Winnipeg Police Service lags behind city's racial diversity

Indigenous people and members of visible minority groups make up nearly a third of Winnipeg’s population, yet those groups compose only about 18 per cent of the city’s police officers, a CBC News analysis has found.

Police force urged to hire more Indigenous officers

Former Police Chief Devon Clunis inspects new recruits to the Winnipeg Police Service at a 2014 graduation ceremony. (CBC)

Indigenous people and members of visible minority groups make up nearly a third of Winnipeg's population, yet those groups compose only about 18 per cent of the city's police officers. 

"It's no wonder there's problems on our streets. It's no wonder that there are trust issues," said Sheila North Wilson, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.

Winnipeg Police Service figures show that as of 2015, Winnipeg's 1,425 police officers included 99 members from visible minority groups and 156 who said they are Indigenous.

That means 17.9 per cent of the force's police officers identify as either Indigenous or from visible minority groups — significantly lower than the 32.5 per cent figure for Winnipeg's general population reported by Statistics Canada.

Recruiting officers from minority groups

6 years ago
Duration 1:00
Winnipeg Police Service Deputy Chief Danny Smyth says the police service has made a lot of progress in recruiting officers from minority groups.

Looking only at the proportion of Indigenous officers compared to the Indigenous population in the city, the Winnipeg police essentially achieve equal representation within their ranks.

Deputy Chief Danny Smyth said that in the most recent graduating class of recruits, the proportion of Indigenous graduates was 15 per cent – exceeding the 11 per cent Indigenous population in Winnipeg.

He said the current recruit class has an even higher Indigenous component: 22 per cent. That surpasses the goal WPS previously established to have 20 per cent of recruits Indigenous by 2019.

"With the indigenous population our numbers are close to reflecting our Indigenous population. But we have a lot of work that we need to continue to do and we will continue to do. Certainly one of the ways to enhance our recruitment is to make our service a more attractive place for people to want to work," Smyth said.

But with more than 72,000 Indigenous people living in Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Police Service still needs to do more, North Wilson said.

"Ticking off a box to say that you're Indigenous isn't enough. You have to, in my eyes, be able to speak on the issues that affect Indigenous people to properly represent them in whatever field you're in," she said.

Indigenous mistrust of police

6 years ago
Duration 1:01
MKO Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson says the Winnipeg Police Service needs to do a better job of recruiting and retaining aboriginal police officers.

That, she said, will require police officers to have an understanding of the issues affecting Indigenous people.

"We're taught at an early age to be fearful of police," she said. "I think those relationships and those tensions are based on real memory, and things that happened in the past and that are happening now."

Smyth said Winnipeg police established a diversity unit to work on improving community relationships.

"Not everyone in the Indigenous community mistrusts us. So it's important for us to build those relationships in the community and we certainly have had some success in that regard," Smyth said.

"We've developed some policy specifically around bias-free policing. We've developed some training that we hope will address some of the implicit bias that exists within our organization," said Smyth. 

North Wilson said goodwill is generated when police do community outreach and she does see signs of improvement in the relationship between police and Indigenous people.

"It's not happening fast enough as the [Indigenous] population grows," she said.

Her view is shared by the association that represents Winnipeg's police officers.

(CBC News Graphics)

Change sometimes slow

"Unfortunately change sometimes is slow, but there are efforts to bring those numbers up to where they should be," said Maurice Sabourin, president of the Winnipeg Police Association.

"My belief is that the police service should be representative of the population."

The WPS is doing a good job of attracting recruits from different racial groups, he said.

We're taught at an early age to be fearful of police.- MKO Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson

But convincing people to go into policing can be a tough sell nowadays, he said.

"What you'll find across Canada is that there is a decrease in the number of applicants, not only with ethnic groups but with the rest of the population," Sabourin said.

"There's such intense scrutiny. We're one of the most-scrutinized professions on the planet. And I think people see that, and they see what's happening in the media, and it's a profession that not a lot of people want to venture into any more."

Sabourin said when he was hired as a Winnipeg police officer 28 years ago, there were 1,000 applicants for 24 positions.

"Now we're lucky if we can get around 300 for each class," Sabourin said.

Diverse recruitment challenges

6 years ago
Duration 0:45
Winnipeg Police Association President Maurice Sabourin says fewer people want to become police officers, making recruitment more difficult.

CBC News surveyed the racial diversity of urban police services in Canadian cities that have a population of more than 100,000 and the RCMP in the three northern territories.

Compared to other cities, Winnipeg police ranked middle of the pack in terms of the racial diversity of its police officers compared with the diversity of the population they patrol.