Police resources stretched thin due to pandemic-era protests: police chief

Winnipeg police are being stretched thin because of pandemic era protests.

The number of rallies, like the one outside Winnipeg’s Health Science’s Centre last week, are growing exponentially.

“What we’re seeing now is that we’re learning about protests and marches almost daily, for sure weekly,” said Chief Danny Smyth in a presentation to the Winnipeg Police Board. The service says the number of events like this has skyrocketed, some peaceful, others more volatile.

Police say in a normal year the service would respond to 12 to 15 planned rallies and protests.

In 2021 there have already been 110.

Social Justice marches and rallies have been held, including ones to honour children of residential schools.

However, police say an estimated 40 per cent of the events are anti-mask and anti-vaccine gatherings.

“That is indicative of the times that we’re living in now, pandemic, the rise of social justice movements,” said Police Board Chair Markus Chambers.

Smyth says the crowd management unit is usually tasked with responding to these events, but he says the community support unit and general patrol officers are now having to step in as well.

“I heard feedback from our own members who at times have felt a little overwhelmed by these things, you know we’re listening to what they’re telling us, we’re looking at doing some training with them,” said Smyth. Police are also having to make response decisions on the fly about many of these protests and rallies, as word of an event quickly springs up on social media with little notice.

“Our worst fear would be to underestimate something and then find hundreds or thousands of people showing up,” said Smyth. Chambers added people are able to gather quickly now thanks to the internet. Smyth says they’re learning from each protest or march on how to handle the next one, including the hospital protest.

“The units on scene quickly asked for backup so it’s fair to say there were more people there than we anticipated would show up,” said Smyth. The Chief also noted other events like the Summer Solstice March and the Israeli-Palestinian protest.