Downtown safety report overlooks role of residents, says area advocate

A longtime crime prevention advocate in Winnipeg says the new downtown safety report has overlooked the importance of connecting with downtown residents to help fight crime.

'If you don't involve the people ... it will fail,' says Sel Burrows

Sel Burrows says community residents should have played a larger role in the downtown safety report. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

A longtime crime prevention advocate in Winnipeg says the new downtown safety report has overlooked the importance of connecting with area residents to help fight crime.

A report from Manitoba's police commission, released Tuesday, said a new downtown safety communications centre, better co-ordination of downtown foot patrols and closed-circuit TV cameras could improve safety in downtown Winnipeg.

Sel Burrows, the co-ordinator of Point Powerline, a community-driven crime prevention program in the Point Douglas neighbourhood, told Up to Speed host Ismaila Alfa that the report fails to mention the role of engaging downtown residents.

"It's so frustrating for me, because the reality is that whatever we do in crime prevention, if you don't involve the people who actually live in the area, who know who has the guns and know who's dealing the drugs, it will fail," he said. 

Burrows said he thinks it would be more effective to give residents a way to safely communicate what they're seeing to police and landlords, so crime could be prevented, rather than having to be solved. 

"If the people … who live there, who know who the dangerous people are … are allowed to let landlords, police, others know, they can be dealt with before the serious crime is committed," he said. 

"If you look at who the victims of crime downtown, most of them are inner-city residents, downtown residents and poor vulnerable people."

Police chief takes issue with report 

Burrows is not the only critic of the report. Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth took issue with the lack of municipal representation at the press conference, as well as the idea that police should not lead the initiative.

He said the report is largely redundant.

Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth says the downtown crime problem needs 'generational fixes.' (Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

"Many of the recommendations are initiatives that the [Winnipeg Police Service] and the City of Winnipeg have been engaged in with other downtown stakeholders for some time," he said in a statement Tuesday. 

"Other recommendations require legislative changes that have been previously identified but not acted upon."

In an interview Wednesday on CBC Manitoba's Information Radio, he said while he agreed police can't arrest their way out of the socio-economic problems Winnipeg is facing, Smyth said it's not an either-or situation. 

"[The solutions] are not quick fixes. Those are generational fixes," he said.

"But in the interim, you can't just cut people's sense of security; the police play a big role in that."

Kate Fenske, executive director of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, said she was happy to see the report wasn't entirely focused on policing and security. 

"It was really looking at a holistic approach to how we do things differently downtown," she said. 

"There was language in there and talk that we needed more supports around addictions and mental health, and that's really important for us."

With files from Cory Funk, Information Radio and Up To Speed