West End residents want Operation Clean Sweep to continue

People who live and work in Winnipeg's West End say prostitutes and johns have started to come back to their neighbourhood since a highly publicized police pilot project ended quietly four months ago.

People who live and work in Winnipeg's West End say prostitutes and johns have started to come back to their neighbourhood since a highly publicized police pilot project endedfour months ago.

Operation Clean Sweep was a Winnipeg police pilot project that launched in November 2005 to boost police presence in troubled neighbourhoods such as the West End.

Mayor Sam Katz launched the operation after the shooting death of Philippe Haiart, 17, who was caught in the crossfire of a gang confrontation in the area.

A dedicated unit of 45 police officers targeted visible street crimes such as prostitution, drug dealing and street-level violence.

ButOperation Clean Sweep ended in May, without any formal announcement.

A police spokesperson told CBC News that the service did continue a scaled-down version of Clean Sweep until September.

Police presence 'quieted things down'

Residents can still report "people and/or addresses that may be of interest to the project" by calling or e-mailing the Clean Sweep unit, the operation's website says.

But Langside St. resident Bill Martens said he felt safe in the neighbourhood when more officers were patrolling the area.

"It's quieted things down to some degree," he said. "It made it safer to walk the streets at night. However, there's more to be done."

Martens said he has noticed more prostitutes and traffic from johns over the summer, when police scaled back on the number of officers on the streets.

Denis Desjarlais said he has already noticed an increase in prostitution, especially at night.

"Here, in this corner, all the way down to Simcoe [St.], you see about eight to 10 people walking around. They have their own spots," he said, standing on Ellice Avenue.

While the operation itself ended in May, the police service continued to post monthly Clean Sweep statistics on its website until the end of July.

The statistics showed the average number of arrestsmade under the Clean Sweep banner fell from an average of 100a month up until April to approximately 32a month starting in May — around the time the program was scaled back. The average number of spot checks alsofell from 900 to 150 from April to May.

"It can't work on half staff. It needs that full complement of officers," said Trudy Turner, executive director of the West End BIZ and a candidate for council in the Daniel McIntyre ward.

"So until… the recruitment classes catch up to the retirements and disabilities and things, we're going to have anissue."

Positive effect on the neighbourhood

Vic Polsom, who owns a pizzeria on Ellice Ave., said Operation Clean Sweep not only cleared away sex traffic, but also improved the overall atmosphere in the neighbourhood.

Pointing at nearby businesses with recent paint jobs, he said he was in the process of fixing up his building, thanks in part to the effect the police presence has had on his street.

"I think all of those things are because we see the possibility of it [the neighbourhood] being changed," Polsom said.

"And that's what change does. It encourages people who are living, both residential and business owners, to take an interest in their community and make it a better place to live."

Polsom said he was concerned about the drop-off of police presence over the summer and he doesn't want Clean Sweep to lose its momentum.

DeputyChief Menno Zacharias said Wednesdaythe police service is preparing to launch its new Street Crimes Unit, whichwillstart with25 officersto respond to crime spots in any area of the city, not just the West End.

"The unit is going to be an intelligence-led entity that is going to respond to issues based on identified need," he said, adding he hopes he can eventually staff the unit with 50 officers.

Details on the new unit are expected within weeks.