Winnipeg has the most police officers per capita of any Canadian metropolitan area of over 500,000. High staffing levels are often justified by the city’s stubbornly high crime rate relative to other Canadian cities. Given that this is presumably the reasoning behind high staffing levels, one might assume that every possible unit would be deployed to maintain public safety. If this was the case, there would be few examples of police overzealously enforcing minor infractions. One need not look further than the treatment of taxi drivers in this city to realize that this is not the case at all.
Police have been so vigilant in cracking down on taxis temporarily occupying no-parking and loading zones at night in front of bars that the taxi industry nearly boycotted downtown service last weekend. This type of frivolous enforcement flies in the face of common sense. Taxi drivers provide a valuable public service. They help people get where they need, and they keep drunk drivers off the road. There is no possible argument that cracking down on taxis for minor parking infractions makes people safer.
The crackdown on taxis is particularly harmful, given that the city already has an artificially low supply of taxis. There are so few cabs in the city that they can’t even generally be hailed outside of the heart of the Corydon/Osbourne Village or Downtown. I live just west of Corydon Village, and has never succeeded in hailing a cab – it typically takes at least 10 minutes for a dispatched taxi to arrive. It isn’t hard to envision scenarios where people risk driving to a bar or liquor store after a few drinks, rather than waiting for a cab. Rather than cracking down on cabs, the city should be working on increasing availability of cabs and making it more convenient for them to pick up customers downtown.
If the Winnipeg Police Service wants to justify current staffing levels, it should focus on increasing response times and improving its unimpressive clearance rate. We would have to live in a pretty utopian society for taxis temporarily parked in loading zones at 1am on Friday nights to be considered a high priority for policing. It’s time to focus on the basics.