s about as interesting as it gets] and a hint for my loyal readers that a major crime story could break this week or next, but it’s not related to any person or criminal incident. That being said, it could have an overwhelming impact on crime perceptions — and what you’re told about what’s happening ‘out there’ — in Winnipeg.

To be honest, I’m surprised no one has reported it yet. If no MSM gets to it by Monday, I will here.

As well, I’m contemplating a post on the following topic: ‘what is a crime reporter’ in the wake of certain comments made by a local blogger regarding the media coverage of the recent killing of Elizabeth LaFantaisie. Consider this a request: If you have a thought on that topic, please drop me a comment.

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Adaptive technology, the law and missing kids

(Texas Judge David Cobos/ABC NEWS)

Since we know that 3,500 of the reports filed with the Winnipeg Police Service’s Missing Persons Unit each year involve kids involved in state care, what are we going to do about it?

I can’t say for Manitoba’s elected officials, but this morning, I discovered what Texas Judge David Cobos might do.

Slap GPS ankle bracelets on them.

You can read about Cobos’s “experiment” to combat chronic truancy in Midland, Tx., but really, it need be no more complicated than the above italicized line suggests.

Imagine the financial cost and waste of police resources these 3,500 kids rack up each year as officers scramble to locate them.

It’s huge. And faced with an apparently “soaring” violent crime problem, Winnipeg needs these officers to deal with that situation, first.

Although lately, there’s been fewer of them, not a week goes by that a press release from the WPS pleads with the public for help finding one of these vulnerable runaways, who are at risk of being exploited by dealers, pornographers and pimps.

The service has taken steps to start charging people who harbour these kids and in some cases deliberately put investigators off the scent.

Now let’s take another step and force the most chronic runaways to wear location devices.

It has to cost less to do this than it does to pay police officers to run around after them.

In an interview on CBC’s The Current this morning, Cobos said the American Civil Liberties Union has not even muttered about his experiment, which he says has reversed truancy trends and brought up grade levels.

We put GPS anklets on select teenaged chronic car thieves because of the danger they pose to the public when out of jail.

So it’s not much of a stretch to tweak the argument and say that if a youth poses a danger to his or herself, then the monitoring is required.

The great thing about technology (and GPS tracking is not anyway close to cutting edge or expensive) is that it’s adaptive to needs.

Kind of like how the law is supposed to be.

Next logical step: Fine CFS.

Each time a chronic runaway vanishes and prompts a search by city police officers, the agency responsible for looking after them pays a fine. If police can establish that “X,” a ward of “Y” consistently runs away, then that establishes a pattern of lack of oversight.

That lack of oversight should result in a cost — and that revenue should be returned to the WPS for the cost of locating the youth.

We pay handsomely each year for CFS to provide for a growing number of children. And without getting into the equally handsome lack of public oversight the ministry enjoys, the glut of runaways is an indication that there’s a lack of appropriate oversight for them.

That must be penalized in some fashion, or there’s no incentive for change.

One judge in one American state realized there was a problem and used his authority and the tools available to him to try and correct it.

But here — in the face of serious, expensive problems and a lack of creative solutions — we’d strike a committee, have endless meetings, reports and consultations before we take action, I’d bet.

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http://abcnews.go.com/assets/player/walt2.6/flash/SFP_Walt_2_65.swf

Another drip in the kitchen sink

(Underground Gym website)

A Thunder Bay-based charity that provides recreation and other aid programs for at-risk youth could be coming soon to one of Winnipeg’s hardest areas.

The Underground Gym and Youth Centre is asking the city for “$83,200.00 to assist with operating costs associated with community development and recreation programs to serve the needs of youths at risk at a gym and youth centre which the Centre wishes to establish in Winnipeg.”

(Google maps)

The centre would be located at 431-435 Selkirk Avenue. In the picture, it looks as if it would be the buildings right next to the food mart.

Guided by the motto: “Once a member, always a member,” the organizers say they provide “free access to multiple activities for youth in need” ages 4-17. The Ontario location is co-ed.

Unlike the incoming multi-million dollar Youth for Christ centre that is set to open at Main and Higgins, The organizers don’t appear to have an ideological or religious bent.

(Letter to city from Peter Panetta)

With a track record stretching back to 1999 in Thunder Bay, the director, Peter Panetta says they’ve had great success keeping kids from “the wrong path.” (see attached letter).

All I can say is this: if the organization checks out, it’s another drip in the “kitchen sink” philosophy for crime prevention a famous local blogger has written about much more eloquently than I could.

The city will make an initial decision on whether to give the group its ask on Nov. 23.

Why aren’t more local agencies trying to do this in this area? I’d imagine it would be more the merrier.

I’ve put a message in to speak with Panetta. We’ll see if he calls back.

[UPDATE] He did call back. Seemed like a fairly no-nonsense, straight shooting guy:

Panetta tells me he’s a boxing coach who works for Canada Post full time in Thunder Bay. The Winnipeg facility will be run by his adult kids, he says.

It’s non-denominational and non-profit, he said.

“I’ve never taken a penny for what I’m doing,” Panetta said.

Interesting how in this article he talks about the financial challenges he faces in Ontario — and how Winnipeg’s problems are migrating there.

Tells me his relationship with city hall in TB has had its “ups and downs,” which got sorted out when he found private funding.

Interestingly, he tells me, the genesis of the idea for the Winnipeg gym stemmed from Winnipeg kids filtering into the centre in TB who would talk about the area.

I asked him if he had much experience or knowledge about the Selkirk Avenue area, and he admitted the entrenched gang problems in the North End have been raised with him.

“The gangs … it will be a challenge, do doubt — but once the concept takes hold, it should be OK.”

Says the TB centre is in a rougher area but admits its not the same as what he’s heard about the 204.

“We’re not as hard core as Winnipeg,” he said.

He’s coming to Winnipeg on Monday to prepare for the Tuesday meeting. Says he’s spoken “indirectly” to Sam Katz about the proposal. Katz seemed “all for it,” he said, but says he’s committed to following proper process to try and get the grant.

Simpleton math (I have no head for numbers)

Let’s say for the sake of argument that the city approves the gym’s $83,200 and sets up shop in the North End and begins working with kids. How much of a savings would that represent to the criminal justice system just in terms of wages paid to police, prosecutors etc?

Assuming the gym keeps 25 kids from committing a crime for which they’re arrested and not diverted away from the system, ultimately convicted and given a probation order:

(Yes, I know. I'm no economist or statistician. Just a dumb reporter)

Here’s what I come up with (in graph).

Just preventing 25 kids from committing 1 mildly serious crime — say it’s a theft under charge or whatever — “saves” $27,150.

If it’s 100 kids? More than $108,000.

Now, I realize this is simplistic because in reality the savings aren’t seen in real dollars, but it’s worth considering.

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