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‘We have to respond with compassion’: Safety top of mind for downtown Winnipeg employees

When lawyer Evan Chrusch has to work downtown five days a week, he considers personal safety.

“I feel myself, and probably others look over your shoulder a little more than you did maybe 10 or so years ago,” he said, “People are probably going to be a little less willing to do something bad if there’s a lot of people around.”

In this multi-part series, CTV News Winnipeg surveyed four downtown employers about work-life after the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the number of people returning to downtown rises, the trend in crime has followed.

According to the 2023 numbers from the Winnipeg Police Statistical Report, all crime in the downtown area has increased by 15.1 percent over the last five years, while violent crime is nearly double that number, at 30.1 percent.

“If you see somebody on the street, under the influence of drugs, having a fist fight with an imaginary person, we need to take them off of the street in the name of public safety before they cause more problems to themselves and to others,” said Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew on Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning, the province announced an investment of $1.5 million to form a downtown safety action plan. Many violent incidents have their roots in addiction. The Downtown Community Safety Partnership (DCSP) will receive 435 million in funds to continue connecting people to services through their patrol program. 

“When somebody is dealing with addictions, we have to respond with compassion and an approach that is grounded in health care,” Kinew said.

READ MORE: Downtown Winnipeg business flourishes despite COVID-19 pandemic

Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham echoed that, saying the goal is to get people the help they need. 

“We are today announcing our efforts to assist those and get those individuals off the street who are in the midst of a meth psychosis or mental health issue,” said Gillingham, “It’s not just about taking people away and putting them somewhere with no help.”

On Tuesday, the province announced an investment of $1.5 million towards a downtown safety action plan. Members from the City of Winnipeg, Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, N’Dinawemak and Downtown Community Safety Partnership joined the province to make the announcement. (Jamie Dowsett/CTV News Winnipeg)

Matt Halchakar, DCSP’s Director of Operations, said the service provided 716 wellness checks, consulted businesses 190 times, and deployed naloxone seven times in June 2023 alone. Since April 2020, they’ve provided 1,500 courtesy walks. 

“Our stats show that they’re just really showing our presence being available for the community to call us when needed,” he said.

 Mayor Gillingham said other partners must step up if crime continues to rise.

“We need the federal government to reform bail laws,” Gillingham said, “We can’t have people out on the streets, out on bail, recommitting crime while breaching the court orders. Whether you’re five years old or 95 years old, we have a job to make downtown safe.”

Tim Taylor, a partner at Tapper Cuddy LLP, said a safer downtown depends on more office workers.

“The more people who are downtown, the better it feels,” Taylor said, “I like the idea of the employers mandating greater time at the office.”

READ MORE: Thousands of workers return to downtown Winnipeg offices

READ MORE: Hybrid remote work schedules here to stay for Downtown Winnipeg

Chrusch and Taylor said things appear to be going in the right direction, but only time will tell if more people feel safer on our downtown Winnipeg streets.

If you have a story you would like to share about working, living, or visiting downtown, get in touch with me at joseph.bernacki@bellmedia.ca

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