Where are the Winnipeg police? We analyzed half a million service calls to find out
Calls to service are down, calls for violent crime and property crime increase
Grip Singh says his community watch group in Amber Trails gets a report every week that someone's car or garage has been broken into.
"They're very frustrated by the increase in crime and the lack of response from police," Singh told CBC News.
While property crime calls, like those for break-ins or theft, have increased 50 per cent over the same period last year in his Old Kildonan community, the residents say that only represents a fraction of the calls they're actually making regarding property theft.
"It should be higher, actually," Singh said. "[Amber Trails residents are] telling us they have serious incidents where items are removed or evidence of a break-in … and no one shows up at all."
Singh is reacting to police dispatch data obtained by CBC News through freedom of information laws. It shows that Winnipeg police were sent to fewer calls for service in the first half of 2022, but calls classified as violent crime and property crime both increased by more than 10 per cent.
The data shows every 911 or non-emergency call that Winnipeg police were sent to over the past three years, offering a look at where Winnipeg police are going and why they are sent to these locations.
"It paints a picture of a very busy city," said Stacey Cann, the manager of communications for the police service, when asked about the data.
"I think that you can tell that our violence is quite high in Winnipeg. I think you can also see that there's concentrated parts of Winnipeg that have higher calls for service than others."
Type of calls answered changing
The call data revealed that overall, calls for service attended by Winnipeg police have decreased by seven per cent when compared to the first half of 2021.
However, the types of calls they are answering have changed. Police are now being dispatched to more calls related to violence — such as a robbery or assault — and to more property crimes.
The majority of these calls to service in 2022 went to four wards in the core: Point Douglas, Daniel McIntyre, Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry and Mynarski.
Community safety and policing have been a hot button issue ahead of the civic election on Wednesday, with it being the major pillar of most mayoral campaigns.
The electoral wards of Old Kildonan and Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry are the only two wards that saw an increase in call volume. In wards like Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood and St. Norbert-Seine River, call volume decreased by more than 16 per cent.
"It might be a good thing that they're not seeing the police," said Cann, whose department handles all calls for service that come in to police.
"If there isn't violence and crime happening in their areas, that's likely why they're not seeing the police officers attend that."
Cann said she understands why people may feel frustrated if police are delayed in responding to a call for a property crime, but police have to prioritize calls where someone might be in immediate danger.
"They're attending to calls for service as quickly as they can," Cann said.
"The reality is those calls may wait just because we have to attend calls that are happening right now."
Singh said someone has tried to break into his garage several times over the past five years.
"Somebody drove their truck right into my garage door in an effort to smash it open," he said. "Another time they had slipped a car jack under the garage door and jacked it up and then rolled inside."
He disagrees with Cann saying it's a good thing if residents don't see police, because there is still crime happening in Amber Trails.
"I don't agree with that statement that if we don't see the police in our area, that's a good thing, because the facts speak otherwise," he said.
How do calls for service work?
When a resident calls the police in Winnipeg, the dispatcher decides whether to send an officer to the scene. If the crime has taken place and the danger has passed, sometimes police are not sent at all.
"The call taker will determine if police are required to attend, or if perhaps the scenario dictates that it's for telephone reporting or an online report," said Cann.
Telephone and online reports are when residents do not need immediate police presence, but wish to report that a crime has occurred.
The Winnipeg Police Service said they did not have an officer available to speak to CBC News.
They sent an emailed statement in response to the analysis saying that "while officers have been dispatched to fewer events overall, they have been dispatched to 19 per cent more emergency events this year compared to last."
CBC News classified each type of call into broad categories, confirmed by the Winnipeg Police Service. Calls for service classified as hang-ups more than doubled over the same time last year, and calls for service related to property crime, violent crime and mental health all increased as well.
Cann said they don't know why hang-ups have increased so significantly.
Public data on crime available from the Winnipeg Police Service show that property crime is back on the rise after dips associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. This past May was the worst May on record for property crimes since 2015.
In Singh's ward, Old Kildonan, calls for violent crime have also increased, by about 15 per cent over the same period last year, to 303 calls.
In the nearby ward of Point Douglas, calls for violent crimes are up more than 20 per cent. Roger Daniel West works security at a skate shop in the ward, and says he's seen more violent crime in the area.
"I've seen people getting jumped. I've even seen somebody get stabbed," he said. "It's just crazy out here."
However, he says he knows people and volunteers in the community, an approach that works better to prevent crime than policing the community, he said.
"You got to build relationships," West said.
When someone comes into the shop who may be intoxicated or disruptive, he says their approach is to escort them out or call the Downtown Community Safety Partnership, rather than the police.
"Treat people the way you want to be treated, that's basically what it comes down to," he said.
West believes that often, drugs are involved in the violent crimes he's witnessed, and the solution extends beyond policing. Because of that, he says he hopes whoever is elected on Wednesday will increase the presence of support workers in the area.
"It would make a huge, huge difference," West said.
"We need better help and more people [politicians] that actually care, that aren't saying, 'Oh, we're going to do this' but never do it."
LISTEN | Winnipeg mayoral candidates talk about how they would tackle safety during CBC debate:
METHODOLOGY: How did CBC News analyze this data?
CBC News acquired data on police service calls between Jan. 1, 2020, and June 14, 2022, through a Freedom of Information request. We geolocated 585,534 calls based on cross streets, dropping 22.56 per cent of these because they were not geolocated successfully. We then joined a dataset of ward boundaries from Elections Winnipeg and counted how many calls fell within each ward's boundaries.
with files from Joanne Levasseur