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:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sam's and Judy's crime-fighting chatter exposes weakness of both candidates

Splat. Splat.

That's the sound of crime-fighting initiatives landing with the impact of wet dishrags.

Mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis, who wants to be called JustJudy, demonstrated this week how completely she lacks an understanding of a crucial civic issue such as crime in the city. She detailed how she would address the severe and growing crime problem in Winnipeg, and it wasn't pretty.

Having lived in Ottawa as an MP for 13 years, she's a tourist here. Her knowledge of the city comes from newspaper headlines supplemented by a day spent here and there at her Bannerman Avenue home before leaving for her beach cottage between sessions of Parliament.

JustJudy knows crime is bad in Winnipeg -- her mother tells her so. So part of her campaign for mayor is to attack the problem -- with cliches. The way to fight crime, says JustJudy, is to attack -- wait for it -- the root causes.

Yep. Root causes. Now why hasn't anyone thought of that before? Oh, wait....

JustJudy's NDP confreres in the Manitoba Legislature announced 11 years ago they were going to fight crime by attacking the root causes. How's that working out? Shouldn't we be the safest city in the world by now?

Instead we're the murder capital of Canada, the gang capital, the violent crime capital, the youth crime capital. We hold so many crime crowns that we're the capital of crime capitals.

But you can't keep a good cliche down, and JustJudy dusted it off as a key plank of her campaign to be mayor before launching into specifics.

Two specifics to be exact. As mayor, JustJudy would implement Powerline, the crimefighting tool credited with cleaning up North Point Douglas, throughout the city, she pledged. And she would train city workers to be the eyes and ears of the police, to see and report crime and suspicious activity as they do their city jobs.

Uh huh. Powerline.

Started 3 years ago, the best description of how and why it worked was provided by the weekly paper, Uptown:

"On the rebound/ Uptown explores how North Point Douglas took itself back by Marlo Campbell, 2008-05-29"

"One resident on each block would be designated a "community safety rep" and would be responsible for reporting illegal activity via phone or e-mail to Sel and Chris (Burrows), who would then pass on the information to the appropriate authorities. Everything would be done anonymously to avoid intimidation or retribution."
"In order to be effective, the Winnipeg Police Service needed to be on-board as a partner - a challenge in an area where, more often than not, police officers are seen as enemies, not allies. Indeed, the relationship between residents and the WPS had deteriorated to the point that some people had stopped reporting crimes altogether as, from their perspective, no one bothered showing up."
"(We had been) really frustrated with the police department," (Sel) Burrows says. "We couldn't find a way to communicate with them. It was like a closed door."
"Luckily, thanks to a career spent working in inner-city recreation, corrections and politics, Burrows has lots of friends in high places. He put a call in to Justice Minister Dave Chomiak, who passed his complaint along to a "tall, skinny guy" named Keith McCaskill - the man who would be sworn in as Winnipeg's 16th police chief only months later in yet another fortuitous twist of fate."

Great idea. The community managed to shut down almost all the crack houses that had set up shop in Point Douglas. Sel Burrows has spent the past 3 years promoting its success. The only problem was that it could never be replicated anywhere.

The residents of William Whyte tried to get Burrows' help to set up their own Powerline project two years ago when they were being overwhelmed with crack- and gang-related shootings and arsons. Nothing happened despite all of Sel Burrows' big talk.

It's not like people don't phone the police without Sel Burrows' help. They phone begging for help. They give the addresses of crack houses, the houses where pimps live with their whores, the gang houses. And the police give the same response -- what do you expect us to do about it?

It seems the only way to replicate Powerline is to be a backroom member of the NDP and make friends with the attorney general who will personally pressure the police chief into forcing police to do something about calls for help from a community.

And as for generating more tips from city workers....Get real. The police are already overwhelmed.

CTV News carried an amazing, under-reported story a few months ago that police will not review videotapes of criminals caught in action because the force doesn't have the staff available. So how are they going to free up officers to chase tips from meter readers?

And why does the idea of making city employees into neighbourhood spies make us uncomfortable. Where's the line between reporting "suspicious activity" and intruding on private lives?

But JustJudy still managed to score points on incumbent Sam Katz, even if she did it inadvertently.

Everyone knows Katz as a smooth talker, a true schmoozer. After years of regurgitating NDP talking points, JustJudy spews cliches. Katz is seen as a quick thinker who would eat JustJudy alive in a live debate. We certainly thought so, until now.

Katz's response to Wasylycia-Leis's crime initiatives was abysmal. She was playing to what everyone saw as his strength. He showed his hand and all he had were deuces.

"Do you really believe that Ms. Wasylycia-Leis would be tougher on crime than yours truly?", he asked rhetorically.

But when he showed his hand, all he had were deuces. We were shocked at his bumbling replies when asked to comment on JustJudy's announcements.

"Sam Katz, who is fighting to keep his mayoral seat for a third term, said he agrees with Wasylycia-Leis on the value of Powerline, but believes it's not the mayor's role to expand it."

" "That's actually a community effort and I've always said that's a great thing and encourage that because we know the positive impact it has had on Point Douglas," said Katz."

Say what?

Here's the most successful crime-fighting program in Winnipeg in years and Sam Katz wants to put on a skirt, grab some pompoms and lead the cheering squad? He should have wrestled the Powerline example out of Sel Burrows' hands two years ago and used his bully pulpit to plant it in one neighbourhood after another, year by year.

Instead, he stood aside and waited for someone else to do the job. He's still waiting. That's not leadership.

CBC News:
"Katz responded by detailing a number of his own programs to combat crime, including the Winnipeg police Street Crime unit, and the soon-to-be-airborne police helicopter."

Is he saying a helicopter will be more effective in rooting out crime than a tipline? That's simply nonsense. With a tipline a neighbourhood tells police exactly where to find the criminals. A helicopter flies around in circles waiting for something to happen. How many crack houses could we shut down for the cost of a helicopter? Why doesn't someone do the math?

And the police Street Crime unit appears to be a day late and a dollar short at the nightly drive-by shootings and home invasions in the North End and city centre. They may be doing something, but its not preventing random gunfire in residential neighbourhoods. We wouldn't be holding that up as an example.

Winnipeg Free Press:
"The mayor ... said he has been instrumental in hiring 155 more police officers, creating a swat team, Operation Clean Sweep, CrimeStat and getting a police a helicopter off the ground."

Let's see....

Hiring 155 more police officers. The province pays for them, the city does the paperwork to "hire" them. Bureaucracy rules!

Creating a swat team. The 15 member full-time tactical support team is seen a lot on TV, surrounding houses, advancing in tight ass-to-groin formation with great big phallic guns clutched prominently, right before the words "no gun was found." Patrolling constables have been in more shootouts than the highly trained full-time tac squad.

Operation Clean Sweep. Created in 2005 as part of a highly-trumpeted declaration of war on gangs, it quickly lost steam and became more of a light dusting once the television lights were turned off. Shut down silently in the West End, it morphed even more silently into the street crime unit which turned up protecting high school girls from evil marijuana dealers in south Winnipeg instead of taking on the street gang members who were shooting up the streets of north Winnipeg.

CrimeStat. It told you about crime in your neighbourhood---two weeks ago. The timeline has been reduced since. But retired Deputy Chief Menno Zacharias, in another hugely unreported story, says about Crimestat that the police executive "have largely turned their backs on it."

Sam Katz has had six years to demonstrate a commitment to the "broken windows" theory of policing that cleaned up New York City which spawned Crimestat. Once upon a time he even talked the talk. When New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani faced a police executive that decided to wait out his policing initiatives instead of buying in, he acted. He replaced the police executive.

Katz is spending more money on slowing down traffic to make streets safer for bicycle riders than on removing graffiti, a key element of the "broken windows" policy. Public safety has been tossed aside to make room for a feel-good lobby group.

A mayoral candidate without JustJudy's baggage (a decade of working against Winnipeg's interests by watering down every get-tough-on-crime bill in Ottawa) would make mincemeat out of the incumbent's record on crime control.

Add another splat--- for Sam Katz's credibility on the crime file, which (sigh) is still greater than his opponent's.

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