When the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) unveiled its new armoured vehicle this past June, it was met with both skepticism and mockery. After all, the $342,800 Gurkha MPV, manufactured by Terradyne Armoured Vehicles, appears severely out of place cruising the streets of Winnipeg with its multiple gun ports and optional rotating turret.
The acquisition didn’t exactly help quell the concerns of those who had their eyes on cities such as Ferguson, Baltimore or Toronto, which have experienced the brutality of reactionary police forces with military-style arsenals.
Nor does it seem to align well with the WPS’s own strategy of embracing community engagement. It’s difficult to see how the cops can foster healthy relationships from behind ballistics-grade armour.
It also raises the question, “Is this really necessary?”
Perhaps the purchase wouldn’t be so questionable if the Gurkha was the only new toy for the WPS, but they’re also in the process of acquiring a new thermal imaging camera for the Air1 helicopter at an estimated price tag of $560,000.
For a service touting its successful inroads in community policing, it seems as though their tech is geared toward enforcement from a distance.
It’s not as if the WPS is in a good position to frivolously shell out for new tech. Despite an unprecedented rise in allocated funds, their operating budget is running a deficit.
In a series of reports, CBC Manitoba revealed “the Winnipeg Police Service’s share of the overall municipal budget has increased by nearly 60 per cent over the past decade and a half, a period during which crime rates in the city have been in sharp decline.”
Police claim this increase is due to an influx of calls to 911 and their non-emergency line. CBC reported that “dispatched calls for service are up over 30 per cent with increasing calls for non-criminal matters like runaways, people in crisis, disturbances, noise complaints and people who are intoxicated or have addictions.”
But is this really unique to Winnipeg? Based on budgets alone, that would seem to be the case. Winnipeg’s police budget represents a higher percentage of overall spending than any other similarly sized Canadian city, since 26.6 per cent of Winnipeg’s estimated operating budget is set to go towards the WPS, compared to the 14.8 percent Edmonton has allocated.
Assuming that an increased demand for services is the cause, it would be in Winnipeg’s best interest to scale back the number of officers in favour of a greater commitment to community outreach organizations such as Main Street Project, Bear Clan Patrol and Sage House.
Do we really need an overstaffed, militarized police force to respond to these supposedly non-criminal matters? Would it not make more sense to redirect cash towards community organizations that are committed to conflict resolution, addictions counselling and mental health services?
Perhaps what Winnipeg needs is a shift in consciousness. Instead of relying on the police to ensure our constant safety, we ought to be striving towards community self-reliance, with a foundation in justice and equity.
Greg Gallinger is a Treaty One-based photographer, anarchist and co-host of Radio Free Winnipeg on CKUW.