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A New Kind of Zero Tolerance

Did you laugh as hard as we did at the Police Department's latest request for public assistance?

You know, the one about looking for a suspect who smashed up Decanters Restaurant & Wine Bar a couple of weeks ago.Y

ou remember.... the drunk guy who got caught trying to steal booze from behind the bar. To get away he threw bottles around, broke some windows and scapped with an employee before staff and customers could get him down.

And the owners tried to call the cops. For almost three hours. Three fricking hours fighting with a violent drunk because they couldn't get one single highly trained, armed, dedicated police officer to come and make an arrest.

Even after someone walked to the Public Safety Building and tried to convince the cops there to take the two minute walk to Decanters and help, no cops showed up. So they finally let the guy go.

Yeah, that guy. The guy cops want your help to find.

Note to police: don't hold your breath.

We thought this P.R. debacle was the icing on the cake on what the public thinks of police service in Winnipeg.

But then last week a civil jury of six topped it. They said they couldn't believe the Chief of Police when he told them the police policy on handling domestic disputes.

Now, this shouldn't have been a surprise, since the other 999,994 people in the province also knew Chief Jack Ewatski was winging it when he said the domestic violence policy didn't force officers to arrest people they knew were innocent.

And yet, we were surprised. The jury of Winnipeg citizens spoke loud and clear when they awarded a woman $46,600, including punitive damages, for false arrest and malicious prosecution.

Ewastski didn't know what he was talking about, they said. And with that, they put the problems with the police service into perfect perspective.

The problem lies with the top. The senior officer who sets the policies and sets the tone of police work in the city. And who has done little more than undermine the force throughout his tenure.

Yesterday we told you how Chief Ewatski announced the exoneration of Tom Sophonow for the 1981 murder of Barbara Stoppel. He has never explained why. And when the province called a sham inquiry into the reasons for the alleged wrongful conviction, Ewatski sat silent as his officers were vilified and blamed for railroading Sophonow. Not one word that Sophonow was more to blame than anyone for his convictions.

Ewatski was content to see the police carry the blame alone.

This past month we were reminded of the shooting of Matthew Dumas by a police officer one year ago. And how Chief Ewatski was nowhere to be found during the tense days that followed the incident. When he surfaced, it was to say he had been "consulting" with native, uh, leaders about a heretofore unknown race-based policy of having the native "community" oversee the investigation whenever an aboriginal is shot by police. We can't remember any show of support for the police officer who was forced to make the fatal decision to shoot Dumas-- as he had been trained.

And before that, there was the infamous arbitration hearing launched by six officers put on administrative leave by Ewatski. He said he had to do it because of allegations the police failed to warn gang member Kevin Tokarchuk of a plot to kill him, and that they may have broken the law by taping a meeting between a lawyer and a gang member.

And we all remember how the hearing turned out.

Shortly after the city of Winnipeg was fined $20,000 because Ewatski refused to hand over documents to the plaintiffs, a settlement was reached, amount undisclosed of course -- but paid for by the taxpayers.

Tack on the lawyers fees the city paid, and keep in mind that a Crown Attorney from Calgary who reviewed the case said charges against the officers were not recommended, and it all adds up to one very expensive lesson.

Experienced police investigators retired, careers were damaged and the morale of the homicide and gang units were devastated by Ewatski's actions.

The only people who won out, said retired Sgt. Dave Oakes, were whoever killed Tokarchuk and five Hell's Angels associates who had been charged with firebombing a police officer's home and who had the charges stayed.

Way to go Jack.

When the police are left to do their jobs, they usually come up shining.

Just look at Operation Clean Sweep, the oh-my-god-what-do-we-do-now project thrown up after innocent bystander Phillipe Haiart was killed in a gang shootout. By all accounts, its been a raging success. West end residents say they can see the changes on the streets as drug dealers, prostitutes and gang members realize the police mean business.

But if it's going so well, what does it say about what Ewatski was doing about street crime before Haiart's death forced his hand? Community activists like Rev. Harry Lehotsky had been calling for just such a quality-of-life policing policy for years, only to be dismissed.

It took a tragedy to get Ewatski's attention focused on something other than opposing his force wearing name tags.

So how has he managed to get away with it for years?

Simple. Take one look at the people who sit on City Council. And ask yourselves who and when have any one of them asked relevant questions about the direction of the police service under Jack Ewatski?

Then take a look at the Press. And ask the same thing.

It's obvious it's time for Ewatski to go. We need a zero tolerance policy on him and his decisions.

The next time the police information officers issue a request for public assistance, maybe it should be for a new Chief of Police.

We'll be at Decanters, interviewing candidates.

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