While a few high-profile and disturbing violent crimes have grabbed headlines in Winnipeg recently, the president of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) says he wants people to remember that crime and public safety are much more than just a big city issue.
And he said more and more he is hearing that communities across the entire province are feeling the effects of crime and that people often don’t feel safe in their own homes.
“The majority of our members, almost unanimously, are concerned about crime and an increase in crime and personal property crime,” AMM president Kameron Blight said on Wednesday, after AMM released the findings of a members survey focused on issues of public safety and crime prevention in Manitoba’s municipalities.
According to the survey, 84% of respondents said that property crime and drug crime are “likely to occur” within their municipal boundaries, while 92% of respondents expressed concern about illicit drug use in their municipality.
As well, 92% of respondents noted that they are concerned about a “lack of police presence” throughout their communities, and how that affects people’s safety and their overall sense of security.
Blight, who is the head of the organization that advocates for all of Manitoba’s 137 incorporated municipalities and who also serves as the Reeve of the RM of Portage la Prairie, said AMM embarked on the study after hearing for more than two years from municipal politicians and administrators that many believed crime was on the rise, and that police presence in some smaller communities was on the decline.
“So we formalized this a little with this study, and really what it did was justify and reaffirm everything that we have heard while travelling across the province,” Blight said.
“Public safety and crime prevention are top priorities for municipalities.”
Recent incidents of violent crime in Winnipeg, including more than one disturbing stabbing incident at The Forks this summer, have put the issue of crime and safety in Winnipeg in the spotlight, but Blight said these types of crimes are happening right across the province in places big and small.
He added the anxiety that rural residents often feel about the possibility of crimes being perpetrated against them can be compounded because some rural areas and small communities lack the kind of police presence found in larger centres.
“A lot of our members need increased visibility and increased police presence, and we know and are often told that a majority of detachments are not running with a full complement of staff members for various reasons,” Blight said.
“When you look at the smaller rural communities the response times for the RCMP can be quite delayed because of where the detachments are located, and because of limited resources that are available, so when you’re out in the rural communities, there is not a lot of other eyes out there and that’s a problem.
“No one should ever feel they aren’t safe in their own home.”
According to Blight, he also hears directly from municipalities and from law enforcement officials that “repeat offenders” are often causing a lot of the crime in some communities and in some smaller communities, and that police are often spending too much time dealing with those repeat offenders.
“Yes, a lot of members are dealing with repeat offenders who are often released and re-offend and we hear that all the time, so we need to look at ways to rehabilitate people once they get out of custody, while also looking at law enforcement measures to prevent people from re-offending.”
The AMM said they will now present the survey’s findings and initial recommendations to the provincial and federal governments, “while continuing to encourage all orders of government to work together to ensure greater supports are provided to municipalities in order to properly address local public safety.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun