Winnipeg Police Physical Fitness – Part III

Making the Argument for on duty workout time

(This was originally intended to be a 3 part series but has now been extended to 4)

 If you are the police union and you want the City to give you something you must first establish that there is a need and secondly, how it will benefit the city.

The recent attempt by the Winnipeg Police Association (WPA) to get the City to give  police officers on duty time to work out was based primarily on the argument that criminals are coming out of jails bulked up and more fit than in the past. The answer according to the WPA is to grant police officer on duty time to work out so they can match the fitness level of the criminals they deal with.

Unfortunately the union failed to provide data to support their position. Although the data probably exists in terms of prisoners weight and musculature upon entering and leaving prison it’s not likely anyone can access it. The union might have considered making its case using other data.  If indeed there is a trend, historical data on assaults against police officers, injuries sustained by police officers resulting from physical confrontations, and Workers Compensation claims would assist in factually establishing what is happening on the street. Making a blanket statement that bulked up criminals coming out of prisons is putting police officers at greater risk  is not a convincing argument without  supporting data.

To support its position the union  brought forward examples of other western Canadian cities that are granting officers on-duty work out time. They mounted a political argument in a context where political arguments (as opposed to evidence based arguments based on data) are ineffectual. They can’t really be blamed though for trying this approach. They just saw the Service use the same approach and obtain funding for a helicopter from the City.

During the helicopter debate the Service  relied heavily on political arguments and anecdotal examples to support its position. The Service cited other cities that use helicopters as a basis for why Winnipeg should get a helicopter. They relied on various quotes from police officers in other cities about how  a helicopter in the air equated to a large number of officers on the ground to bolster their argument. It seemed this was particularly appealing and persuasive for the mayor. 

However, this is not a two-way street. The City decides which issues will be allowed to sail through city hall with an assisting political tail wind, and which will be held up to scrutiny. The Service’s helicopter proposal was largely political (based on wants not needs) but the Service had a benefactor who provided the tailwind. A true economic business case was not asked for nor provided.

That won’t be the case in this instance.  The union  will be required to make a business case (an economic argument) to support its position on the paid work out issue.  They will be required to provide evidence, data, hard facts not just anecdotes. It’s definitely more difficult to make your case when as Bob Seger says you are “running against the wind”.

The last post in this series will look at the  approach the union took on this issue and will examine the differences between positional and interest based bargaining.