Downtown BIZ patrol frees up cops, emergency personnel
By CHRIS KITCHING, Winnipeg Sun
Last Updated: July 21, 2010 10:51pm
A downtown-based outreach program which has eliminated some of the strain on Winnipeg’s emergency services has been extended as its architects find a way to make it permanent.
Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone’s community outreach patrol team largely targets public intoxication, freeing up police, fire and paramedic services to deal with higher priority calls.
This has saved the city’s emergency services more than $6 million in costs and diverted almost 500 intoxicated people from Health Sciences Centre, freeing up space and reducing wait times, according to Downtown BIZ.
Patrol members help to detain people who are drunk or high and direct them to social agencies for necessities such as shelter, warm clothes, and food.
“We provide the links between the streets and available resources,” said Wraylynn Black, Downtown BIZ’s supervisor of safety programs.
Public intoxication and problems associated with it — from people urinating and defecating in public to panhandling and crime — have long been a complaint of downtown property owners.
The sight of drunk or high people staggering down streets and alleys has given the area a bad reputation.
Downtown businessman Bob Brown said he encounters it almost every day.
“It’s a continual problem for our tenants at some very specific buildings,” said Brown, president of Leon A. Brown Ltd., a property management and development company.
Downtown BIZ’s 10-member patrol team, authorized to enforce the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act, responds to more than 3,000 calls per year and has helped 10,000 people — some repeatedly — off the street since 2006, even if for just one night.
Many are addicts or have mental illnesses and are homeless or live in the city’s core.
Patrol members are usually the first contact and determine if police or paramedic involvement is necessary.
The pilot project ended Dec. 31. In the meantime, the province, city and Winnipeg Regional Health Authority have given $250,000 to extend the program to March.