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Winnipeg Police Service


Crime Prevention > Auto Theft Prevention

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Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy (WATSS)

In 2005 the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) partnered with Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) and Manitoba Justice (Youth Correctional Services and Prosecutions) in the Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy (WATSS).

The goal of the Strategy is to reduce auto theft in Winnipeg committed by youth offenders. Resources are also utilized for some adult auto theft offenders. WATSS is funded directly by MPI which pays for Probation and Prosecution resources. The WPS also receives separate funding from MPI and the Province of Manitoba for positions within the Stolen Auto Unit. The WPS Stolen Auto Unit is heavily involved in the WATSS initiative and plays an important role within the partnership. Within WATSS, the youth are divided into four risk categories ranging from Level 1 (At Risk Youth) to Level 4 (High Risk Offenders). Level 4 Offenders pose the greatest risk to public safety and receive the greatest amount of attention from police, probation, and prosecutions.

This multi-agency approach has made very significant inroads into the fight against auto theft in Winnipeg. Through the end of 2011, auto theft in Winnipeg has been reduced by approximately 86% compared to 2004 (the final pre-WATSS year). Auto theft has now decreased for 38 consecutive months compared to the same month of the previous year. Auto theft rates have now reached their lowest levels in the past 17 years and the goal is to create further reductions. Any stolen vehicle has the potential to cause a tragedy and fewer stolen vehicles on the roads reduce the potential risk to the public. The WATSS initiative has demonstrated that auto theft rates decline when high risk offenders are in custody or heavily monitored once they are back in the community.

These reductions have been achieved due to a highly integrated approach encompassing prevention, intervention, and enforcement efforts. In October 2008 these efforts received national attention when the Ottawa-based Conference Board of Canada released a study that looked at the auto theft reductions in Winnipeg. The Strategy was viewed as a model for crime reduction in Canada. In 2009 the WATSS initiative was globally recognized and was one of six finalists selected for the Herman Goldstein Award for excellence in problem-oriented policing. The last time a Canadian submission was selected as a finalist was back in 2002. In 2010 the WATSS initiative was yet again recognized for two awards from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) which consists of more than 20,000 members in 89 countries. The first award being the Webber Seavey Award for Quality in Law Enforcement and the second being the International Association of Chiefs of Police Vehicle Theft Award of Merit given for auto theft prevention and enforcement.

There are approximately 100 Level 4 Offenders in the program. Typically around 50% are in custody at any given time and many are re-arrested during the course of a year. There are also greater than 50 Level 3ís, females, and adult WATSS offenders combined. The Winnipeg Police Service provides the enforcement component for the Strategy and the Stolen Auto Unit works closely with Probation Services and two designated Auto Theft Crowns. The WATSS offenders are heavily monitored by Probation and the WPS. If they commit new auto theft offences or breach their court ordered conditions, they are arrested and returned to custody as quickly as possible. A high level of integration between the partners and expedited processes are key to WATSS efforts. It is common for auto theft to decline significantly following the arrest of one or more active Level 4 offenders.From January 2010 to November 2011 the Stolen Auto Unit has made 414 arrests not taking into account numerous other stolen auto related arrests made service-wide. The Stolen Auto Unit receives a great deal of assistance from Uniform Patrol members and other WPS units in these ongoing efforts. Find out more information on the WPS Stolen Auto Unit.

Probation staff members work closely with the Stolen Auto Unit on a daily basis. While police provide the enforcement component, Probation is highly involved with prevention and intervention efforts. Each offender is assigned to a Probation Officer and is also monitored by an Auto Theft Support Worker (ATSW) or an Intensive Support & Supervision Program worker (ISSP). The offender receives support, programming, and significant monitoring. When in the community, each Level 4 Offender will have curfew conditions ranging from absolute (24 hours/day) to specific time periods (such as 9:00 PM to 7:00 AM daily). The highest Level 4 Offenders can receive curfew checks up to every 3 hours and are also subject to further in-person and telephone checks by the police. As part of the Prosecutions component, two designated Auto Theft Crowns communicate with the Stolen Auto Unit and Probation staff on a daily basis. They receive important information about each offender in order to effectively handle bail hearings and obtain the best possible dispositions from the courts.

There is a significant amount of coordination and information sharing between all partners regarding each offender as they progress through the various stages of the system. Working groups meet on a weekly basis and an Auto Theft Task Force is in place to oversee the entire Strategy. The WATSS initiative has evolved significantly since 2005 and efforts are continuing to create further reductions.

To find out more details on the WATSS initiative visit the MPI website.


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Last update: April 9, 2010

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