“Some voters don’t trust you on crime”

Feature interview (and a puzzling headline) with mayoral hopeful Judy Wasylycia-Leis in today’s FP.

Some interesting stuff there, but it’s odd how “the most important issue of the election” is buried 22 paragraphs in, and there’s two paragraphs of response on it. Still, here’s what was said.

I understand that not all of what she said would make into print — after all, it was Bart Kives himself who taught me to “kill my orphans” when transcribing a Q&A for the paper.

But let’s look at how Judy responded [at least in part]….

FP: Some voters don’t trust you on crime. What would you say to them?

JWL: I think Winnipeggers understand this is a difficult issue. You have to get at the roots of crime, not just policing and not just building law-and-order stuff. You have to approach this from all angles.

I know (Winnipeggers) are looking for solid, serious approaches to problem-solving to deal with this issue. I’ve put my plan on the table and I hope Sam will put his on the table. This is probably the most important issue of the election, one that requires the most thoughtful debate and discussion.

Yes, it is a difficult issue. The problem is that crime-prevention programs largely take time to take effect — sometimes over a generation. That’s a noble goal.

But as much as Winnipeggers may be looking for “solid, serious approaches to problem-solving to deal with” crime, there’s a level of frustration with the general feeling of lawlessness in the city that people want something done about, pronto.

Gun crime seems rampant. Hauls from drug busts keep getting bigger and bigger all the time (an indication of demand). Extreme violence seems to erupt out of nowhere. It’s unsettling.

We can have all the effective problem-solvers in the room that you want, but people probably would prefer action.

People want to trust that the city’s given the police executive the tools and expertise to do what’s truly necessary, but that’s a story for another day.

Katz has proposed additional officers — 20 to check and monitor gang bangers, 18 for a new cruiser car etc. He hasn’t said definitively when we’ll actually get them or how we’ll pay for them, but that’s beside the point.

There’s a cop chopper about to take flight, which, while a cool idea, won’t directly put handcuffs on anybody.

Point is, Katz’s proposals seem to point to somewhat of an immediate — albeit very in-the short-term — “solution” to today’s issues.

I’d bet for the average person, hearing about more police on the way must be somewhat reassuring. And that, ultimately is what’s playing well for Katz on the crime front in this campaign. Even if it is blase.

People don’t get the same level of reassurance from knowing gangsters will get jobs, or that there’s a number they can call to tip off police about crime activity.

We’ve had the latter in the form of Crime Stoppers for eons now and it does what it does, which is good, but it’s difficult to say it makes anyone safer in a tangible sense.

I’d urge Judy to look over the eight weeks of the Police Public Reporting Project to get a real sense of what police are contending with.

Namely, a trend of repeat, often violent offenders who are released by the courts and quickly become reinvolved and have to be rearrested.

While there’s little the city can do to effect change on what’s a provincial and federal responsibility, the data could possibly point to some possible solutions.

In turn, that would reassure people that those in charge — or those who say they want to be — know what the problems actually are.

Speaking of which, that’s the one thing missing from the public talk of Katz’s and the WPA’s GRASP program, and it’s surprising given all the comparison it gets to the Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy.

Data.

WATSS was built on a comprehensive survey and study of police and Justice data about the top teen auto-theft offenders in the city.

Watching who was involved, when, with who else, how long they spent in jail, when they were released. By identifying patterns in the data, solutions were found.

It also was a tri-level initiative. Police, prosecutors, probation officers (and MPI). Everyone worked together.

[BTW – how much of a factor did mandatory immobilizers for ‘most-at-risk’ vehicles play in slashing auto-theft rates?]

So far, what I’ve heard about GRASP (which, correct me if I’m wrong, was first announced in Sept. 2009, again BTW) is that it’s a solely police-led program. That’s a red flag for me, personally. They can’t do it all.

But the timing of the GRASP program’s [re]announcement shows us something.

Remember,in September 2009, the public outrage over gangs after the shooting death of a woman at a wedding social on Main Street was at its peak. The police and justice officials were getting hammered daily in the press.

And then, voila! A solution is announced.

And the public was reassured. Gangs quickly died off as a top-of-mind issue.

Cheryl Roberts killing remains unsolved, at least publicly.

After the Taman Inquiry, people’s confidence in Manitoba’s police in general was flagging. Fairly or not, that’s the way it played out.

The province brought in a new police act, which was supposed to deal with the most pressing issues the public had with police and their accountability. It also disbanded the East St. Paul police force.

And the public was reassured.

As of next April, it will be two years since the new police act was introduced.

Maybe the province is saving its implementation for this election year.

Y’know, to reassure people.

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