No culture of binge drinking, says Winnipeg police chief, but union wants more resources

Winnipeg’s police chief denies there’s a culture of binge drinking among off-duty officers, but the union representing city cops says it’s still concerned there aren’t enough internal resources available for officers who may be struggling with addictions.

2014 survey of Winnipeg police officers found 24% of respondents engaged in 'harmful or hazardous' drinking

Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth denies there's a binge-drinking problem among officers. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Winnipeg's police chief denies there's a culture of binge drinking among off-duty officers, but the union representing city cops says it's still concerned there aren't enough internal resources available for officers who may be struggling with addictions.

Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth was responding to questions from reporters following news Wednesday that yet another off-duty officer had been arrested on a drunk driving-related charge earlier in the month.

The news came just two days after police confirmed an off-duty officer was arrested for refusing a breathalyzer. That officer has now been charged.

The arrests came on the heels of a fatal hit and run in October that killed 23-year-old Cody Severight. Justin Holz, who was off-duty at the time of the crash, has been charged with impaired driving causing death.

"I'm not naive enough to think that there isn't some going on but I think that's over-characterizing [to say] that the whole service has got a drinking problem," Smyth said.

He said there's no indication of a culture of binge drinking among the service's roughly 1,400 members.

Cody Severight, 23, was killed in October outside the Sutherland Hotel. Justin Holz, an off-duty police officer, has been charged with impaired driving causing death. (Travis Golby/CBC)

He said about five Winnipeg police officers are currently facing charges in court related to impaired driving. He added that a total of 14 have been pulled from the field and regulatory or criminal investigations are underway in those cases, but they aren't all related to impaired driving.

Smyth said the service's internal behavioural-health unit provides resources to officers who might be struggling with an addiction to alcohol.

Survey results 'concerning': police union

However, the union representing police officers said it's understaffed and pointed to a 2014 health and wellness survey that suggests hazardous drinking within the force is a bigger problem.

The survey by three criminology professors in B.C., hired by the Winnipeg Police Association to conduct an operational review of the police service, was taken by 420 officers — about 28 per cent of the total force. 

It used a 10-question test developed by the World Health Organization that provides a score to determine whether a person's alcohol consumption can be considered harmful.

The survey of WPS members found 24 per cent of respondents engaged in a level of drinking considered "harmful or hazardous." It also found eight per cent of respondents were alcohol dependent.

"The results are very interesting. They are concerning," said Winnipeg Police Association president Moe Sabourin. He said the union shared the results with the police service, but no more resources were provided for officers who need help.

"The service really hasn't taken any immediate steps to remedy what we've been able to provide to them."

Winnipeg Police Association president Moe Sabourin said more resources are needed for officers who may be struggling with alcohol addiction. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Sabourin said rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety are high among officers, adding that the behavioural-health unit has just two members to help the entire service.

Asked if police officers needed a refresher on the dangers of drinking and driving, Smyth said he thinks the message has gotten out through the media and internally.

"Do I really have to tell adults, any adults, that they shouldn't drink or drive? I mean, it seems almost absurd. We all know we shouldn't drink and drive and police officers are part of the public. They know they shouldn't drink and drive, either." ​​

About the Author

Austin Grabish


​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg​ where he files for TV, web and radio. ​​Born and raised in Manitoba, Austin has had an itch for news since he was young. He landed his first byline when he was just 18. Before joining CBC, he reported for several outlets with work running across the country. He studied human rights in university and holds both a degree and diploma in communications.​ Email: