‘Starting to show some strain’: Winnipeg police chief says officers are under increased stress

Murders, shootings, stabbings, and COVID-19 are stretching Winnipeg police resources thin, according to the city’s top cop.

“You know we’re starting to show some strain here,” said Police Chief Danny Smyth.

Approaching two dozen murders already this year, combined with other violent crimes, protests, and sick leave for COVID-19, Smyth said the service is under pressure.

Officers are being called in on their days off to ensure general patrol is staffed to the bare minimum.

“In this past month, we’ve seen our cue back up to as many as 300 calls waiting to be dispatched,” said Smyth “That’s too high for my comfort zone.”

In a presentation to the Winnipeg Police Board Friday, Smyth said 433 officers have been called into work between January and April, compared to 285 for the same period last year.

Overtime is up 29 per cent for the first three months of the year as well, in particular in the homicide unit and for violent crime incidents.

“I don’t think there’s one Winnipegger that’s not concerned about this because it impacts our ability to remerge as a vibrant city,” said Winnipeg Police Board Chair Markus Chambers.

Winnipeg’s police union said the problem is even worse than the service is reporting. Winnipeg Police Association President Moe Sabourin said officers are racing from call to call.

“It’s scary, I wouldn’t let my kids come downtown, so it is very troubling,” said Sabourin.

The service says there are proactive measures being taken to free up officers and divert people away from the ER and jail. A pilot project started in December saw a mental health clinician attend 82 police calls to help people in crisis. In one case, housing and supports were found for an individual who was involved in 62 different calls for service,

“I think the example that they gave you is just demonstrating what happens when you get people the right resources that they need,” said Smyth.

According to a report to the police board, in 2020 officers spent 3,500 hours, the equivalent of 147 days, waiting to turn people in crisis over to hospital staff.

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