by Stefano Grande
After several years of advocacy from groups such as the Downtown BIZ for a more sustained and visible presence of police foot patrols downtown, the first group of officers finally hit the streets this month.
This is just one of the many positive things taking place downtown. With a recent commitment of 54 foot patrols and 25 more cadets from the province of Manitoba, we know there’s only more good news to come.
If you compare our footprint to Canadian cities like Ottawa, Vancouver and Edmonton, you’ll quickly realize that downtown Winnipeg is a lot bigger in comparison. More resources are needed to keep larger downtowns safe. So as we continue to see more and more people living, working and playing in our downtown, doesn’t it make sense to have a visible police presence to increase the perceptions and the reality of safety in our city centre?
The answer is yes. Each year millions of people visit downtown Winnipeg. Among them are students, residents, workers and tourists. With the coming of the sports, hospitality and entertainment district, this number will only increase. This is why safety is a top priority for the BIZ. Without enhanced safety downtown, the economic and tourism engine of our entire city will not be fully realized.
While overall downtown crime continues to decline, this past summer we witnessed a series of crimes that has shaken the public’s confidence in downtown Winnipeg. We can do better at managing these issues as they arise, so there isn’t national damage to the reputation of our downtown.
Typically fuelled by alcohol and other substances, crimes are unfortunately more common among our city’s most vulnerable citizens who struggle with poverty and live on our streets. This is of obvious concern, and sustained downtown foot patrols will go a long way in addressing these issues.
Social challenges such as these are prevalent in downtowns everywhere and need to be better managed. Crimestat, the tool that helps Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) direct its resources, unfortunately does not track incidents like public intoxication, panhandling, homelessness, petty drug transactions, and other social issues that are present in our downtown. Foot patrols, working hand in hand with the cadets and our Downtown Watch program can address these issues. Comprehensive solutions to end some of our city’s homelessness issues are also being championed.
Our next step is to encourage the city to move quicker by adding more foot patrols to our downtown. While political commitments are in place, the issue now is the time needed for the successful recruitment and training of new police officers. And as we’ve seen, these delays can span many years and commitments can be stalled and not fully achieved.
Cities such as Calgary have turned this issue into an economic advantage by recruiting experienced community foot patrols, including Bobbies from England who want to move to Canada. Winnipeg will need to find its own solution, because in a short two to three years, our downtown will be a different place with more people. The Winnipeg Convention Centre will be expanded, doors to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights will be opened, and 2,000-plus residents are anticipated to be living downtown.
We are finally headed in the right direction so it’s time to get going!
(Stefano Grande is the executive director of the Downtown BIZ.)