A Winnipeg-based criminologist is raising concerns about police violence in the city, saying that the incidents involving police are becoming more violent and preventable.
“This is an ongoing problem…The Winnipeg Police Service has quite a history of violence against citizens and it really hasn’t changed,” said Kelly Gorkoff, chair of the Criminal Justice Department at the University of Winnipeg.
Gorkoff said she doesn’t think certain measures, including using a mental health team to de-escalate the situation, are utilized enough.
She noted that police aren’t trained to deal with people in crisis.
“[Police are] doing exactly what they’re trained to do, use force against people,” she said in an interview on Friday.
Gorkoff said there is also a lack of systems in place to help people in need, so police have become the default.
“If you’re going to pour millions of dollars into a service, why not pour millions of dollars into mental health and social work services,” she said.
Gorkoff’s comments come after Winnipeg police were involved in three fatal incidents since the end of November. This includes officer-involved shootings on Nov. 28, Dec. 28, and Dec. 31.
CTV News Winnipeg also obtained numbers from the Independent Investigation Unit (IIU), which is Manitoba’s police watchdog. The IIU reports that from March 1, 2022, to Feb. 28, 2023, it received 70 notifications, which resulted in 49 investigations. Forty-two investigations were completed and 13 charges were laid.
Gorkoff said the number of recent deaths is concerning, adding that lethal use of force by police has been a “significant issue” for the past five years.
She said this is an issue that people have become more aware and less accepting of since the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police in 2020.
“The police quite frankly aren’t doing their job properly,” she said.
“Citizens shouldn’t be dying. People shouldn’t be afraid to phone the police when someone is acting erratically with the fear that the person is going to end up dead.”
At a news conference on Thursday, Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth said that police are seeing an uptick in well-being checks, domestic incidents, and suicide threats.
“The circumstances of each of these incidents must be considered at the time when we get the call to determine the appropriate response,” he said, noting that the police’s strategic priority includes the safety of the general public, the safety of the officers and the safety of the suspect.
Smyth said that the Alternative Response to Citizens in Crisis (ARCC) program is used in non-emergency calls that don’t involve violence or the risk of violence.
“As police, we’re called upon to respond to these occurrences, which involve anything from people in a mental health crisis to a person with a drug-induced psychosis to a person acting hysterical for unknown reasons,” he said.
“Only when we are satisfied that the situation is stabilized and safe, then and only then will we consider introducing a clinician to that kind of a scenario.”
Smyth said Winnipeg police officers are well trained in scenario-based training, adding that the majority of situations they are involved in do not result in injury or require the use of force.
“Sometimes it is unavoidable,” he said. “We do our best to equip and train our officers so they can perform their duties safely.”
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