Uniformed officers could soon be patrolling your neighbourhood, whether it be Osborne Village or St. Boniface, in an attempt to further crack down on public intoxication and substance abuse in the city.
“People who are intoxicated know no boundaries,” said Stefano Grande, executive director of the Downtown BIZ.
Although many neighbourhoods have volunteer BIZ walkers, the Downtown BIZ would like to expand their Outreach Patrol Program, which gives BIZ officers special constable status to transport and detain publicly intoxicated individuals, into neighbourhoods within walking distance of the Downtown.
“The boundaries of the program need to be delineated by the need,” Grande said.
The Outreach Patrol Program began in 2006 as a four-year pilot project funded by the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government. The pilot project ended in December 2009 and is now being maintained by a $250,000 grant from the provincial government, the City of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority until the end of this year.
However, the new funding came with some major strings attached, which has precipitated the call from other BIZ districts for an expansion of the program in 2011.
“Up until the beginning of this year, they (Downtown Outreach patrols) were able to come into our area,” Brian Timmerman, executive director of the Exchange District BIZ said. “When the pilot project ended (and the new funding began) the boundary was more closely defined by the province.”
Gloria Cardwell-Hoeppner, the executive director of the West End BIZ, confirmed that Outreach patrols are now closed in by a tightly-enforced boundary that ends at the University of Winnipeg, stops at the Exchange and only extends up Main Street until reaching Higgins Avenue.
Neighbourhoods outside of the immediate downtown are now being deprived of their “essential” services, she said.
According to both Cardwell-Hoeppner and Timmerman, however, public intoxication in the Exchange and the West End has not substantially increased despite the crackdown in the Downtown.
Instead, the problem has migrated into more unlikely areas of the city.
“There has been an absolute increase (in public intoxication) along Provencher Avenue (in St. Boniface),” Anne-Marie Thibert, administrator for the Provencher Avenue BIZ said. “With the crackdown downtown, everyone is being displaced.”
Parc Joseph Royal, which borders the Red River and extends under the Provencher Bridge, has become a hotbed for substance abuse flowing in from the Downtown and no one from the area will go near it, she said.
“There’s been a big increase in the homeless population generally,” said Oai Truong, chair of the Provencher BIZ and a St. Boniface business owner who has lived in the area for 10 years. “They’re looking for enclosed areas and they can just cross the bridge to get there.”
In addition to the renewal of Outreach Patrol Program funding and the possible expansion of the program next year, there have been other significant efforts by the city and provincial government to tackle public intoxication downtown including recent plans to buy out inner-city hotels and their liquor licenses.
Timmerman of the Exchange District BIZ, although in favour of patrols and regulation, believes these measures should be accompanied by strong social services.
“You need some kind of community or social support – if you take away their source (of liquor) at the Woodbine Hotel they’re just going to go down the block ... the Outreach program is still a reactionary tool,” he said. “It’s great for us, not so much for the neighbourhood they move into.”
Both Justice Minister Andrew Swan and Winnipeg Police Chief Keith McCaskill are in favour of an expansion of the Outreach Patrol Program beyond its current boundaries, Stefano Grande said in an August interview.
The province did not respond to requests for an interview and no one from the Winnipeg Police Service was available for comment before press time.
Published in Volume 65, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 9, 2010)