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KLEIN: Rising crime in Winnipeg requires real action

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Once again, Winnipeg residents are experiencing an alarming increase in violent crime. The disturbing pattern is all too familiar: individuals brazenly enter stores in broad daylight, help themselves to merchandise with no intention of paying, and startle staff by brazenly reaching behind the counter to steal cash. This disturbing trend is not limited to one area of ​​the city; it is spreading across Winnipeg, affecting grocery stores, sporting goods stores in major shopping malls, coffee shops and more.

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In response, elected officials quickly went before the cameras and voiced the same concerns they have on many other occasions, but never offered a solution. To be fair, the NDP government has committed to paying overtime for four units that target crime hotspots. But let's be honest: what impact will just four patrol cars working overtime have?

This symbolic gesture seems more like a media buzzword than a substantive solution to a deep-rooted problem. For over 12 years, crime has been a growing problem, getting worse every year. Yet city councilors, including the mayor, are passive observers, repeating the same politically safe arguments: “We need to address bail reform, focus on the root causes of crime, address the housing crisis,” and so on.

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Despite these discussions, what is glaringly lacking in the debate is concrete, decisive action by our elected officials to address one of Winnipeg's most pressing problems. Recent polls show this is an important issue for residents, but there appears to be a disconnect between public concern and political action.

The promise of overtime for a handful of patrol cars is nothing more than a paltry band-aid. Let's look at the facts: In 1999, Winnipeg had 27 patrol cars on duty per shift. Twenty-five years later, despite significant increases in the city's population and geographic size, there are only 28 patrol cars on duty per shift. An increase of just one patrol car in a quarter century. This stark number is not just a statistic; it is blatant evidence of the inadequate response of our local and federal governments to the evolving needs of our community.

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Relying on overtime to deal with the rise in violent thefts is not a sustainable strategy. With hundreds of emergency calls already waiting on hold, overtime is a temporary solution at best. In addition, we must consider the well-being of our officers. Prolonged overtime can lead to burnout and deteriorating mental health, leading to more officers being furloughed. Does the government plan to pay even more overtime to replace those furloughed?

Successful business owners will tell you that if your employees are constantly working overtime, there is a problem. They analyze the problem, understand the cause, and often hire more employees because it is more cost-effective than constantly paying overtime. Why should public safety be any different?

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The attitude of left-wing groups that often downplay the need for strong law enforcement and accountability for criminals is a failure of our city. This ideology does not make our streets safer; it emboldens those who seek to do harm by shifting blame from perpetrators to those responsible for maintaining order. This is not a sustainable model for public safety.

A society without strong law enforcement is on the brink of chaos. Police officers, constantly scrutinized and held to high standards, require the full support of our legislative bodies to effectively perform their duties. At the same time, criminals are often given endless excuses for their actions. This imbalance sets a dangerous precedent and fosters an environment where unlawful behavior goes unpunished.

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Accountability is the cornerstone of any functioning society. For centuries, the principle that every action has a reaction has defined civilizations and enabled the development of laws and regulations that maintain order and protect citizens. However, the current trajectory of our city's leadership, both provincial and federal, is leading us toward anarchy.

The responsibility for the safety and well-being of Winnipeg residents clearly rests with our elected officials. Yet our representatives seem to shy away from making the tough decisions necessary to address the alarming rise in violent crime. My tenure as chair of the Winnipeg Police Board has given me a unique perspective and allowed me to attend numerous community meetings where dedicated officers have raised awareness of how vulnerable children are being exploited by gangs.

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In response to this grim reality, I have consistently advocated for directly confronting violent criminal activity. At the same time, I have advocated for increased investment in youth programs aimed at removing children from the clutches of these organized gangs. Our city's leaders must recognize the urgency of this situation by prioritizing investments in public safety and youth initiatives, especially in our most vulnerable communities.

Arnold Sagalyn's poignant words, published in the Notre Dame Law Review in 1965, still hold true today: “We cannot meet the needs of our society in our time unless we mobilize and utilize all the resources of our communities.” This statement is a timeless reminder of our collective responsibility to act.

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While the federal government must urgently address bail reform, this issue should not be an excuse for our city leaders to sit idle. It is up to them to take the initiative. There are notable examples from other jurisdictions, such as Detroit's Project Greenlight, that demonstrate proactive approaches to combating rising crime. Given that this problem will not be solved overnight, it is imperative for our leaders to prioritize this issue. Regular and public meetings could be convened to deliberate on necessary actions within the city's jurisdiction to promote a safe and caring community for all of its residents. The time for action is now, and our city deserves nothing less than a determined commitment to its safety and well-being.

— Kevin Klein is a former Tory cabinet minister, former city councillor and president and CEO of the Klein Group Ltd.

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