Keith McCaskill's Spring Surprise
Winnipeg's new police chief Keith McCaskill made probably the worst mistake of his career when he addressed a meeting of residents of the William Whyte neighbourhood this week.
He gave them hope.
The decent folk of this poor North End community have been pleading for years with city officials for help in cleaning up their streets.
They watched as Mayor Sam Katz and former police chief Jack Ewatski elbowed each other out of the way for facetime at a news conference to announce Operation Clean Sweep, a major crackdown in the West End after the son of a well-to-do physician was killed in the crossfire of a gang shootout. Then in the wake of four murders in their own neighbourhood, Katz assigned a quarter of the police resources of Operation Clean Sweep.
They listened as police regurgitated their usual excuse for doing nothing--a lack of resources. Then they watched as Ewatski sent more police than patrol the North End in a single day to the University of Winnipeg, and stationed them there round the clock for almost a week, because somebody found a naughty message on a bathroom wall.
Gang grafitti covers the fences and garages of William Whyte and city hall shrugs.
No wonder the residents of William Whyte felt abandoned. But that all changed Wednesday.
McCaskill introduced six "resource officers." Scrape the thick bureaucratese off and you find BEAT COPS. And there's a lot more where they come from, said the Chief. All told there will be 40 police (presumably a combination of foot patrol and cruisers cops) in two shifts patrolling these North End streets.
The Street Crimes Unit just finished a three month sweep of the community and has passed the torch to the beat police, McCaskill said. They're coming with a new arsenal of tactics, and new coordination of community support resources, including a revitalized unit targeting problem houses.
The news left the large crowd excited. If anything, the beat cops appeared to be even more excited than the audience. They were obviously champing at the bit to demonstrate what they can do.
McCaskill kept repeating that the police service wants to "partner" with the community and its residents. He asked them to set the priorities for the police---and they told him in short order.
Get rid of the prostitutes, they said.That's priority #1, and priority #2 and priority #3 and priority #4 and priority #5.
McCaskill said he had heard the same message from the Spence Street community when he spoke to a similar meeting there the day before. Obviously that's the measure of a neighbourhood. Street prostitutes signal a neighbourhood in decline. It means an influx of crack houses and gang members, and endless traffic by a parade of "johns" and the resulting harassment of women and little girls going about their daily business.
The police were told where the William Whyte community wants them to start. They're eager, and they have the spring and summer to prove what they can do. The community is behind them 100 per cent. After all, they're all the hope the residents have.
Noticeably missing from the community meeting with McCaskill were politicians.
The City councillor for the area, Harry Lazarenko, couldn't be bothered to show up.
Neither could NDP MLA George Hickes, who parachutes into the area during election time from his home in south Winnipeg but is otherwise invisible and uncaring about living conditions there.
But wait...let's not forget who else was not there. The poverty industry shills.
There was nobody from Organization This and Organization That demanding that the city fight the "root causes" of crime and end poverty.
There were no university professors to explain how fear of crime is just in your heads, crime is falling, gang members are just looking for surrogate daddies and mommies, and prostitutes, er, make that sex trade workers, are misunderstood women who deserve our emotional support.
In fact, the audience was made up of the poor.
And nobody raised "poverty" as an excuse for crime. Just the opposite.
They want the police, and the powers that be, to concentrate on attacking crime first. That will make the biggest change to the quality of their lives.
Not an increase in the minimum wage, or a soccer league, or a transit corridor.
But safety for themselves, for their children and for their neighbourhood.
As if to underscore that very message, Global News the same night carried a story about the jaw-dropping success of the Point Douglas neighbourhood in fighting crime and disorder.
The story focused on residents' buying their own security cameras and what an impact this had had on driving crime down. The item ended with a casual comment that crime in Point Douglas has dropped 70 PER CENT since the community got serious about fighting back.
That's not a misprint. SEVENTY PER CENT. DOWN.
We've never heard this figure before. But if it's true, it's phenomenal. It's a success story that should be celebrated by the whole of the city. They should hold a parade down Euclid Avenue to Norquay Park on Canada Day to celebrate with bands, balloons and all the ballyhoo they can muster.
And, sadly for the poverty industry shills, this victory was achieved despite the poverty apologists who oppose every policing initiative as useless if not counter-productive.
Crimestat is one tool the police are using to target resources. You can go on the internet and see how many reported incidents there have been of homicide, sexual assault, auto theft, break-and-enters, and robbery compared to last year.
As of April 6, 2008, the number of these five categories has fallen 40 per cent. Yes, again, that's not a misprint. FORTY PER CENT. DOWN.
In December 2006 we wrote how Sam Katz intended to emulate New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani's crime fighting record in the Nineties. We wrote then:
"If he manages to get the same results as New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani, they'll be erecting statues of Sam at City Hall."
The year is still young, but somebody better be dusting off a Sam-sized slab of marble.