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NDP pledges 100 mental health staff to help law enforcement, more police officers if necessary

A Manitoba NDP government would hire 100 mental health workers to work alongside law enforcement, and hire more police officers if that’s what policing agencies want, leader Wab Kinew promised on Thursday.

On the front lawn of a suburban Winnipeg home, Kinew presented a five-point strategy that he says would be tough on crime and the causes of it.

Kinew promised his party would hire 100 mental health workers to support law enforcement on non-violent calls, so officers can devote more time to violent crime.

He said his government would work with stakeholders to develop protocols for which responses are appropriate for a mental health response. The NDP expects that to cost $12 million annually.

The Progressive Conservative government started a similar program in 2021 that pairs mental health professionals with police. The government recently announced the pilot program would become an ongoing, permanent response. 

NDP commitments on Thursday also include pushing the federal government to enhance bail measures.

In the meantime, Kinew says Manitoba would adopt the National Police Federation’s recommendations on bail reforms that can be enacted provincially.

Those measures include better data-sharing among law enforcement, improved internet service to support bail monitoring and introducing standard qualifications for people who conduct bail hearings.

These pledges come one day after Kinew stressed in a speech that he’d be tough on crime as premier, in part because of his past run-ins with the law as a younger man in his 20s.

The PCs have repeatedly claimed Kinew would defund the police. On Thursday, Kinew said the Tories cannot be trusted on crime. Violent crime and homicide rates have risen under their watch.

“It is very clear to people in this part of the city and across the province that [PC Leader] Heather Stefanson’s approach to crime just isn’t working.”

Rebate for security system

The NDP would also give individuals and businesses up to $300 each to outfit their properties with new technology to improve security, ranging from alarms to doorbell cameras.

As well, Manitoba would follow the lead of B.C. and other jurisdictions in requiring people to explain how they acquired their assets if unlawful activity is suspected.

Described as an unexplained wealth act, Kinew said the new measures would go after drug dealers who profit off of their activities. 

“If you’re a gangster driving a $100,000 car, we’re gonna ask how you paid for that,” he said, “and if you’re using it as a way to flaunt the wealth you gained by bringing toxic drugs into our community, we are going to hold you accountable.”

Kinew also repeated a pledge to get rid of chronic homelessness within two terms of government, but revealed on Thursday it would cost $20 million annually. He said his government would connect individuals who’ve been without a home for six weeks or longer with the necessary housing and mental health supports. 

Kinew said the government would work with non-profits and private landlords to find people without a home a place to stay. He said the province will need the help because it isn’t realistic for the government to rely fully on the social housing that exists. 

“The expectation in this province should be that if you’re on the streets, by the time it hits six weeks, we will have found you, we will have connected you and we will have begun to provide the supports that you need to turn your life around for the better.”

WATCH | Wab Kinew says much of Manitoba is lacking in police officers:

NDP leader says there aren’t enough cops in Manitoba

11 hours ago

Duration 0:31

NDP Leader Wab Kinew says he personally believes there aren’t enough police officers throughout Manitoba. An NDP government would be open to hiring more police officers if law enforcement believes it is necessary, he said.

The five-point plan doesn’t comment on the number of police officers the NDP believes are necessary, but Kinew told reporters he’d bolster the policing ranks if necessary.

“I would support that if that’s what law enforcement says is necessary,” Kinew said.

He said much of Winnipeg doesn’t have enough officers to patrol its streets, while rural Manitoba and First Nations communities are dealing with staffing vacancies. 

University of Winnipeg criminologist Frank Cormier figures the NDP may have pleasantly surprised some voters by stressing it would be “tough on crime,” the type of messaging usually sprouted by more right-leaning parties. 

But “some more hardcore NDP supporters might be a little bit turned off by using that tough-on-crime language, and by perhaps even floating the idea that hiring more police is the way to go.”

Caucasian man with grey hair and blue eyes wearing a suit and green tie, standing in front of a bookcase.
University of Manitoba criminology professor Frank Cormier said the tough on crime rhetoric doesn’t necessarily translate into safer communities. (Submitted by Frank Cormier)

In his eyes, tinkering with legislation or policing numbers isn’t a long-term solution since the drivers of crime are “very large, very difficult and very costly social issues.” 

Fewer people would turn to crime if they weren’t facing dire economic circumstances, or hadn’t turned to drugs or alcohol, he said. 

Police response times slow in suburb: resident

Sally Hamilton, who hosted the announcement on her front lawn in the Riel constituency, is one NDP supporter who sees more police as part of the solution. 

One of her adult sons was mugged in broad daylight five years ago, in a suburb perceived to be fairly safe.

“I just find there’s not enough of them,” Hamilton said of police officers. 

“One time they came at 3 in the morning and it happened at 5 at night,” she added. “Granted, it’s not life or death, I understand that, but still, it’s important to us.”  

Progressive Conservative MLA Kelvin Goertzen argued the NDP is promising measures the Tories are doing now in government. 

He said civil forfeiture legislation already gives Manitoba the means of asking questions about how property has been acquired.

“These amendments, coupled with the expansion of the criminal property forfeiture branch to include money laundering investigators and a senior accountant, will further help to suppress crime by removing the working capital and tools of criminal enterprises,” Goertzen said.

The party is promising to release more details about its crime strategy closer to the election, Goertzen said.

Last month, the governing PCs pledged 24 new officers and 75 more closed-circuit cameras for downtown Winnipeg.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said his party is the only one that’s walked the talk regarding crime.

His party has advocated for the creation of halfway houses, called for an inquiry into the construction of the Winnipeg Police Service headquarters and demanded an outside review of why disgraced fashion mogul Peter Nygard wasn’t arrested in Manitoba, which has since happened.  

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