WINNIPEG, MB - Mayor Brian Bowman recently announced an increase in funding and collaboration for our downtown BIZ Watch Ambassadors, along with the West End and Exchange BIZ Patrols, and Bear Clan. Not only was the increase significant, but it also recognized the individuals, neighbourhoods, business organizations and systems that are currently working together to improve downtown safety.
Downtown safety is much more than just policing and enforcement, and over the last decade the Winnipeg Police Service has communicated that they cannot do it alone. The complexity of safety requires partnerships, creativity, co-ordination and integration of all community resources, in order to effectively respond to the increasing challenges of safety.
As a result, the downtown business community has responded with the growth of its Downtown Watch Ambassador programs and more.
We currently have 26 community Watch ambassadors and over 200 Watch volunteers who play a major role in providing safety services in the downtown area. The Watch provide eyes and ears for police, reassurances to the public, information and assistance to locals and visitors, and a natural-succession planning model for bringing talent into law enforcement. The Watch have helped improve the public’s perceptions of our downtown, providing SafeWalks, making presentations on personal safety, keeping an eye on crimes, as well as saving the lives of the most vulnerable. Our program has proven to be effective.
What makes the Downtown Watch program special is the collaborative work that is being done with our friends at the Winnipeg Police Service. On a daily basis, we come together to identify challenges, share information and find solutions to keep people safe in our downtown. This community-based approach to policing and managing safety issues primarily focuses on education, prevention and at times intervention from our end, while relying on the highly trained Winnipeg Police expertise to enforce safety and support the community for those issues where we need them most.
The support of the community-based Downtown Watch program is working and is greatly appreciated by the business community.
Take a look at these 2017 stats which demonstrate the effectiveness of our downtown program in better managing safety issues and serving the public:
1. 387 people in the downtown utilized the SafeWalk program and had the Downtown Watch ambassadors safely walk them to their car, bus stop or event.
2. Over 250 persons who were found to be intoxicated in the downtown area were taken to safety and received the help they needed.
3. In total, there were 4,481 calls for service, which included calls for disturbances, panhandling, and medical and well-being checks.
4. The Watch ambassadors were called 8,082 times for special attentions.
Excellent work related to community safety is already happening on a daily basis in Downtown Winnipeg. But are we there yet? Not yet.
- There is a need and desire to maximize the efficiencies and impact of that work, and a need to expand resources, which include both more Watch and Police Foot Patrols.
- There is a need for government to provide a home for people who are homeless, which include many who face substance-abuse and mental health challenges.
- There is a need for more addictions facilities and managed substance abuse programs.
- There is a need for a high level of community participation, and co-ordination between government and the local community resources to identify and respond to the needs of the community.
- The development of our downtown as a place for everyone, with more people living and working there, needs to continue.
- The best vision of community safety requires that we come together as a community to find solutions for downtown safety.
These are all essential ingredients for overall success of Downtown Safety, which the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, along with our partners and stakeholders, are committed to, on our continued path to a safe downtown for everyone.
By Stefano Grande
Stefano Grande is executive director of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ