More officers, cameras and lights heading to downtown Winnipeg to curb escalating crime
'Enough is enough. Let's defend our police officers, not defund them': Premier Heather Stefanson
Posted: 8 Hours Ago
Premier Heather Stefanson stands near new all-purpose vehicles for the Winnipeg Police Service and members of the Downtown Community Safety Partnership, in yellow, during Thursday's announcement on crime at Portage and Main. (Josh Crabb/CBC)
More police, more surveillance cameras and lights, and new all-purpose vehicles for police are part of a $10-million package announced Thursday that the premier says will make downtown Winnipeg safer.
Citing unacceptable escalating rates of violent crime in the city's core, Premier Heather Stefanson said 24 new officers dedicated to downtown safety measures will put "more boots on the ground."
That will allow police to double the number of foot patrols downtown, said Chief Danny Smyth. The officers will cover areas including The Forks and the Exchange District.
There will also be more eyes in the sky, with the addition of 75 closed-circuit cameras, bringing the downtown total to 100.
"Manitobans have the right to safely live, work and play in our downtown communities. Whether it's for concerts, sports games or to visit a local shop, residents and visitors to our city should be able to enjoy all that Winnipeg has to offer," Stefanson said during an announcement at the corner of Portage Avenue and Main Street.
Making downtown safe and attractive will make it thrive, and that helps drive the economic engine, she said.
"We're here today to support law enforcement officers who are working diligently to make our streets safer. Enough is enough. Let's defend our police officers, not defund them," Stefanson said.
The announcement comes almost three weeks after a 17-year-old boy was fatally stabbed while leaving a downtown concert, after he intervened in a conflict near Fort Street and Graham Avenue, police said. The teen's father said he was protecting his sister, who was being taunted by a group of youth.
A 14-year-old boy has been charged with second-degree murder and a 15-year-old girl is charged with two counts of assault with a weapon.
Six months earlier, Tyree Cayer, 28, was stabbed to death inside Winnipeg's downtown Millennium Library. Three boys, age 14 to 16, have been charged.
"Winnipeg is a place that we should feel proud of … but rising crime rates are making people feel unsafe in their own communities," Stefanson said at Thursday's announcement.
The police service's annual statistical report, released on May 30, said there was a 25.6 per cent increase in total crime in Winnipeg in 2022 compared to the previous year and a 17 per cent increase over the five-year average, Stefanson said.
Violent crime rose 19.2 per cent, with the violent crime severity index reaching its highest level since 2009.
Youth crime increased 43.4 per cent over the previous year, knife-related crimes increased 11.7 per cent, and the use of bear spray in violent crimes had doubled since 2019.
The community safety package also includes funding for the establishment of a centralized community safety office, which will serve as a hub for crime prevention initiatives.
The office — the location of which has not yet been determined — will support various programs and activities aimed at fostering a safer and more welcoming downtown environment, Stefanson said.
Much of the work will be done in collaboration with the Downtown Community Safety Partnership, which has been around since 2019 . The partnership is an arrangement between the city, True North Sports and Entertainment, the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, the police service and other stakeholders. Its patrols provide outreach support to the area's vulnerable population.
The partnership will be able to access security cameras from a monitoring station, which also has yet to be set up, to co-ordinate dispatch, foot patrols and response teams.
Stefanson said the government will also continue working to address the root causes of crime through its homelessness strategy and previously announced funding for addictions treatment spaces.
"As we look to ensure that our community is safe, we know it's not one answer. It's prevention, it's being proactive, it's in partnership, and sometimes it requires prosecution," Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said.
Downtown is in the recovery and rebuilding stages following the restrictions of COVID-19 that left the core looking more like a ghost town, and safety and security is paramount in that process, said Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham and Smyth.
"I want to thank the Manitoba government for the opportunity to expand and further out partnership with the Downtown Community Safety Partnership. Together we can deliver a more co-ordinated and comprehensive service that ensures the right resources are deployed at the right time," Smyth said.