In the early 1960’s Mick Jagger and Keith Richard wrote, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you find you get what you need”. Although the words were written some 50 years ago, one can find some relevance to the current argument about whether or not police in Winnipeg need a helicopter, serving as they do, to underscore the difference between wants and needs.
At a personal level the utilization of our own resources gives us the freedom to indulge ourselves in terms of what we want. They are our resources, not public resources and the individual is the ultimate decision maker on how those resources should be spent or allocated.
In the public realm the expenditure of public monies must involve a careful examination of ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. In terms of Winnipeg, should the police feel that they currently are not able to fulfill their mandate unless they have the use of a helicopter, then they may be able to make the argument that they ‘need’ a helicopter. If, on the other hand, they are executing the fulfillment of their mandate and a helicopter would simply enhance their ability to do so, then it becomes a ‘want’ versus a need.
At both the individual and organizational level, things we want are usually justified on an emotional basis and supported by anecdotes. Needs on the other hand are justified based on logic, reason and factual proof. Phrases like “it would be a huge benefit” or “it could be used to locate missing elderly people in Assiniboine Forest” or “ it’s the right thing to do” and even “it’s as good as 18 officers on the ground;” and “it could be used to put a sniper on a roof” do not reflect deep thought from our deep thinkers.
Where is the beef? Where is the report being prepared by the Winnipeg Police Service, the report that was supposed to be released months ago?
Things that are asked for because they are needed are backed by factual information that can be used to reach a logical conclusion and justify the decision made. One can only hope that the police helicopter report will be brought to bear before the funding decision is made.
It is the role of the police to prove the effectiveness of helicopters to those who control the purse strings. And the proof should consist of more than simple anecdotes from police agencies that have a helicopter or companies trying to sell helicopters. It should consist of more than just examples of things a helicopter could be used for. The proof needs to be in the form of outcomes, end results that can be attributed to a helicopter. Results must be evidence based.
Politicians must be prepared to ask the pertinent and at times tough questions. We need politicians who are prepared to be objective and who insist on seeing the proof even if they personally support a proposal. What we need are politicians who are willing to determine objectively whether a helicopter is a ‘want ‘or a ‘need’. That is their fiduciary responsibility when spending taxpayers’ public dollars.
If any civic department comes before their Standing Committee or Executive Policy Committee (EPC) and is able to prove that in order to fulfill their mandate (which is set by council), they require additional or different resources or policies, the decision makers have three choices: fund the request or approve the policy change being sought; change the mandate; or, allow the department to flounder knowing they will be unable to fulfil their mandate with their existing resources or under existing polices.
Leaving funding for a helicopter out of the first draft of the capital budget may mean that the mayor and EPC have decided it’s a want and not a need. On the other hand it may simply be an astute political move. From a strategic standpoint, by not including the funding, the mayor and EPC provide themselves with an opportunity to gauge the response on the issue without incurring any political heat or backlash. The process provides for enough wiggle room for helicopter funding to be added later in the process. It’s always easier to add something to a draft budget than to remove something. Anything removed from a budget, even a draft, is seen as a promise broken. Anything added is seen as being responsive to the will of supporters.
If logic and reason prevail, the decision will be based on facts. If ‘we want what Calgary has or what Edmonton has’ is the mentality that prevails, don’t be surprised to see funding for a whirlybird in the budget when it’s finalized in December – with or without a formal report on the study conducted by police.
The facts might only confuse the issue.