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Police chief shares frustration about addictions resources in letter to officers


July 22, 2019
By The Canadian Press

Winnipeg’s police chief sent a candid internal memo to officers expressing his dissatisfaction with a lack of addictions resources as the city deals with what he calls an epidemic of violence.

“I am tired and frustrated by what I see going on around us,” Danny Smyth wrote in the letter distributed to members last Tuesday.

The city is in the midst of a health crisis because of methamphetamine and other illicit drugs, he said. It’s led to a significant uptick in calls for police and paramedic services, high levels of violent crime and increases in property crime.

The chief said there were more than 2,700 emergency calls and 1,456 non-emergency calls over last weekend.

There have already been 25 homicides in Winnipeg this year, three more than there were in all of 2018.

The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba has said meth use has increased by more than 100 per cent in adults and nearly 50 per cent in youth since 2014.

Smyth thanked officers for their hard work but said it is a problem that policing cannot resolve alone. He said police need to be able to divert people to get the help they need to recover but there are not enough shelters, stabilization units or treatment centres.

“It’s just hard to tell right now if anyone in government is committed to the actions necessary to help our community recover,” Smyth wrote.

After the memo became public on Wednesday, the chief said in a statement that he used it to express his frustration about what the government is doing about the lack of addictions resources.

Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said police chiefs and RCMP from across the province are to meet this week to discuss implementing a public safety and policing strategy. He added there “is no magic solution for the challenges we face.”

“I certainly appreciate the chief’s apparent frustration,” he said. “I think we all recognize there are challenges out there, challenges in every province in terms of criminal activity.”

A government-commissioned report released in June called for more detox facilities, longer-term treatment programs and a way to safely distribute needles to fight the rising tide of meth use.

The number of people in publicly funded addictions programs who reported using meth has more than doubled between 2014-15 and 2016-2017, the report said.

Police need an increase in resources immediately so that officers can handle the massive call volumes, said Maurice Sabourin, president of Winnipeg Police Association.

He also called for a stabilization unit where police can take people in meth psychosis or those experiencing a mental health crisis until they can be matched with the proper resources.

Right now, Sabourin said, everything is reactive and there’s no time for important proactive policing.

“We are being run from pillar to post and we are trying to bail out this boat that has a huge hole in it and it keeps filling up to the top.”

– Kelly Geraldine Malone

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2019