Manitoba

RCMP and Winnipeg police suspend organized-crime and warrant task forces

Changes follow flat provincial funding for city, but the province says it played no role in the decision

Guns and drugs in Brandon raid

A seven-month investigation led by the Manitoba Integrated Organized Crime Task Force resulted in the seizure of cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and these weapons in 2016. The task force has been suspended. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

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Manitoba's RCMP and Winnipeg's police have dissolved two out of six of their joint units and have reassigned the officers to other duties in the wake of flat provincial funding for the City of Winnipeg.

The Winnipeg Police Service and RCMP D Division confirmed Monday they have suspended the operations of the Manitoba Integrated Organized Crime Task Force and the Manitoba Warrant Task Force.

The organized crime task force, which was made up of nine Winnipeg police officers and eight RCMP officers,  was launched by the province in 2004. It has been with credited with disrupting the cocaine trade, seizing weapons and otherwise responding to criminal gang activity.​

"Organized crime is a national and divisional priority for the RCMP and will remain so. The Manitoba RCMP has federal, serious and organized crime units in Winnipeg," RCMP spokesperson Tara Seel said in a statement, adding the eight Mounties in the task force will be absorbed into the other units.

"I would like to stress that there remains a strong partnership between the RCMP and the Winnipeg Police Service, and information will continue to be shared between our organizations. It should also be noted that ongoing investigations will not be affected by the changes to [organized crime task force]."

The warrant task force, which was made up of three Winnipeg police officers and three Mounties, was responsible for finding and arresting what former provincial justice minister Andrew Swan called "high-risk fugitives" when the unit was created in 2011.

Changes after 'much discussion'

Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth said in a statement that the decision to suspend both task forces took place "after much consideration and discussion" with RCMP executives. The changes will take effect this month.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said the province played no role in the decision made by Winnipeg's police and Manitoba's RCMP.

The spokesperson said the province replaced dedicated funds for these task forces this year with a "single basket" of money for almost all City of Winnipeg programs, set at the same overall level of funding the city received in 2016.

Justice Minister Heather Stefanson

A spokesperson for Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said the province played no role in the decision to suspend two Winnipeg police-RCMP task forces. (CBC)

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman has said the flat funding will cause the city some financial pain this year. The absence of inflationary increases in funding for the Winnipeg police helicopter and cadet programs has led to a $1.2-million budget shortfall in the Winnipeg Police Service budget, according to the city's latest financial status report.

A spokesperson for the Winnipeg Police Service, however, said the availability of funds was only one reason for the suspension of the task forces.

Winnipeg Police Board chair David Asper said his board was briefed about the changes and will discuss them at its next meeting, slated for Friday.

Opposition disappointed

Swan, now the New Democratic Party justice critic, said he's disappointed to see the dissolution of the two task forces.

"It sounds like the province has put the city and the RCMP in a position where they feel like they have to suspend those programs," Swan said in a telephone interview.

"Taking on organized crime and dealing with people who refuse to show up for court once they've been charged with a crime was seen as a priority."

Andrew Swan

The NDP's Andrew Swan said he's disappointed the units have been suspended. (CBC)

Four other units made up of city police and RCMP officers remain intact. Both law-enforcement agencies contribute staff to the Manitoba Integrated High Risk Sex Offenders Unit, the Criminal Intelligence Service Manitoba, the Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System and Project Devote, the missing and murdered Indigenous women's task force.

"Both agencies have taken opportunities to formally integrate units to respond operationally to specific issues that are mutually beneficial," Smyth said in his statement.

"All of the agreements allow partners and stakeholders to review, modify, or withdraw from the agreements when circumstances or the environment change."

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