Brandon Police Service Chief Keith Atkinson showed off some of the new crime-fighting equipment purchased from the disposal of property seized under the Criminal Property Forfeiture Act Thursday at the new downtown police station.
With Manitoba Attorney General Andrew Swan looking on, Atkinson said that the $18,000 headed to Brandon and area is a significant boost to the safety of the city’s police force as well as the Rivers Police Service, which will also receive equipment and training from the grant announced Thursday.
This year, the local police service added to its crime lab capabilities with a new, larger fingerprint chamber that allows a Krazy Glue-like material to be used to recover fingerprints from evidence more quickly and with more automated features than the existing equipment in the identification unit’s arsenal.
"We can heat this chemical up and the fumes go up and because its sticky, it will stick to hard-to-fingerprint items," Atkinson said. "We need a safe place to do this, and we have one right now that’s small and quite old. This one is state-of-the-art and larger. It will fit in with our other equipment quite nicely."
Last year, the Brandon Police Service bought a protective shield made of ballistics proof material that looks like a "bat shield." The shield also includes an LED lamp on the front and adds to officer safety, Atkinson said.
"The shield itself is a very valuable piece of protective equipment for our technical response team," Atkinson said. "We all know that violence is always present in any society and there are a lot of guns out there. We have made gun seizures in the past and continue to do so. The likelihood of firearms being part of an incident is a realistic possibility. We need to take every means possible to protect our members’ safety."
An infrared thermal imaging camera was also part of last year’s equipment purchases.
"It can detect anyone who’s in a wooded area at night and it puts our officers and canine units at less risk," Atkinson said. "If they are trying to get someone that’s armed in (the wooded area), instead of going into the bush, or sending a dog in there, we can use that piece of equipment to see where they are and how to get them."
Swan said the legislation that allows government to seize property such as houses, cars, boats, cash, gold, "takes money away from people that endanger our communities whether its through operating a grow op or selling drugs or committing other illegal acts."
To date, the province has seized $3.1 million worth of property, which is then disposed of through public auctions with the proceeds being shared with victims of crimes and police forces. Swan asked police services to come up with ideas on how that money could be spent to fight crime.
Swan said the provincial program to seize property from criminals has been running for two years now and there was changes to the law last year.
"It’s easier to do the forfeitures now if nobody opposes or has any valid reason why they should be able to hold on to their property," Swan said.
Brandon West MLA Reg Helwer, the Progressive Conservative’s justice critic, said while it’s helpful to put the seized proceeds of crime back into police forces, the approximately $50 million in unpaid fines outstanding to the government also represents a problem that needs attention.
"They need to pay more attention to what’s happening rather than on knee-jerk reactions," Helwer said.
Swan disputed the opposition party’s stance on crime.
"The Conservatives spoke against the (property forfeiture law), saying it wouldn’t do anything for public safety," Swan said. "Every time we do one of these announcements, we show how wrong they are. In terms of fine collection, we take the outstanding fines seriously. …Last year, we collected $10.5 million in delinquent fines in addition to the $40 million Manitobans paid voluntarily. The last year the Conservatives were in power, they collected $115,000 in outstanding fines. We aren’t perfect, but we are 90-times better than the Conservatives."
Helwer said that a government that’s been in power for 13 years only has itself to blame for its shortcomings.
"Some of these fines have been outstanding for 12 years, so what’s the problem?" Helwer said. "Can they not find a collections agency that will work for them in Manitoba? Have they not been in power for 13 years? I think it’s time they were responsible for their own actions."