Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Crime in Winnipeg

There seems universal disgust at the latest fatality due to car theft in Winnipeg. Sadly, this latest death many be connected to the death of a taxicab driver just last year.

The suspect involved in this latest crash looks to have evaded the conditions that were imposed on him from the last incident. Certainly there will be questions asked about how that could have happened. And no, a helicopter probably wouldn't have stopped the crime.

According to Statistics Canada, Winnipeg bucked the trend for 10 years with an increase in violent crime from 1998 to 2007. In 2008, Winnipeg had the distinction of being the car theft capital in Canada 11 years in a row. It was also the city with the highest murder rate in that year.

While car theft is down according to the police and Manitoba Public Insurance, it is still a major problem. Immobilizers and police monitoring have helped but it is questionable whether rehabilitation for the offenders has worked.

The big push we have seen for a helicopter and the insistence that it would be helpful in car theft remains an argument not presently supported by statistics. It certainly wouldn't stop a car thief. It certainly might help track a stolen car if the police have knowledge of its theft and a general location where to look. But would it stop the driver from the initial theft? That seems rather doubtful.

There may be some statistics that show how a police helicopter would be effective but the British who use them say they are best for pursuit, surveillance and tracking.

The city and the province seem motivated to get a helicopter but I suspect it will be hard to show how that it would be better than say, any number of other police, justice or social service alternatives.

Winnipeg has a drug problem. It has a fetal alcohol problem. It has a poverty problem. So much of our crime derives from these areas. Certainly we can arrest and imprison ever growing numbers of people in our already overcrowded prisons but then we might have a big deficit problem.

Winnipeg has the largest force per capita in Canada along with Montreal. Winnipeg has 186 officers per 100,000. We could do better. Thunder Bay has 217 officers per 100,000. Given our acknowledged high crime rate, we could stand to have a force at least as big as Regina's at 196 per 100,000 people.

I certainly don't know about the merits of a police helicopter in preventing crime but I do know more police dedicated to gangs, traffic, robbery and the like will have an impact on enforcement as well as prevention.

Still, if we don't address issues surrounding drugs and alcohol and still depressing numbers in poverty, we could have a force of 300 per 100,000 and still be confounded by crime. The Winnipeg Police Advisory Board offered a rather bleak assessment of crime in Winnipeg. The report recommended a number of things including getting to the roots of why crime is happening in Winnipeg.

From the city of Winnipeg's perspective though, overall police numbers would probably be more effective than buying a helicopter.

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