Police double up downtown Winnipeg foot patrol
'It's really about that visible presence out on the street, rather than in patrol cars,' BIZ says
The number of officers walking the street beat in downtown Winnipeg has been stepped up significantly as police aim to make people feel safer in the city's core.
"We have essentially doubled up our foot patrol resources in the downtown area. I'm hoping that will be noticed by the people that live and work in the downtown area," Chief Danny Smyth told a recent police board meeting.
Where there was once a 16-member patrol, it now numbers in the 30s, he said.
The additional officers come from a staffing shuffle that started last fall when the city was dealing with a spike in crime.
The number of liquor store thefts was soaring as was the number of homicides, which hit a record-setting 44 by the end of the year.
The police service closed its district community stations, centralizing those services in the downtown headquarters, while officers were reassigned to other units to help with the backlog of calls for service.
The district stations recently reopened but with reduced service hours, which has enabled police to redeploy some officers to the foot patrol, Smyth said.
"What we've been able to do is repurpose resources that would have been in station and assign them to the field," he said.
Before the increase, the foot patrol was staffed with one day shift and one evening shift, and only during weekdays.
"There was always a gap. We didn't have seven-day coverage there," Smyth said.
Now there are four shifts covering days and evenings seven days a week, he said.
"And there will be additional resources when there are events going on, so we are really trying to focus more resources in the downtown area."
A report on downtown safety, commissioned by the provincial government last fall and released in December, suggested more foot patrols — among other recommendations — to improve safety in the downtown.
But the report's authors, who did not involve the Winnipeg Police Service, concluded police "should not be the lead agency" in a downtown safety strategy. The report called for better co-ordination of Downtown Business Improvement Zone foot patrols, with no mention of police.
Police data says violent crime in the area increased by 10 per cent from 2017 to 2018, while property crime went up by 22 per cent in that same time.
A police survey in 2017 found 84 per cent of Winnipeggers felt unsafe walking alone downtown at night.
Kate Fenske, CEO of the downtown BIZ, welcomes the extra officers.
"Having Winnipeg police officers and cadets that are out walking around and connecting with people, I think it's great news," she said.
The BIZ has about 24 foot patrols at the moment but is boosting that to about 30 after getting some additional funding from the city.
They work seven days a week, from morning to midnight, she said.
With the extra police and BIZ patrols, people in downtown should feel quite safe walking around, Fenske said, dismissing any suggestion it could feel more like a police state.
"I spend a lot of time walking around downtown … and when I run into Winnipeg police officers on the street, it's great to have another friendly face out there," she said.
"Whether it's just helping someone find direction or just having that extra presence, I think it just really aids in safety. It's not about security, necessarily, but it's really about that visible presence out on the street, rather than in patrol cars.
"That really goes a long way."