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With the recent increase in violent crime in Winnipeg, especially as a result of the influence of methamphetamines, will policing practices need to change?

According to University of Winnipeg professor of criminal justice Dr. Michael Weinrath, the answer is no.

"It shouldn't be affected," he states. "You go in as a police officer and you have to size up the situation. If you don't think the person is responding to your verbal commands... to de-escalate, you're going to have to make the decision that you're going to have to physically take the individual down or use more serious force."

Regardless of the outcome of the situation, it is always necessary to go through the steps as outlined by use of force protocol when assessing the level of retaliation required by a situation, says Weinrath, whether or not the individual is under the influence of an illegal substance.

Use of force protocol provides steps for police to de-escalate situations using the least amount of physical force possible, given the scenario at hand. Talking to the individual in question and issuing a warning typically act as the first few steps in this process; however, the higher the threat of violence and the more unpredictable the individual, the more likely the chance that a higher level of reactive force will become necessary.

"You're not really allowed to use force or deadly force unless as a police officer, you feel you're in danger of being injured or killed," Weinrath says.

When a situation that is obviously dangerous at first sight arises, though, police won't have time to think of the mental state of the individuals.

"When someone is impaired and they won't follow your instructions or if they're highly paranoid and agitated, they may even react prior to issuing a warning," explains Weinrath. "You're going to be a lot more cautious and quicker to use more serious force in de-escalating that situation."

In these circumstances, the focus of the police must be on what steps they must take to protect both themselves and the general public.

The use of methamphetamines and other opioids do not change the responsibility that police have to protect Winnipeggers from violent situations, nor their responsibility to take appropriate steps in determining the level of force to use in a confrontation, Weinrath advises.

"You have to remember that the police are the only entity in society aside from the military who we've given use of force to as citizens... and we also expect them not to misuse that authority."

While police may be encountering more impaired individuals, the professor reminds us that violent crime as the result of drug influence is nothing new.

"I would be cautious," Weinrath says. "There's always been danger to police and others from heavily intoxicated, aggressive individuals... on the one hand, if we have a lot of people who are using meth, and a lot of people who are agitated, certainly that's a concern for police. But on the other hand, I think that in any given situation, police have the responsibility to assess the situation and determine what, if any, force is required, and go through the proper steps to de-escalate the situation."

It's an issue that will never be completely cut-and-dry. Police alone can't solve all the problems that our city and our country face, reminds Weinrath. Further measures beyond simple police force, as well, are necessary to counteract the root of the issues we're hearing about and experiencing each day.

"Yes we'll have to use policing and incarceration and arrests in some cases, but it would be nice to see more effort by our provincial government in putting more resources in addictions services.

"The police can't arrest everyone. We need to invest in some treatment and some prevention as well."

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