‘It’s unsafe for everyone’: Violent crime rates rising around HSC

A 27-year-old man is facing weapons charges after pointing a gun at people outside Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre (HSC) on Tuesday morning.

According to the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS), officers responded to the 800 block of Sherbrook Street at around 5:45 a.m. after being contacted by HSC security and an institution safety officer (ISO). Officers found the male suspect, who was carrying a semi-automatic SKS rifle, and arrested him without incident.

Police said the gun wasn’t fired during the incident and no injuries were reported.

It’s the latest incident around the Health Sciences Centre concerning the Manitoba Nurses Union (MNU).

On Wednesday, the MNU took to social media demanding action over a rise of crime in the West Alexander neighbourhood.

According to WPS CrimeMaps, an online portal for crime statistics, there were 188 violent crimes reported in and around HSC in March this year. It’s a 79 per cent increase from the 105 incidences reported in March 2023.

“We have many concerns with regards to safety in that area, and not just safety for nurses or health-care workers – but safety for patients, visitors and families,” MNU president Darlene Jackson told CTV News on Wednesday. “If it’s an unsafe area, it’s unsafe for everyone.”

Jackson pointed to one incident where a nurse was assaulted entering the facility but said there are also many other issues at hand, including vandalism and vehicles in HSC parkades getting broken into.

“I’m aware of many instances where nurses have talked about just feeling unsafe or witnessing a violent act… you know, just walking through the parkade.”

Jackson said the MNU wants to see more safety measures implemented to protect people working at, and visiting health-care facilities. 

In April, institutional safety officers started patrolling the Health Sciences Centre. The ISOs have the power to arrest and detain people who present a threat to staff, patients, and visitors. Jackson said their presence at HSC is long overdue, but said the number of ISOs hired is inadequate.

“[HSC] is a huge campus and they need to have more feet on the ground for security,” Jackson said.

Jackson noted the city and province have invested time and money to address retail theft and shoplifting in recent months. She wants to see an equal amount of attention put into hospital settings.

“Why aren’t those resources being put in our health facilities where, clearly, violence is growing?” Jackson questioned. “All you need to do is look at our Facebook or Instagram post and look at the comments because nurses are saying, ‘this is not rocket science.’”

Jackson said MNU wants to see WPS officers stationed in the emergency department, better security in parkades, more foot patrols in the area, as well as better lighting and more cameras. She added an existing Safe Walk program should be overhauled.

“What I hear from nurses is they can call the Safe Walk people after a 16-hour shift, and in 45 minutes, they’ll be available to walk them to their vehicle,” Jackson explained. “They don’t really want to spend 45 minutes sitting in their department waiting.”

She also wants to see a Safe Ride program created to shuttle staff to and from their vehicles.

“We have many individuals who can’t park in a parkade – they’re on a waiting list for a space, so they’re parked in that extremely violent area on the street,” Jackson said. “Have a van or a shuttle that picks people up and drops them off. It is absolutely what the staff deserve.”

In an email, a Shared Health spokesperson told CTV News several security upgrades have been made, but acknowledged, “more work is needed and [we] have committed to making HSC a safer place for all.”

The spokesperson said 40 institutional safety officers are working at HSC and the health authority has plans to expand the security team further. However, statistics on “successful ISO interventions” aren’t available yet, as the program only launched in April.

The Shared Health spokesperson added, later in July, HSC will become the second hospital in the country to pilot the use of AI-enabled weapons detection systems.

“Detectors will be placed at entrances to both HSC’s adult emergency department and the Crisis Response Centre,” the spokesperson explained. “This trial period will require all patients, visitors and staff who enter these doors to be screened. The detection systems do not require the removal of keys, cellphones, belts or shoes prior to being scanned and does not use facial recognition software.”

The spokesperson also shared other safety and security measures either completed or in progress around the HSC campus, which include parkade improvements, landscaping updates, security patrols, and access controls.

In an email, a WPS spokesperson said, “The Winnipeg Police Service is cognizant of the ongoing safety concerns around the Health Sciences Centre and surrounding area. We support Shared Health’s efforts to increase public safety through regular foot patrols by Institutional Safety Officers. This can assist our service in identifying potential dangers and providing the most efficient response.” 

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