In northwest Winnipeg, residents say crime is rising — so they're reaching to each other for help
'We need to get back to knowing everybody who lives on your street,' says Seven Oaks resident
Kaur Sidhu loves his northwest Winnipeg neighbourhood. But he says recently, it seems like crime has increased in the Waterford Green area.
He's experienced it himself, from having a lawnmower stolen from his garage to seeing strangers walk through his neighbours' yards.
That's led some to put up fences, which has created a different feeling on his street.
"They provide more privacy, but also it segregates the neighbourhood," Sidhu said.
"I like it without fences [in the] area. It's open. When you cut your grass, you talk to your neighbour. You sit, you have beer, you talk about the weekend or the family."
While police statistics suggest property crime has actually dropped in the past year, Sidhu and his neighbours aren't the only ones in the area whose sense of safety has been shaken.
Grip Singh said his Amber Trails house has been broken into three times in the last decade.
He says last fall, his son, Nico, was almost kidnapped when a passenger in a vehicle tried to pull the 12-year-old in as he walked home from school — just a short distance from his house.
Now, the longtime resident is relying on his community to keep an eye out for trouble, from patrolling with a neighbourhood watch group to Facebook, where a group tried to help him track down his son's attackers when police weren't able to.
Singh said many people in his neighbourhood have started to feel like officers don't patrol the area enough.
"It's very frustrating for all the residents," he said.
Area property crime down last year
According to the Winnipeg Police Service's crime map, property crime in northwest Winnipeg reached a five-year high between 2019 and 2020.
Between February 2020 and February of this year, the rate dropped both in the area and across the city — though it's unclear whether the pandemic or other factors are behind that shift.
Sidhu suggested another possibility is the area's increase in newcomers to Canada, who may not always report crimes to police.
From 2006 until 2016 (the most recent census data available), northwest Winnipeg welcomed thousands of immigrants. The number of newcomers from the Philippines and India, for example, more than doubled in that time.
Sidhu said he's heard from neighbours who haven't called police when they've had things stolen.
"If somebody goes into your garage to grab something and walks away, they don't report that," he said.
The growth of the area itself may also be contributing to a sense of unease, says one urban studies expert.
A recent planning document presented to city council said Winnipeg plans to see 1,700 new homes every year over the next two decades along the city's outskirts — neighbourhoods like those in northwest Winnipeg.
When a neighbourhood grows that quickly, it's common for longtime residents to feel less safe, whether crime is actually going up or not, says Chris Storie, director of the Institute of Urban Studies at the University of Winnipeg.
"As a neighbourhood changes, for the good or for the bad, the change sort of generates a perception of, 'Something's going wrong,'" he said.
While the area has seen an increase in newcomers from countries like the Philippines and India, Storie said the phenomenon isn't necessarily as simple as white people becoming uncomfortable when people of colour people move in next door.
"It's the fact that the group has changed that really generates that concern," he said, regardless of where they've come from.
That doesn't discount residents' experiences with crime, he says, but it could be a factor that chips away at their sense of safety.
Know your neighbours
Storie suggests a solution is getting to know your neighbours — building connections instead of fences.
"That growth of community, that growth of that interconnectedness, really creates a safety net," he said.
"It has much more impact than just keeping petty crime down."
That's something many residents in northwest Winnipeg are already doing.
In the Seven Oaks area, Elizabeth Ashe said she recently joined her neighbourhood's first residents' association, after noticing she had started to feel less safe where she lives.
"I think it's a start," she said. "We need to get back to knowing everybody who lives on your street."
And while crime is still a frustration for Singh and his neighbours in Amber Trails, community groups have strengthened their sense of safety, too.
"We have a very good, strong, closely knit community," he said.
"We all look out for each other."
This story is part of CBC Manitoba's On the Move community journalism project, which invites residents to shine a light on the stories we should tell about their communities. The first communities we're featuring are three Winnipeg suburbs: northwest Winnipeg, Bridgwater Forest and Valley Gardens.
With files from Sam Samson and Lindsay Mackenzie