Fighting Crime The Sam’s Way
In his full-page ad in the October 16th issue of the Winnipeg Free Press, the self-proclaimed “Tough on Crime” Sam outlined his accomplishments during his six-year tenure as Winnipeg’s Mayor. At least two (and perhaps more) of Sam’s accomplishments were not mentioned.
The first: Closed Circuit Television in the downtown area. The Sam fails to mention this $450,000.00 vanity project. Why not? Normally when cities institute this type of program they flood the media with details about arrests that resulted from the project. They outline how the initiative has reduced crime and made the area safer. We have heard none of that which leads one to conclude that perhaps it has not had the positive impact it was meant to have in terms of preventing crime. Perhaps if you had just spent close to half a million dollars (enough money to put 5 police officers on Winnipeg streets for a year) on a failed project you would not mention it either.
The second accomplishment which has turned into an ‘unmentionable’ is truly puzzling as it was indeed a bona fide accomplishment. The introduction of Crimestat in 2007 held great promise in terms of identifying crime trends and hot spots and more importantly, directing and guiding police action. Crimestat is a tool that has proven successful in reducing crime in virtually every North American jurisdiction it has been used and yet seems to have lost favour within the Winnipeg Police Service. As mentioned in a previous post on this topic, the Executive of the Winnipeg Police Service has turned its back on the one tool with a proven track record of producing results when it comes to crime reduction. Is The Sam turning his back on it? What other explanation for avoiding mention of it when he originally introduced it with such fanfare?
The really sad thing is that Crimestat, if used in conjunction with a true commitment to community policing and a problem solving approach, could be an immense asset to the Police Service and the community in terms of crime reduction and community revitalization. However, not only does The Sam avoid mentioning it, the Police Service is not using it as it was originally intended: to reduce crime in crime-ridden communities. Instead residents are told to stay in their houses until it is safe to come out. That could be a long stay.
Now, on to what The Sam did mention. The Sam, backed by the endorsement of the Winnipeg Police association, has pledged to increase the number of police officers by 58 officers.
There are several problems with this approach. First, increasing the number of police officers has been The Sam’s perennial answer to crime. It has become as predictable as the mayor saying either ‘I’ve done that; am doing that; or will be doing that’ anytime a valid suggestion is made to improve the delivery of police service in Winnipeg or any other civic issue for that matter. The Sam keeps doing the same thing and expecting a different result. In a recent interview I made the observation that repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result is one definition of insanity. Perhaps what requires closer examination is not only the number of officers but rather the direction that officers are currently receiving from their executive in terms of goals, objectives, strategies and tactics.
Continually alternating between flooding the north end and the west end with large numbers of police officers every time a flare-up occurs is not the answer to long-term crime reduction and the creation of safe neighbourhoods. That approach is a lot like flooding a combat zone with troops without an exit strategy and then just picking up and leaving without having put in place the needed infrastructure to ensure long-term stability in the neighbourhood.
On to The Sam’s actual promises:
Twenty new positions for a dedicated Gang Unit. This could be positive if the unit can be convinced that its function is something else than gathering intelligence. Dedicated units with narrow mandates tend to fixate on intelligence gathering as opposed to operations. A twenty persons unit could help make a difference if its mandate is clearly defined in terms of goals and strategies to achieve those goals.
Eighteen additional officers of staff one 2-officer unit 24 hours a day. The Winnipeg Police Service has enough personnel assigned to uniform patrol to staff 27 two-officer units 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Actually, some Division Commanders question that. It seems in some divisions the staffing ratio of 18 officers per unit is not quite there, but on paper it is. The real question is where will this unit be assigned. Will it simply be swallowed up in the vortex of calls for service? If it is, the addition of one unit will make little difference. This could have been an opportunity to perhaps introduce additional 1-officer units with a very specific mandate centered on crime reduction activities.
Twenty new officers dedicated to foot patrol. The biggest question that has been left unanswered as it relates to this campaign promise is the establishment of beats in terms of location, and the mandate of the officers assigned. Simply walking in circles in the downtown area will do little to create safer communities in the north end and west end of the city. Simply assigning beat officers with a law enforcement mandate will do little to bring about community revitalization and the creation of safer communities.
The larger problem with specific political assignment of police personnel at election time is this: it demonstrates that the police service itself has failed to address its failures. If police fail to recognize the severity of the issues facing them and fail to develop a comprehensive strategic plan complete with goals, strategies to achieve those goals, and performance measures to gauge success (or failure) and personnel requirements to implement the plan, then politicians step in at election time and make promises that are politically motivated and tie the hands of police in terms of deployment of personnel. And the police cannot blame anyone but themselves. If their inactivity or inability to develop a cohesive plan of action, or to use the tools at their disposal (such as Crimestat), creates a vacuum in terms of leadership and direction, the situation is ripe for political opportunism. The Sam sensed the opportunity and ran with it.