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Anti-government, anti-authority sentiment a growing challenge for Winnipeg police: report

Anti-government, anti-authority sentiment a growing challenge for Winnipeg police: report
Anti-government, anti-authority sentiment a growing challenge for Winnipeg police: report 29 November 2022 07:26 AM: Anti-government and anti-authority sentiment poses a growing challenge for police, according to a new report about the background conditions facing the Winnipeg Police Service.

The Environment for Policing report, published Monday by the Winnipeg Police Board, says police are contending with the result of reduced trust in institutions.

This has manifested itself in disparate ways, such as calls to reduce funding for police to demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions, which took over downtown Winnipeg for three weeks earlier this year.

"Increasingly there is public expression of anti-government and anti-authority feelings," states the report.

It singles out the COVID-19 pandemic as a factor in undermining public trust in a variety of institutions.

"Some of the lingering effects are around trust in public institutions, not restricted to policing, but in all major institutions. Distrust in legacy media and previously trusted sources of public discourse (academics and experts) has never been higher," states the report.

The report says that came to a head with the demonstrations north of the Manitoba legislative grounds, which lasted three weeks. The report characterizes the police response to those demonstrations as satisfactory.

"Police were determined to work together with the protesters gathered in Winnipeg to ensure a peaceful protest and outcome to the demonstration," the report states.

"Many people were unhappy with the approach taken by police; however the protest was resolved without violence or major incident."

Public perception differs: lawyer

Zilla Jones, a criminal defence lawyer in Winnipeg, questioned that conclusion, noting police appeared to be sympathetic to the demonstrators.

"The perception certainly was that they were not being as proactive about dealing with the convoy as they could have been," Jones said Monday in an interview. 

"It was then impacting people's quality of life that had to live near convoy activities." 

Jones has been critical of the manner in which police resources are allocated. The City of Winnipeg budgeted $320 million for policing in 2022, which works out to 27 per cent of its $1.2-billion operating budget.

The police board report acknowledges there continue to be "a number of proponents" for defunding or abolishing police, based on concerns about the service's cost and effectiveness.

"The cost of policing is the subject of considerable research. It is largely felt that it is not sustainable in its present form," states the report, which nonetheless dismisses efforts to reduce police funding.

"This point of view does not include any plan for managing the calls for service from residents of Winnipeg that police must respond to."

Defund or defend?

Winnipeg Police Board chair Markus Chambers, the city councillor for St. Norbert-Seine River, said he believes the  public opinion is swinging back in favour of providing more resources for police.

"I think the pendulum is shifting actually quite a bit to defend police, as opposed to defund police. There are people that are talking about a greater police presence," Chambers said in an interview on Monday.

"I think we're starting to see traction in the sense of more of a police presence to reduce the amount of crime that's out there."

Jones questioned that statement as well.

"I think it's very simplistic to just say that because people have been unhappy with police response times, that means they want more cops," she said, also questioning why the chair of the body that's supposed to oversee the police is defending the service.

"They don't need to be defended by the public. They should be defending us and if they're not doing that, then there's a problem with the model, there's a problem with the training, and there's a problem with the whole concept of policing."

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