Winnipeg's new police chief is advocating the use of prayer to help address the city's crime problem.

Acting police Chief Devon Clunis says he would like Winnipeggers of all faiths to pray for a better and safer city, as he believes people often find inspiration in prayer to take action and help one another.

"I think if we have a community that's consistently praying for one another, hopefully we'll now see the physical reduction of crime and violence in our city," Clunis, who is a Christian, told CBC News in an interview.

"If you're praying for your neighbour, I don't think you'll be out there hating your neighbour or fighting with your neighbour," he added.

"If you are praying for your neighbour, you'll say, 'OK, I'm praying, but how can I practically do something to impact my neighbour's well-being?'"

Clunis, 48, was named as Winnipeg's 17th chief of police earlier this month, succeeding Keith McCaskill. He will officially take over the position later this year.

A 25-year veteran of the Winnipeg Police Service, Clunis has also served as a chaplain with the force.

"My faith is foundational to everything that I do," he said.

Separate church and state, says ethicist

Some Winnipeggers said they like the idea of using prayer to help address crime and violence.

"I think it's a great concept," said C.C., a woman who had a long criminal record before she got in touch with her aboriginal tradition and started praying to the Creator.

"It ended violence in my life for me … how I acted violently toward other people," she said.

But Arthur Schafer, an ethicist with the University of Manitoba, said Clunis should not speak so openly about his religious views while he is holding public office.

"No one chose him to be police of our souls," Schafer said.

"I think it's entirely inappropriate for a chief of police, in his role as chief of police, to be advocating prayer either to his colleagues on the police force or to the general public."

Schafer said there are many people in Winnipeg who don't hold any particular religious beliefs, and those individuals may take offence to Clunis's views.

The police chief should focus on promoting concepts such as integrity and respect, without invoking religion, Schafer added.

"People who hold public office and who also have deeply-held private religious convictions have got to learn to separate the two," he said.

But Clunis said faith informs every part of his being, and he doesn't think he should leave that part of himself behind when he goes to work.

He said all citizens, even those who do not believe in prayer, should think about what they can do to build a safer city.