Over the next while, Mayor Sam Katz will be making good on his election promise to increase the number of police officers in the city.
In January 2011, Katz said he would start immediately by adding 58 new officers to our streets. Officers will be trained into 2012.
While a rejuvenated police presence in some parts of the North and West End would likely be welcomed, one wonders if this could be overkill.
This is also of concern given recent conflicts between the Winnipeg Police Association and the Downtown BIZ patrol, an institution that works well and is cost-effective.
WPA president Mike Sutherland’s attacks reminded me of turf war and I questioned how much this increase in police has to do with increasing police numbers than safety, not that I question for a second that Katz or the police are concerned about public safety.
Let’s look at the numbers.
According to 2010 Statistics Canada data, the city has a total of 1,408 police officers. For a city the size of Winnipeg, this translates to 182 police officers to a population of 100,000.
This already provides us with one of the highest officer-to-city resident ratios in the country.
All the while, clearance rates (defined as the proportion of all crimes solved by police) for violent crime are going down everywhere. This also conflicts with a 2008 StatsCan report on police resources showing crime severity was down in every province. The largest decline by far was reported to be in Manitoba, where the police-reported Crime Severity Index was down 14%.
However, Manitoba still leads in homicide and still ranks high on crime severity.
Of course, this does not exactly account for specific crime issues in some of the worst affected areas of Winnipeg. To defend Stockwell Day, it also may not account for crimes people are too afraid to report, especially if perhaps they are gang-related.
However, it could call into question ideas that simply adding more police officers will solve all of our crime issues. It may be an issue of how officers are currently deployed.
Some complain they do not see police in their crime-afflicted areas.
I have always been a great defender of police and hold to a tough stance on justice and security issues. This does not mean one should be blind to the fact that — like all public institutions — the police have their own institutional interests of survival and even expansion.
One saw this dynamic with the long-gun registry, where police associations defended police interests (defined as the chiefs as many front-line officers opposed the registry) against the rights of citizens.
The same thing occurred when the police went after the Downtown BIZ
No one argues they should replace the police as our front-line security and crime-fighting apparatus. The Downtown BIZ patrol possess special constable powers to deal with intoxication and other issues downtown. They complement police work and give people a sense of safety.
Perhaps that could be central to our city’s crime reduction strategy.