Community advocates oppose cuts to Winnipeg Police Service

The director of a non-profit organization dedicated to helping marginalized youth is saying she is sad to learn officers on the front lines of community building may be among the first cut from the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS).

Officers patrolling Winnipeg on foot have 'most impact' on reducing crime, says one advocate

Karen Ferris of Winnipeg's Youth Agencies Alliance said she's seen progress in the relationships between marginalized youth and police, and is "disheartened" to learn community officers may be among the first cut within the Winnipeg Police Service. (CBC)

The director of a non-profit organization dedicated to helping marginalized youth is saying she is sad to learn officers on the front lines of community building may be among the first cut from the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS).

According to Karen Ferris of Youth Agencies Alliance, WPS officers have changed their practices to earn the trust of youth she works with at the organization over the last few years.

"The youth our agencies serve do have run-ins with the police, and those aren't usually positive experiences for many different reasons," she said.

"As much as possible, we try to bring in the side [that is] preventative and holistic."

The shifts she's seen include police walking throughout communities, rather than roaming in cruisers, and officers showing up at times that are important to youth, outside the context of law enforcement. 

Ferris cites the example of WPS chief Devon Clunis coming to an art show youth put on, where the work was based on ideas about the future and what they want to be when they become adults.

It is in these situations, she said, that officers form "informal connections" with the youth they aim to protect.

"The youth that we work with … consistency and positive role models are huge.… So, the more the police can take on those roles, the better," she said.

"The more trust that they're going to be able to build with the youth themselves."

It is for these reasons that Ferris said the cuts are "disheartening."

"Learning that [community officers] might be the first thing that is cut, it's unfortunate," she said.

"It's backtracking on a lot of the progress that's been made."

Clunis commended

Ferris attributes the progress she's seen in her community to Clunis, who she said took an approach to crime reduction through a philosophy rooted in social development, which he shared with the rest of the force.

"Once that relationship has been built, I think it's automatically a deterrent for the youth to engage in any sort of crime she said," adding she hopes whoever replaces Clunis will continue down the path he's paved.

Sel Burrows of North Point Douglas' Citizens on Watch, a volunteer program to address crime in the area, said cutting community support programs is a step in the wrong direction.

"They're going to have a riot on their hands," he said.

Burrows suggested fewer deputy chiefs and cuts to the administrative side of policing as alternatives to cutting crime-prevention measures.

"It's beyond belief that they would think of going back to prior to [former WPS chief] Keith McCaskill," he said.

"We had a police force [that] would run into the community, arrest somebody, rush out again and we wouldn't see them again until someone committed a serious crime."

He credits the evolution of his neighbourhood to community officers.

"[They] are the ones having the most impact on cutting down crime," he said.

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