The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Monday, March 23, 2009

Reality of inner-city fears shocks Winnipeg Police Advisory Board


If a written report could make a sound, that's the sound you would hear from the Winnipeg Police Advisory Board's first annual report.

Everybody from the Premier, the Mayor, the Chief of Police on down to the members of the advisory board themselves get slapped in the report.

The board failed to do what it's supposed to do, but in exchange it produced an amazing report that tips the apple cart of complacency about public safety and policing in the city. It's findings need to be trumpeted from the rooftops.

Instead, the report, which was handed to city councillors last Friday, was met with near deafening silence by the news media in the city. Hey, it was Friday and what self-respecting news reporter wants to tie up a Friday night by reporting news.

Only the Winnipeg Free Press reported the story, and even then it was buried deep in the Saturday newspaper instead of being highlighted on their cover page. At least reporters Bartley Kives and Gabrielle Giroday tried.

The 11-member board was set up to advise city council on:
a) police plans and performance targets regarding crime prevention and enchancement of neighbourhood safety; and
b) how effective the police were in deploying their resources, compared to their plan targets and their budget.

Couldn't do either, said the report, because of lack of data and resources.

So, instead, the board went slumming.

They held public meetings in the poorest, most crime-ridden parts of town. We confess; we thought that the meetings would be a waste of time and effort. We were wrong - wrong because we had no idea how clued out most of the police advisory board's members were about crime in the city.

It turns out that meeting the public was probably the best thing the board could ever do.

So maybe the first slap should go to The Black Rod for jumping to conclusions.

But we're in good company.

Slap.... to Premier Gary Doer.
And Justice Minister Dave "Six Months" Chomiak.
And his predecessor, Gord Macintosh.

What the Board heard…
• Overall the justice system is not working effectively.

And who's responsibility is that?

• The Winnipeg Police Service be more aggressive in insisting that corollary social services such as mental health agencies and child welfare agencies work with their clients in high demand times such as evenings, weekends and cheque days

The police advisory board had to couch its recommedation in police-centric terminology, but the message couldn't be clearer. The provincial mental health and child welfare agencies are failing to do their part in crime prevention. They are set up to meet the schedules of their employees and not their "clientele".

Who's responsibility is that, Mr. Doer? Mr. Macintosh? the Mayor and council

* Environment matters. Elimination of graffiti, timely removal of garbage and abandoned items and better lighting in some back lanes would help reduce crime. and resident involvement in creating solutions would increase.
• The “broken window” philosophy was evident: by responding to smaller matters police would become more connected in the community. Criminal intelligence would improve and resident involvement in creating solutions would increase.

We've heard Mayor Sam Katz talk the talk, but it's obvious that's as far as it goes in the Mayor's office.

Graffiti? It's the most obvious sign that a community is in trouble.

In February, Katz bragged to council that the city has tripled the amount of graffiti it removed between 2005 and 2007. Then he cut the budget for graffiti control by more than half.

A drive down Main Street from City Hall to West Kildonan shows how effective Katz's version of the broken windows policy has been. The amount of graffiti has doubled from last year, and last year it was at least 100 percent over the year before. And that's only along Main Street. We shudder to think what it is on the side streets.

Hey, Sam. Put your money where your mouth is.

The city spent $2.1 million attacking graffiti in 2007, and now you want to cut that to $991,000? Where's the money going? To trendy bicycle paths? To rapid transit for effete university students? Maybe for public art on deserted city streets?

It's funny, isn't it, how nobody who spoke to the police advisory board even mentioned bicycle paths or rapid transit?

They did speak the obvious to city council though when they talked about "timely removal of garbage and abandoned items and better lighting in some back lanes." Garbage collection is a city service, yet the garbage bins in the city centre and north end are filled to overflowing every single week. That's part of the broken windows policy.

The system for picking up abandoned items is broken. Why can't any of the geniuses on city council recognize that? It's evident to the residents.

Clean up the streets and you'll take a step at cleaning up crime. That's what the police advisory board heard. Is city council deaf?

Slap ... to Chief of Police Keith McCaskill

• Police undertake a coordinated education program on the manufacture, identifiers, effects and other important facts about ‘Crack”.

• Gang led incidents are not always reported as gang-related.

Gangs and crack, the two words the Chief of Police never speaks but which define existence in Winnipeg police districts 1 and 3.

McCaskill has spent his short tenure as police chief painting himself as the man who listens to the public.
It's time he becomes the man who's heard enough and starts acting like a policeman and not a politician.

But, but, you expect us to put a police officer in front of every crack house?

Yes, Keith. We do.

Why is it that the police administration always cries about a shortage of police to harass crack dealers and gang members to prevent crimes, but whenever there's a murder or a shooting or an arson you see ten police cars at the scene, and 20 police directing traffic and rolling out police tape? When did sitting in a police car diverting cars around a murder scene become Priority One on the dispatch scale? If you can find the police to do that, then you can find the police to sit outside crack houses.

We almost choked when McCaskill said in a year end interview with the Free Press, "I think we missed the boat on crack."
(Not that it was printed in the paper, that classic was only found in the full transcript ,posted on James Turner's blog post on Jan. 3rd)

As far back as October, 2005, we were writing in The Black Rod about the crack epidemic sweeping Winnipeg.

The police on the street knew about it all too well then. What hole has Keith McCaskill been in for the past four years to say the crack problem is something new to him?

The WPAB dropped another bombshell in their report, but maybe McCaskill can claim credit on this.

Remember last year when the North Point Douglas residents association (whose chairman, Sel Burrows, sits on the police advisory board) proudly announced they had managed to shut down almost all the crack houses in their neighbourhood? Everyone asked, how did you do it?

The answer from Sel Burrows was that the association set up a system whereby people who knew of a crack house could channel that information to a designated person who would then phone the information in to the police. That way they wouldn't be identified to police or the drug dealers and wouldn't become targets for retaliation.

Sounds simple, except that, according to the WPAB, the police department had, until last December, been unwilling to accept crime reports or information from third parties.

That's right. Anyone trying to emulate the North Point Douglas model was stymied by the police department. So how did they manage to do it? Well, Burrows has always publically credited Keith McCaskill for helping his community. So, we have to assume that it was McCaskill who finally broke the logjam within the department and let other communities adopt the NPD model for drug enforcement.

* The issue was resolved by WPS management in December, 2008 in the form of a department-wide policy statement on the value of third-party information.

Slap... to the university egg-heads and newspaper columnists who worship at their feet.

* According to the WPS General Survey, 2008, extrapolating respondents (8%) experience, there were potentially 35,000 unreported crimes in Winnipeg last year. Statistics Canada and other surveys indicate that a very significant percentage of crimes are never reported to police.
• Residents mention crimes, but emphasize the whole notion of widespread intimidation and fear.
* Fear of retaliation was a common reason for not reporting crime.
• A resident’s home may be his/her only refuge.

How many times have you read that university professors say crime is overrated in Winnipeg? That fear of crime is a product of hyped-up reporting? That the statistics show crime is falling? That people should stop listening to anecdotes of crime and depend on data provided by the egg-heads?

It's obvious that the people out of touch with reality as those self-same egg-heads and their echoes, who get their knowledge of crime from books and journals and on-line statistical reports.

The WPAB is telling the public that there's tens of thousands of crimes unreported each year; that entire neighbourhoods are living in fear, and even anticipation of being victims of theft, robbery, violence, intimidation, exactly what the criminology professors say exists only in their deluded uneducated minds. the Police Advisory Board

Perhaps the most shocking information in the police advisory board's report is how shocking its members found what they heard.

"For some Board members it was shocking to hear first hand about the level of crime, violence and fear that residents of some Winnipeg neighbourhoods are exposed to on a daily basis. Many inner-city residents have little choice but to remain in these high-crime areas and the Board’s consultations revealed to us the courage that is required in our high-needs neighbourhoods for residents to face each day and hope that their living conditions will improve."

Who sits on the Winnipeg Police Advisory Board?
Who among them had no idea of the living conditions of the city they live in?

Here's half the answer.

Board Members
Gerald Forrest, Chairman
Sam Anderson
Sel Burrows
Nahanni Fontaine
Robert Gabor
Larry Gregan
David Keam
Melanie Lautt
Aidan O’Brien
Charles Rubin
Gord Steeves

Tomorrow....more of what the WPAB discovered by talking to residents of Winnipeg's high-crime zones.

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