Violent crimes climb in Winnipeg but all other categories show drop, new statistics say

Violent crimes like assaults, threats and abductions are on the rise in Winnipeg, and the homicide rate is outpacing the five-year average, according to a new report from the police service.

Winnipeg's violent crime severity index is highest among all major cities in the Prairies

Winnipeg Police Service Insp. Max Waddell holds a 'ghost gun,' which was made by a 3D printer and seized by officers, in a 2020 file photo. Gun-related calls for service went up 15 per cent in 2021 compared to 2020, according to the police service's latest statistical report. (John Einarson/CBC)

Violent crimes like assaults, threats and abductions are on the rise in Winnipeg, and the homicide rate is outpacing the five-year average, according to a new report from the police service.

Gun-related calls for service increased by 15 per cent year-over-year between 2020 and 2021, and 27 per cent over the past five years.

But all other broad crime categories — property crimes, drug crimes, traffic crimes and other crimes — have decreased year-over-year between 2020 and 2021, according to the Winnipeg Police Service annual statistical report, released Wednesday.

Despite that, police Chief Danny Smyth said he tends to focus on the violent crime category.

"That's the stuff that shakes up the community," he told host Marcy Markusa in a Wednesday morning interview with CBC's Information Radio

"I've been doing this job for over 30 years and so I've seen the cycles go up and down, and right now we seem to be trending up."

That appears to be continuing so far in 2022, Smyth noted. 

"Just since July 1 of this year, we've attended over 50 incidents that have involved knives and have involved violence. So that's alarming."

All broad categories of crime, save violent ones, dropped in Winnipeg between 2020 and 2021, as well as over the past five years. (Winnipeg Police Service 2021 annual statistical report)

The report says property crime, though, changed "significantly" in 2021 with fewer reports of shoplifting, particularly in liquor stores. That comes after Manitoba Liquor Marts installed anti-theft measures following a spike in thefts in 2019.

However, there was a marked and sustained increase in theft of vehicle accessories, most notably catalytic converters.

Hate crimes spiked by 46.2 per cent in 2021 over 2020, with 38 incidents.

Black people were the greatest target in terms of ethnicity, with eight reported incidents, while in terms of religion, Jews were most targeted, also with eight incidents reported, according to the police statistics.

There was a slight increase in youth-involved crime involving violence in 2021 over the previous year, driven by a 69.2 per cent surge in aggravated assaults. Robberies, though, were down 37.2 per cent and sexual assaults dropped by 21.6 per cent.

Property crimes involving youth also dropped, with break-ins, car thefts and shoplifting all down between 24 and 67 per cent, according to the report. The only increase was in arson, which went up by 40 per cent over 2020.

Overall, the youth crime trend has decreased in the past five years, from 2,312 incidents in 2016 to 1,101 in 2021.

Not an easy fix: WPS

Despite the improvement, the statistics say Winnipeg has the highest numbers of violent crimes in large cities across the Prairies.

Winnipeg's violent crime severity index — calculated based on volume of crime and the degree of seriousness — is 173.3, up five per cent.

Comparatively, Calgary's is 78.3, Edmonton's is 127.4, Saskatoon's is 137.5, Regina's is 135.7. All of those have decreased from the prior year.

Addressing the issues is not an easy fix, said Bonnie Emerson, the superintendent of community engagement for the Winnipeg Police Service.

Social conditions associated to addictions, mental health, and homelessness were exacerbated during the pandemic. 

"We know that there's contributing factors and that this is a complex problem. The challenge is, people want one simple answer," she told Information Radio

While enforcement is needed in some situations, "not everything needs to be, nor can it be, driven by the police," she said.

Some things require a strategic change and time to form specialized units, like the service's anti-gang and gun strategy, or co-operative efforts with other community agencies, Smyth said.

"But a lot of them were interrupted during the pandemic so we're trying to re-establish that," he said.

In other cases, things can be done quickly, he added.

"The Forks was a good example of that," he said, referring to the response to a recent series of crimes at the popular gathering site near the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers.

"We established some additional presence down there with foot patrols on the weekend to try to address that," Smyth said.

"We've adapted our response to meet some of the more urgent things that are occurring. We've been through cycles like this before, and we'll get through this one as well."

Smyth 'taken aback' by criticism

Smyth said he is shocked by the reaction to comments he made last week about the violence at The Forks. Last Friday, he said that violence "is not new," and that calls for service to The Forks are in line with past trends and relatively small in the overall picture of crime in Winnipeg.

He also implied the media is partly to blame for sensationalizing the incidents.

Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth on crime rates in the city

5 months ago
Duration 2:31
Winnipeg's chief of police says there is no easy fix when it comes to the high violent crime numbers in our city. Chief Danny Smythe talks about the importance of community when it comes to finding a solution.

Some community leaders, the police union and Premier Heather Stefanson suggested Smyth is trying to normalize the violence.

Stefanson tweeted Tuesday that she was "very concerned with the comments from Winnipeg police chief on recent crime events."

In a later news release, she said she had spoken with police union head Moe Sabourin, and "we both agreed the incidents cannot be the new normal in Winnipeg."

On Wednesday, Smyth said he was "taken aback a little bit" by the comments from Stefanson, who was in British Columbia meeting with the country's other premiers. He said he looks forward to "the opportunity for discussion" to address her concerns.

He also said his comments from last week were misconstrued.

The police service has been "sounding the alarm" for years on the factors contributing to violence, raising it regularly in the media and to the police board, said Smyth.

"That's what I was talking about. This is not normal and I don't ... think people should characterize it as normal," he said.

"I can never predict how someone is going to take my comments."


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.

With files from Information Radio