Winnipeg is in the midst of a revitalization of sorts – and so too is the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS).
New commercial and residential construction abounds across the city. A new subdivision on the south end of the city will soon provide housing for 50,000 people. The beautiful Investors Group Field just opened at the University of Manitoba and construction cranes dot the downtown skyline surrounding the new Canadian Human Rights Museum.
Adding to the buzz, Winnipeg's population just topped the 700,000 mark following steady growth through immigration from within the province and around the world. It has resulted in plenty of challenges, and opportunities for change, for the WPS as it sets out to create a safer community built on strong trusting relationships.
Chief Devon Clunis leads 1,958 members – 1,442 police officers, 440 non-sworn members and an additional 76 cadets. Sworn into office last November, his "people first" approach and philosophy for creating a culture of safety for Winnipeg has resonated with many in both the service and community.
Clunis made it a priority to establish member forums so he could meet face to face with all front line members to hear their questions, concerns and suggestions for building a more effective police service. Similarly, he has hosted a series of community forums to share his vision for the service and, more importantly, hear the priorities of citizens.
Clunis, who is also a police chaplain, brings a unique perspective to the job – having immigrated to Winnipeg from Jamaica with his family at age 12. He grew up in the north end of the city, which faces unique socio-economic challenges that many believe have directly impacted the area's crime rate.
Clunis became chief at a time of great change and innovation.
Investing in infrastructure
The WPS has embarked on its largest construction project ever – a new police headquarters. Operations from eight separate facilities will move to the new building, set to open in the spring of 2014, and 75 per cent of all members will work out of it.
The new headquarters covers 619,489 square feet. One floor could accommodate all the operations presently housed in the service's current headquarters.
A new firearms training facility was built last year on the western outskirts of the city and construction is nearing completion on a new west district station. A new station for the east district, the first new police facility built in Winnipeg in more than 40 years, was completed in 2008.
Earlier this year, the service opened the doors on a dedicated 4,500 square-foot canine facility, adjacent to the new east district station.
K9 unit breeding program
The new facility also features a whelping kennel and indoor puppy run as part of the service's nationally recognized in-house breeding program. Began in 1999, it is one of the only Canadian programs of its kind.
The unit is part of the service's operational support division and has grown to 12 canine teams – 12 uniform officers and 23 canines - offering 24-hour coverage, seven days a week.
With narcotic and explosive detector dogs, tactical support and several dogs cross-trained in multiple disciplines, each canine team is extensively trained for a particular objective prior to deployment.
Investing in members
While the service continues to invest in physical resources, human resources remains paramount. Manitoba is the only province not to have a provincial police academy. The WPS Training Academy has, in many instances, assumed this role, training more than 200 new recruits and an additional 100 cadets over the past three years. Recruit training is also offered for officers from other Manitoba police agencies, sheriff's officers, child welfare workers and corrections officers.
The academy is also responsible for conducting mandatory annual officer safety, police vehicle operations and firearms training for WPS officers. An additional 50 courses cover topics such as career development, specialty unit investigations, coach officer training, leadership training, traffic related topics and basic police topics.
The WPS is equally proud of its association with the Canadian Police College, where seconded members play significant roles in the polygraph, forensic interviewing and explosives training programs.
Those dreaded stats
While there are many good news stories, the city has borne the brunt of some less than flattering headlines in recent years. Winnipeg has been at or near the top of some of Statistics Canada's Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics high profile categories in the annual Report on Crime in Canada, including homicide rates and the crime severity and violent crime severity indexes. Sometimes lost in the headlines is the fact that the WPS has been making steady progress in reducing crime rates in recent years.
The number of reported stolen autos has substantially decreased over the past number of years thanks to the Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy (WATSS).
The WPS partnered with Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) and Manitoba Justice (Youth Correctional Services and Prosecutions) to create the strategy in 2005. The multi-agency approach has made very significant inroads, reducing auto thefts by about 86 per cent through the end of 2011 compared to 2004 (the final pre-WATSS year). They are now at their lowest levels in 17 years and the goal is to reduce them even further.
The reductions have been achieved thanks to highly integrated approach encompassing prevention, intervention and enforcement efforts. The strategy received national attention in October 2008 in a Conference Board of Canada study and was viewed as a model for crime reduction in Canada.
While the WPS is making progress in its efforts to create a culture of safety for the community, there is much work to be done. To be truly successful, the service recognizes the need to identify and engage in strategic partnerships – within its own ranks, with community stakeholders and its many partners in Canada's broader policing community.