The long-awaited $75,000.00 helicopter report hit the table of the Standing Policy Committee on Protection and Community Services on January 11th 2010. Despite the fact that it has been in the works for over six months, it was late in getting there and required a suspension of the rules in order for it to be considered by the Committee.
Let’s try to imagine for a moment what the discussion would have looked like if the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS)helicopter proposal had been brought before the popular television show, “Dragon’s Den”, instead of Standing Committee:
WPS: “Good morning Dragons. The WPS is seeking approval for the creation of a Flight Operations Unit. Other people wiser than you (with access to lots of money) have already decided it’s a good idea and have set aside 3.4 million dollars in the capital budget to purchase a helicopter and build a hangar. Even wiser people (and with even more money) are looking at funding the 1.3 million dollar annual operating cost of the unit.”
Dragon 1: “So let me get this straight. You are not here asking for the money. You are actually asking us to sanction the creation of a Unit within the Police Service so that you can then spend the 3.4 million dollars that has already been set aside?”
WPS: “Well yes, the decision has already been made but if you sanction the creation of the Unit it will make it easier for us to talk the Province into giving us the 1.3 million dollar annual operating cost.”
Dragon 2: “Just so that I understand – the City will incur a one time expenditure of 3.4 million for a helicopter that has a life span of, say, 10 years and the Province will pick up operating costs of between 11 and 15 million dollars over that period?”
WPS: “Well… I guess when it comes right down to it, yes, that is what the numbers say.”
Dragon 3: “That sounds like a pretty sweet deal for the City. How do you plan on talking the province into that one?”
WPS: “Once we get your approval it shouldn’t be too difficult. Since the Province announced a willingness to negotiate a funding agreement in the Throne Speech, we’ve already got one foot in the door. Besides, this isn’t an economic decision, it’s political.”
Dragon 4: “You’re in the wrong place; you should be next door in front of Standing Committee on Protection and Community Services. We only deal with proposals that involve a potential positive return on investment. Our concern is the bottom line, not politics.”
Dragon 5: “But seeing as we have reviewed your proposal, why don’t we ask you a few questions. It might be a good learning experience for you in the event you ever have to sell a proposal on its economic merit; you know, a proposal that involves an actual cost /benefit analysis. Why don’t we pretend you are asking us for the money and we’ll ask you some of the questions we would ask people who ask us to invest our money in their proposals.”
Dragon 1: “That’s a great idea. I’ll begin. Your report says that a helicopter has the potential to save the Police Service money. You mention reducing the amount of damage caused to patrol units during vehicle pursuits which right now is costing you $400,000.00 per year. How much do you anticipate you will save in that area alone?”
WPS: “We haven’t actually come up with a number.”
Dragon 1: “I’m sure you must have looked at the vehicle damage costs in jurisdictions that currently operate helicopters. You must know what their costs are. How much could you save – 50%? Say, $200,000.00?”
WPS: “Well perhaps, but we really haven’t run the numbers on that.”
Dragon 1: “You should have. I’ll tell you what; I’ll give you 3.2 million dollars if you agree to make up the remaining 200 thousand from your existing budget based on anticipated savings. Deal?”
WPS: “Actually, we were not planning on using existing budget to fund any of this cost – we were hoping to get all new money for this. We are not prepared to put any real dollar savings on the table.”
Dragon 1: “And for that reason, I’m out.”
Dragon 2: “Maybe I can make a deal with you. In your report you mention a number of scenarios that could yield opportunity savings, in terms of freeing up patrol units. It you can show me a detailed report that shows projected flight times, a list of the types of incidents that the helicopter will be deployed to, and an estimate of the potential opportunity savings in terms of hours and how those savings will be invested, I’ll fund you.”
WPS: “That report has not been prepared yet.”
Dragon 2: “For that reason I’m out.”
Dragon 3: “Let’s try to make a deal on investing opportunity savings from another angle. You indicate that the Service is involved in approximately 1,825 ‘containment’ operations annually and that having a helicopter would free up patrol units to perform other duties. You also mention several other scenarios where patrol units would be freed up. Here’s my deal: You make an estimate as to the total number of hours of patrol time that would be freed up service wide, and use that amount of time as an opportunity saving to attack the chronic issue of slow response times to high priority calls by setting a goal for response time reduction, and I’ll give you the money.”
WPS: “We can’t do that because we have not run those numbers and are not prepared to commit ourselves to measurable goals that could be difficult to achieve.”
Dragon 3: “And for that reason I’m out.”
Dragon 4: “I was going to go down the research road and ask you about cherry picking quotes from studies that support your position. Research is intended to present both sides of the argument on the issue being researched. I’m no longer convinced that is your interest. The last quote at the bottom of page 10 says it all and I’ll just paraphrase here: ‘Don’t think of a helicopter as a tool to achieve specific results, think of it rather as a nice thing to have in and of itself.’
Dragon 5: “What about me, don’t I get a shot at this?”
Other Dragons: “Go ahead.”
Dragon 5: “I don’t think this is going to fly. I’m out.”
Back to reality: The WPS has brought their proposal before Standing Committee on Protection and Community Services. It was quickly rubber stamped and sent on to EPC. There, another rubber stamp is poised to apply the ‘approved’ label. Then it’s off to council for a vote by the same group that already tucked the 3.4 million into the capital budget.
And next, its off to Broadway.
What would happen if the Province offered to buy the city a helicopter and made the City responsible for the operating costs? Isn’t that how deals between different levels of government are usually structured? The senior level provides capital funding, the level delivering the service covers the operating cost.