Safety and security in downtown Winnipeg

Downtown BIZ acts as an extra eye and ear for Winnipeg Police Service

  • The Downtown BIZ patrol consists of both watch ambassadors and outreach patrol. Although these volunteers are not considered actual security, they provide active support for those working and living downtown. – David Seburn

Downtown residents and workers have surely noted the presence of uniformed men and women on patrol. Whether they are police officers, private security or the red-jacketed Downtown Business Improvement Zone (BIZ) Patrol, some may be unaware of the roles, responsibilities and differences of each group.

The Downtown BIZ patrols are broken into two categories: watch ambassadors and outreach patrol. The BIZ currently has 133 volunteers, 10 outreach patrol, as well as 14 watch ambassadors.

The watch ambassadors have been walking downtown Winnipeg streets since 1995. Their job is a goodwill service, providing directions, tourist information and emergency assistance, including first aid.

The outreach patrol are different in that they have the power to arrest publicly-intoxicated individuals.

Outreach staff begin as volunteers, said Stefano Grande, executive director of the Downtown BIZ. The best volunteers will get hired as watch ambassadors, and the best watch ambassadors are promoted to outreach officers and receive a two-week training course at the Winnipeg Police Academy.

Downtown BIZ volunteer positions “attract primarily individuals who have aspirations of getting into the fields of law enforcement or social justice,” said Grande.

Grande estimates that six to 12 BIZ patrols per year go on to join the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) or Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

The ground covered by the BIZ is contained by Higgins Avenue to the north, the Osborne Street bridge to the south, Main Street to the east and Spence Street to the west. This territory crosses zones with some private security jurisdiction, such as Portage Place Shopping Centre and the University of Winnipeg (U of W).

“We have a good working relationship with the Downtown and West End BIZ,” said Chris Rarick, acting director of security services at the U of W. “We’re right at their two borders on Spence Street, so both overlap. The Downtown BIZ actually helps us out a lot because of their outreach program.”

U of W security calls the outreach workers at the Downtown BIZ for intoxicated individuals when necessary, according to Rarick.

“They don’t engage in any kind of physical activity unless it’s quite serious and they have to defend themselves,” said Grande.

Grande also emphasizes that the outreach officers are not security.

“I know having people walk around in red uniforms with all the good things that we’re doing around safety probably creates that impression that we’re security, but really we’re anything but security,” he said.

Despite not actually working as security guards, some local residents consider the BIZ’s presence a much-needed one.

Jazmin Villalta is a downtown resident who recently moved from West Broadway to the city’s West End.

“I do feel safer,” Villalta said about the presence of the BIZ patrol. “More so in the sense that I know if I’m walking home from work, I’d feel more comfortable just knowing that if something happens, it’s their job to call it in.”

The red jackets of the BIZ patrol have become a symbol of safety for her.

“Especially at nighttime, if I see them up ahead, I’ll follow their path,” Villalta said.

Published in Volume 64, Number 24 of The Uniter (March 25, 2010)

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