Winnipeg to partner with Harvard University to find ways to reduce police demand

The city of Winnipeg is hoping to reduce the number of non-emergency calls Winnipeg police are sent to by partnering with Harvard University researchers in what they’re calling a “unique initiative.”

Called the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, the program aims to provide research and tools for city leaderships to change and grow their communities, said Mayor Brian Bowman in a release.

Winnipeg was chosen to participate in the program earlier this summer, said Bowman.

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“Our city has a tremendous opportunity over the next several months to access a host of resources and research support to help us address a challenge that’s been a key focus of the Winnipeg Police Board’s current strategic plan,” he said.

The program, run by Harvard’s Kennedy and Business Schools, as well as Bloomberg Philanthropies, is in its third year. Forty cities are taking part this year, including Mississauga, Ont.

By taking part, city administrators get access to Harvard faculty, staff and students to help the city address a “key social challenge.” Winnipeg will tackle cross-boundary collaboration, said Bowman.

“We’ve been given the opportunity to advance and improve our city’s ability to collaborate across agencies, jurisdictions, and sectors to ‘solve’ a critical social challenge of our choice,” said Bowman.

“We want to use this opportunity to help us find ways to reduce dispatch of police resources to calls for service that are not criminal in nature.”

About half the calls Winnipeg police respond to are not criminal in nature, according to the Winnipeg Police Board. Instead, many are for those in drug psychosis, mental health distress, domestic disturbances, traffic collisions or other incidents best served by social service and other agencies.

The program is “not an exercise in finding budget savings nor dictating police operations,” said Bowman.

“It is unrealistic to expect the Bloomberg Harvard initiative to eliminate root, socioeconomic and health challenges underlying many of the calls to which police officers are the initial first responders dispatched,” said Bowman.

However, he said, better understanding and collaboration may help “optimize the allocation and dispatch of police resources.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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