What do you do when a burglar breaks into your home?

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(And other questions about personal and home safety)
An interview with Patrol Sergeant Phil Penner of the Community Relations Unit of the Winnipeg Police Service

English Online (EO): Are there areas in Winnipeg with more crime?
Patrol Sergeant Phil Penner (PP):
Winnipeg is a safe place. But there are areas that have higher crime. They are called hotspots. We send more resources to hotspots.

We collect crime statistics using the SPI System (Smart Policing Initiative). We find out why there is a higher crime rate at this time. We also study the issues and concerns for that area. We carry out projects to reduce crime in the hotspots. This has been successful in reducing crime.

EO: What are the most common crimes in Winnipeg?
Property crimes are the most common. For example, shoplifting or breaking into a shed and taking a bike. There is a higher number of thefts from cars. Thieves take property left by a person in their car by smashing a window if the car is locked.

EO: Are there more thefts in the summer?
Yes. There is an increase from spring through summer until fall. We send out reminders to everyone in the springtime. We tell people to lock their front door if they are in the backyard. Or lock your back door if they are in the front yard. Don’t leave doors or windows open. Thieves may come in quickly. They could grab your car keys, wallet, TV, or laptop, while you are in your backyard.

EO: How do you keep yourself safe when walking outside, especially at night?
Take off headphones when walking outside. Don’t use your cellphone. You need to hear if someone is behind you. Be aware of what is going on in your surroundings. Walk confidently and look at where you are going.

Tell someone where and when you’re going. Let them know what time you should be home. That person can call to check up on you. Listen to your gut instincts. If you feel that something’s not right:

  • turn around. Go the other way.
  • go into an open store.
  • get inside a bus. You’ll be safe. Ask a bus driver to help you.

Be aware of your surroundings at all times and always be alert.

Personal robbery prevention tips with Police Sergeant Phil Penner

EO: Can I hurt an intruder inside my home? What does “reasonable use of force” mean?
The law says that you can defend yourself, your family and your property if someone comes into your home. The use of reasonable force means doing what is necessary for the situation. You have to explain why you used the amount of force you used. For example:

  • Two burglars break-in. They have weapons and you are alone. Using more force is reasonable because they are armed and there’s more than one person.
  • The thief is a young kid who is unarmed. You are three times his size. Using a lot of force does not make sense. You may have to answer to that in court.
  • You scared off an intruder. The thief is running away. You run after the intruder and catch them. You continue to hurt the intruder in some way. You will have to explain why you did it.

Protect yourself. What is reasonable depends on the situation. You would have to explain your actions in those circumstances.

EO: What do you do when there is an intruder at the door?
Get your kids and go out the back door if someone is trying to come in. Thieves can break-in and take property. Property can be replaced. You don’t know if they have weapons. You don’t know if they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It will be better to leave.

Call the police. Run outside to a safe place. In a robbery or assault on the street:

  • Give the thief your wallet, watch or any property when asked.
  • Don’t fight.
  • It is not worth getting hurt for.
  • Property can be replaced.
  • Get a good description of the thief.
  • Contact the police or call 911.

The police will respond to it as a high priority. They will come and take a report and get the description of the thief. They will also check video cameras in the area and find out who it is. They will catch the person.

EO: Is reporting a crime important?
If nobody reported a crime, the police will not know. They will not be able to send resources to that area. The SPI needs reports to pinpoint the hotspots in the city. That’s why it’s important to report a crime, even small ones. Reporting a crime is needed to prevent them.

You can report a crime online. Non-emergency crimes can be reported at Online Report. Let the police know. We will do something about it.

EO: What should a newcomer do when someone says racial slurs or does racially discriminatory actions?
Walk away if it’s non-threatening. You don’t know what that the other person’s intentions are. They could have weapons. Confronting them could lead to assault. It can encourage further threats to happen. Call 911 if they say “I’m going to beat you up” or “I’m going to punch you.” It’s a criminal offense to threaten somebody’s life.

Get a description of the person. We will investigate it. We also investigate racially offensive online posts. This is a hate crime. Hate crimes are taken very seriously.

EO: How can you prevent being a victim of a crime?
Property crimes are called crimes of opportunity. You reduce crime when you take away the opportunity. Don’t leave things outside on your yard. Thieves can grab them. Keep your garage door closed. Lock your main doors. Get solid doors with good locks and deadbolts.

Lighting is important. Criminals don’t want to be seen and they don’t want to be heard. Buy motion sensor lights. Turn them on in the evenings and through the night.

Use the Personal Safety in the Home checklist.

EO: Are there programs in the city for newcomers to know more about personal and home protection and safety?
The Community Relations Unit has eight or nine presentations on personal and home safety tips and crime trends. We can visit your group (minimum of 10 people). We answer questions during the presentation or via email.

Send a request four to six weeks before the day of the presentation. We want to tell newcomers that we’re here to talk to them and help them. They can always go to us. They should say “hi” if they see a policeman on the street.

(Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity)

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Community Resources

Go to Winnipeg Police Service Crime Prevention to get more tips.

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