Tuesday, August 13, 2019

If "Crime And Fear" Emerges In The Manitoba Election - It Won't Just Be Campaign Rhetoric

Last summer during the Winnipeg civic election, public safety - particularly downtown and in the adjacent neighborhoods - was an early focus of the Mayoral contest.

"On one issue, however, incumbents and challengers alike seem to strike the same mournful tone: public safety." intoned Winnipeg Free Press political scribe Dan Lett, dismissively noting "The debate on public safety is on the verge of veering into hysteria as we inch toward the Oct. 24 civic election"

Hysteria. Keep that word in mind.

In an August 18, 2018 column entitled "Campaign rhetoric returns to crime and fear" he noted one candidate, Garth Steek, "claims he’s had his car broken into 10 times in the last two years and that some of his River Heights neighbours have witnessed violent drug deals and assaults in front of their normally placid, well-manicured front yards." 

Considering the area was the first to organize a "Smashed Windows Club" of victims of car break-ins and thefts, that claim of 10 break-ins was hard to doubt, although Lett seemed to.

Citing "A Probe Research poll in late August 2014 showed that only 23 per cent of respondents ranked crime as the most important issue, " Lett believed that in 2018, the public mood had not shifted on the matter enough to elect a law-and-order upstart, the front-runner being Jenny Motkaluk. He was right. 
But if the public had the police data at the time, one wonders if the phrase "hysterical" would have been fair to use or if the Mayoral vote would have tightened. 
A recent Lance story - a Free Press Neighborhood tabloid - about crime rates in St. Boniface contained the bombshell statistics that should have been on the front page of the parent broadsheet.

2018                                 One year increase     Increase since 2014
Property crimes  2,893          55.7%                     92.9%

Violent crimes       385           28.3%                     27.4%

Total crimes         3639          49.6%                     78.2%

I repeat -- "a rise of 92.9 per cent over the five-year average." 

What if voters in 2018 were aware of the true scope of the failure of the police braintrust since 2014 and reacted to that information? Would only 23% have rated it as their most important issue as they did last year ? 

If Jenny Motkaluk and other candidates had assailed a 92.9% increase of St. B. property crimes in 5 years, would she have been 'verging into hysteria'?

Would anyone have dismissed that as "hysterical' that St. Boniface (a tourist/French residential district adjacent to downtown Winnipeg eastbound) was outpacing the city-wide 5 year average (44%) by an extra 48.9% and that it was a crisis? 
Not coincidentally, St. Boniface was under siege by meth heads, random violence and aggressive panhandling - and plenty o' dirty needles in parks and alleys, to go with the crime. 

In his analysis, Lett slid through an observation about the meth invasion and straight into a miscalculation about policing. 

"Steek and Motkaluk are motivated, to some extent, by a couple of evolving stories that hit the city just before the unofficial start of civic campaign season. At the top of this list is a pressing concern about what the Winnipeg Police Service has dubbed a methamphetamine crisis."

"The issue (Steek) has obsessed over— property crime — is not affected by the number of police officers you put on the street. You could triple Winnipeg’s complement of officers, and you wouldn’t put a dent in the number of garage, car and house break-ins, particularly if that crime is being driven by an issue as serious and complex as drug addiction."

His miscalculation was in not contemplating the way the police service was supposed to be putting a dent into the property crime rate - without more officers. 

James Jewell explains Solve Rates 
But a former cop recently did the calculation, showing how the consequence of reorganizing criminal investigations in 2017 was a horrific misstep that resulted in a unsolved-crime explosion last year. 

(The decaying clearance rates that resulted further complicated the previous failure by Chief Smyth and others to analyze CrimeStats pro-actively as I explained here, compounded by the flop of "Smart Policing" the successor to CrimeStat under Smyth, as The Black Rod explains here. )  

"In the spring of 2017, the WPS consolidated all criminal investigative services under one umbrella, the Major Crimes Unit." wrote former cop James Jewell on his highly regarded Police Insider blog in a brilliant analysis called  WPS Stock Tumbles – No Time for Blamegame

"... pointing the finger at the Provincial Government is far too easy, so is attributing all of our crime problems to the methamphetamine crisisNo-one can deny the fact crime and addiction are inextricably linked. It’s been that way for decades. The only thing that changes is the drug of choice. What Chief Smyth & Mayor Bowman didn’t talk about were some of the not so complex issues that got us here…"

"... Right or wrong, the courts evolved to a place where much less emphasis is placed on incarcerating property offenders
"... In 2018, “lack of consequences” became a major theme at Manitoba Liquor Marts.... Why is the Major Crime Unit investigating theft under offences in the first place?
[And here Jewell makes the policing point Lett missed last year: a flawed operational structure amplified the drug factors behind the 92.9% hike in property crime in St. B.]
"So how does the WPS Major Crimes Unit become paralyzed investigating hundreds of Liquor Mart thefts? We can’t blame methamphetamine for that, can we?
... Theft under $5,000 is not a “major” crime, in fact, it is very much a minor crime, one that, as I’ve explained, has been very much marginalized...
... What crimes would be a priority for the new “centralized” unit? The answer was obvious, violent crime of course."
Et Voila, as they might say in St. Boniface and other neighborhoods in Winnipeg. Needles needles everywhere thanks to an incompetent and data-challenged harm reduction regime of the WRHA, the needle-using meth addicts running amok thanks to lax court conditions, and a police investigation structure that made the types of crime addicts were committing impossible to assign and clear, letting violent junkies lurking on the streets.  
As a reader said to Jewell in concurrance: 
"I strongly believe his reorganization is a large factor in this. The crime units and CSU units took care of the small guys and prevented them from getting bigger per se. This stifled a lot of crime that we see happening today from ever getting to that point. 
They fed Major Crimes with information and assisted, leaving major crimes to do what they do best. 
This reorganization had made the service lose control."
If candidates in the provincial election this year, armed with the 5 year stats (like "92.9%") that were unavailable for civic hopefuls last year, raise the alarm, no one in the press or political arena could call them hysterical. 
Those crime statistics for St. Boniface are a disgrace. And the fear was legit, given how the area Biz asked City Hall for help to deal with the disorder near the hospital. The fear of being robbed or attacked is noticeable in almost every neighborhood now. 
Last year's civic "hysteria" about meth and crime can turn into this year's legitimate provincial election concerns that voters might direct at the governing Tories (primarily). 
Especially when it comes to spending the $20 million budget they proposed wisely:
1) The CBC Manitoba report on the Safer Streets, Safer Lives platform says that out of the $20M, either $8M total or $15M total (it's hard to decipher) is being alloted to drug policing across the province. 
As Jewell proved, a police organizational failure helped get us in this mess but not a dime seems designated to solving it in the Pallister plan. 
Whatever the additional amount for policing pledged to Winnipeg, voters have a right to ask the PC (and all party) candidates, if they share the public's priority to restoring property crime investigations and achieving respectable clearance rates (thereby boosting morale within the rank and file). 
2)   The 3 page document does not mention or allot a dime to enhance data collection about used needles or raise needle return rates. Big fail. 
My investigative series about the WRHA's flawed free needle program has caused some eyes to open in political cirlces and with good reason.
3) "A re-elected Progressive Conservative government would build a short-term detox facility for methamphetamine users ... A key tenet of the proposal is building a detox facility ... It would treat 20 to 30 patients at a time, for a duration of one to four days." 
Such a facility with that capacity already exists, with detox units. The province is paying the rent to keep it empty until March. It's at 800 Adele Ave. near Notre Dame off Arlington. 
Before spending millions and taking years to build and open a detox and treatment centre, the PC plan - and every parties plan - should include evaluating the Marion Willis proposal for the vacated 800 Adele building to try to get it operational and saving lives now, not in 2 years. 

There's 2 elections coming up, so we're coming back.

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