Foot Patrols Part III – The Pre-Community Policing Era

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Winnipeg was at the very cutting edge of what later came to be known as Community Policing.  It was dubbed Operation Affirmative Action  (OAA).

OAA incorporated many of the principles and values first proposed by Sir Robert Peel when the London Metropolitan Police Force was formed in 1829.  OAA was an approach to policing that recognized the importance of forming partnerships between the police and the community at the local level.  Hence it was structured on a geographical basis.  It was an early  form of Zone Policing that was later popularized by many Canadian and American cities under the banner of ‘Community Policing’.

The main tenets of OAA were:

  • permanent long-term assignment of  patrol unit and beat personnel to specific geographical areas;
  • the use of problem solving as opposed to a strictly legal approach to dealing with issues at the community level;
  • being proactive in terms of developing a working partnership with residents and business people on the an officer’s assigned beat and patrol unit area as well as addressing local community issues in their early stages before they developed into full-blown community problems.

The concept was a sound one but ahead of its time.  The OAA approach represented a radical departure from the policing norms of the day in terms of values, goals and approaches.

Officers assigned to beat patrol received very limited training and for the most part continued doing beat patrol in the same manner as they had in the past.  The proactive side of the equation was not sufficiently explained to either beat personnel or members assigned to mobile patrol units.  The entire operation was administered by a Staff Sergeant and without any apparent support by the police executive of the day, many officers took and expressed the attitude “this too shall pass” and failed to buy into the initiative.

Lastly, the police executive of the day was not prepared to give up decision-making power or control to the officers working at the street level.  This attitude  prevented the a proactive approach central to the success of OAA from taking hold.

Like many good ideas OAA  suffered from insufficient executive commitment,  inadequate pre-implementation  training and a general lack of post-implementation  nurturing.

As a consequence OAA died on the vine.

Part IV will deal with foot patrols during the community policing era which was kick started with the publication of a discussion paper titled A Vision of the Future of Policing in Canada, published by the Solicitor General of Canada in 1990.

Election Promises Part II – Foot Patrols

Foot Patrol in the 1970’s and early 1980’s

Up until the early 1980’s the Winnipeg Police Service had 18 or so areas of the city that were designated as ‘beats’. These beats consisted primarily of major streets in the commercial areas of the city.  Beat officers were assigned to patrol these beats, on foot.

Beats 1 and 2, as an example, covered Main Street from James Avenue to Higgins Avenue.  Beats 3 and 4 covered Main Street from Market Avenue to Mayfair Avenue and beats 5 and 6 covered Portage Avenue from Main Street to Sherbrook Street.  Other designated beats included north Main Street from Sutherland Avenue to Inkster Boulevard, Selkirk Avenue, Logan Avenue, Ellice Avenue, Sargent Avenue and portions of Corydon Avenue.

Beats were described in a ‘beat book’ which laid out the geographical area of the beats and included comments in terms of specific duties that officers assigned to that beat were required to perform as well as ‘special attentions’ (an early version of a ‘hotspot’).  Beat 4, as an example, required the assigned officer to perform traffic duty at the intersection of Mayfair Avenue and Main Street between 4:30 and 5:30 in the afternoon to facilitate the smooth egress of traffic from the downtown area.

The highest priority beats were beats 1 and 2 – the Main Street  ‘drag’ as it was referred to.

Beat patrol was primarily a duty assigned to raw rookies or more senior constables who were being punished for some real or imagined transgression.  I recall one officer, who was senior to me, walking the beat without a gun.  The problem was that he could not pass the required spelling test.  He was, however, an excellent shot with a hand gun and had earned ‘crossed revolvers’ during training.  So he walked the beat with the little applicate of crossed revolvers stitched to the sleeve of his tunic, but no gun.  He could not be assigned to a patrol unit because policy dictated that officers assigned to a car had to carry a gun.  When we patrolled the beat together the standing joke was that if we got involved in a serious situation that required gun play, I would toss him my gun, he would do the shooting  and I would write the required reports.  Although not as good a shot, I was issued with a gun because I could spell.

Another very senior constable, close to retirement, normally walked the beat in the Fort Rouge area.  He quite frequently missed his hourly calls and at times after being ‘missing’ for most of his shift, other beat officers were assigned to go search for him.  He was usually located at one of his favorite haunts on Corydon Avenue, generally two or three ‘sheets to the wind’.

Beat duty was fairly basic: Walk the assigned beat.  During day light hours.  Be visible.  Respond to any citizen enquiries on your designated beat.  Do occasional traffic duty during rush hour periods and hand out the odd parking tag and ‘mover’.

Movers were moving violations, breaches of the Highway Traffic Act such as running a red light or having faulty equipment on a vehicle such as a burned out head or tail light.  During hours of darkness, beat constables would ‘skulk’ around and do property checks. They were to be familiar with the call box locations on their beat, call in every hour, and to watch for the flashing lights mounted on top of the call boxes which indicated they were needed for a specific duty on their beat.

If a beat officer encountered a drunk individual the officer was expected to call for the paddy wagon or a patrol car to assist in transporting the drunk to the drunk tank.  Back in the seventies that actually meant a  drunk tank on the 4th floor at the Public Safety Building.

As a rule, beat officers patrolled by themselves and were not normally dispatched to calls for service. Those assigned to Beats 1 and 2, however, were assigned in pairs to walk Main Street – two officers on the east side of the street and two officers on the west side. Beats 1 and 2 were part of the notorious Main Street strip (the drag) that was home to a large number of hotels like the McLaren (which still exists), the Brunswick, the National, the Occidental, the Patricia and the Mount Royal. Officers assigned to these two beats saw a lot of action in the form of alcohol fuelled disputes, thefts, robberies and assaults.

The biggest ‘sin’ a beat officer could commit (well actually there were several), was to not call in every hour as required, to miss a flashing light, or to not be available for an ‘officer’s visit’.  An officer’s visit was a visit from the Patrol Sergeant whose job it was to roam the streets (in a car) and check on the well-being of beat officers as well as to ensure they were on their designated beats.  And lastly, and in the eyes of some Patrol Sergeants, the most important thing was that the beat officer was to never leave his or her assigned beat area.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s being assigned to beat patrol put you at the very bottom of the pecking order. Beat patrol was a rite of passage, something you needed to work your way through before you were assigned to a ‘cruiser car’.

Because beat officers lacked mobility and were considered ‘non dispatchable resources’, it does not come as a big surprise that as the volume of calls for service grew, beat officers were removed from the beat and assigned to cars. Once assigned to cars they became dispatchable resources.

The next post will look at the advent of community policing in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and the move to return officers to the beat.

Election Promises: Part I

During the recent election campaign Sam Katz made a number of promises ranging from pop bottle recycling, additional monies for community centers, and of course, more money for policing.

This will be the first in a series of posts that will examine the policing/community safety commitments made by the mayor during the 2010 election campaign, those being:  the addition of  20 officers for beat patrol; 18 officers for general patrol;  20 officers for a gang unit; and 19 civilian positions for the 911 call center.

Subsequent posts in this series will provide some history in terms of police initiatives and practices as they relate to foot patrols, general patrol and the gang unit.

Putting Additional Officers on the Street

Screening, hiring, training and putting police officers on the street is a long and arduous task.  The majority of the 58 additional police officers promised by the mayor will not be fully trained and ready for street duty until  late 2011 or early 2012.  The next Recruit Training Class is not slated to start until August of 2011, just 2 months prior to the next provincial election.

In light of the fact that the Police Service has more than a year of lead time, they  have an opportunity to give some serious thought to the assignment, priorities and job descriptions for these additional officers.  That’s assuming that the decision as to their deployment will be based on operational needs as opposed to political whims.  Should the gang unit be launched  first, or should the foot patrol officers or the additional general patrol officers take precedence?  Only the Service (or the mayor) will answer those questions.

The decision, whatever it is, will signal whether the Service is going to stay the course in terms of using a largely reactive approach or whether they are ready to embark on a more proactive approach to dealing with crime in this city.

Part II will start by examining the Winnipeg Foot Patrol experience from around 1970 onward and provide backdrop for the decision-making process concerning the assignment of the new foot patrol positions.

The Politics of Election Issues and Promises

I freely admit that it’s been some years since I took Political Science 101 but some things never change.

Politics is a positional activity.  The greater the difference in the positions taken by candidates, the greater the polarization of the vote at election time.

Politicians try as best they can to identify the key issues that the election will be fought on and given the opportunity they will choose issues that they see as being politically advantageous to them, specifically issues that they see as strengths in terms of their candidacy.

In some instances the issues are defined for them through public opinion polls and the media.

With Winnipeg having had the dubious distinction of leading the country in various crime categories for some years now, it was not a surprise that crime emerged as one of, if not the prime issue, in the recent civic election.

Once an issue such as crime gains prominence in the media, and is accepted by the public as a legitimate election issue, politicians are put in a position of having to respond to the issue in their election platform.

When this happens candidates attempt to establish distance between their position and the position taken by their opposition and argue the superiority of their position, while discounting the merits of the position being taken by their opposition.  They attempt to differentiate themselves and convince the public that their position is superior to that of other candidates.

In the recent civic election this scenario played itself out in the mayoralty election.

Both the incumbent mayor and the main challenger agreed early on that crime was a major issue in the election.

Same old, same old

The incumbent, not surprisingly, played the same card that proved successful in the past: i.e. pledging the hiring of more police officers without apparent concern about how those additional police salaries would be funded.  Being an astute non-politician the incumbent no doubt realized that the hiring of 58 additional police officers is a long and arduous process, so there will be no significant additional cost to the city for some time (perhaps not until mid to late 2011).  And guess what, there is a provincial election slated for October 4th 2011.

Do you think there is any possibility that the funding of these additional 58 police positions could result in a bidding war between the current governing party and the official opposition as to what percentage of the salary of those 58 positions (and perhaps even more positions) they would pay for if they were to form the next government?  Perhaps the incumbent was not too worried about the cost  and how the new positions would be funded.  He was confident he was playing with house money.

Root causes and prevention

The challenger for the mayoralty position very successfully differentiated herself from the incumbent in terms of her crime platform.  Her platform centered on programming designed to deal with root causes of crime, greater community involvement and a revitalization of community policing.  I think the issue from the electorate’s perspective (many of whom probably wanted to support this position) was that there was not enough meat on the bone.

From a political perspective, once the incumbent committed to creating new police positions there was no downside to the challenger making a similar pledge but dedicating the additional police resources to specific crime prevention and neighbourhood revitalization efforts in the highest crime areas in the north and west end.  Such a commitment might well have made her approach palatable to voters, many of whom were desperately looking for a viable alternate to ‘same old, same old’.

For the challenger and citizens of Winnipeg, particularly those living in crime-ridden areas, I believe this was truly an opportunity missed.

The Sam’s Plan and a Few Things The Sam Did Not Mention

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.

The Sam’s Union Dues

In response to “Judy’s Union Dues”

The Sunday, October 17th edition of the Winnipeg Sun ran a piece titled “Judy’s Union Dues”, commenting on CUPE support for Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

It states in part:”It’s business, really. Unions are in the business of getting the most money for their members as possible and the best job security regardless of the taxpayers’ ability to pay”.  It goes on to say, “So obviously they’re going to work for Judy and any other city council candidate that pledges their allegiance to the brotherhood”.

What is conspicuously absent in the article is any reference to two other large civic unions, the Winnipeg Police Association and the United Firefighters of Winnipeg.  Both have come out and endorsed The Sam and are working to see him get re-elected.

Should we assume that their motives are different than those of CUPE?  Should we assume that their mandate is not to get the very best possible compensation package and job security for their members quite apart from the city’s ability to pay?  And should we assume that as they are endorsing and working for The Sam, that The Sam has pledged his allegiance to their ‘brotherhood’?

I think perhaps no to the first and yes to the second assumption would be the correct answer.

The Sam is the Man?

Based on the full-page ad that ‘The Sam’ purchased in the Saturday, October 16th edition of the Winnipeg Free Press, THE SAM must be quite the guy.

Apart from being mayor, it appears that sometime between 2004 and the present he also became the Chief of Police.   The Sam did not just support the efforts of the Winnipeg Police Service, MPI, Manitoba Justice and the other partners involved in initiation of the Auto Theft Suppression Strategy (which has been a local success story in terms of reducing auto theft in Winnipeg).  According to the advertisement, The Sam, all on his own, “Reduced auto theft by 74% since 2004”. Now that’s quite a feat.  Way to go Sam.

And it does not end there.  The Sam in the role as ‘Chief of Police’  “Purchased a police Helicopter to free up on-ground resources”. Actually The Sam didn’t purchase anything.  The Sam used Winnipeg taxpayers money (to the tune of 3.1 million dollars) and an additional 1.3 million dollars in annual operating cost (funded by the province) to pad his resume for this election.  Notice that the anticipated outcomes related to the helicopter are very limited and understated.  The advertisement claims only that a helicopter will “free up on-ground resources”.  It does not indicate the degree to which on-ground resources will be freed up.  More importantly it does not claim that a helicopter will reduce crime, probably because it can’t be proven that it indeed will.

The Sam’s crime fighting efforts don’t end there.  During lulls in criminal activity the Sam in his assumed role as the Chief of Police “Implemented the Mobile Street Crimes Unit and full time Tactical Unit to fight crime”.  (I’m assuming that if there is a mobile Street Crimes Unit then there must also be a stationary Street Crimes Unit which no doubt is being kept in reserve for ‘mobilization’ when crime really gets bad in Winnipeg.)

Don’t go away now.  There is more.  Just recently The Sam, according to his re-election advertisement, “Implemented the new police cadet program to free up police to arrest criminals”.

It seems that other than single handedly bringing auto theft to its knees between 2004 and the present, many of The Sam’s ‘accomplishments’ are recent and in several cases have not yet come to fruition.  The timing of the implementation of several of the ‘accomplishments’ was no doubt intended to coincide with the election; unfortunately for The Sam they are behind schedule so there will be not pictures of The Sam taking an expensive ride in a police helicopter at taxpayers’ expense and no pictures of The Sam going for a walk with police cadets.

Perhaps what is really interesting is not only what The Sam did or claims to have done but the list of things he (or the Police Service) did that he fails to mention.

The things he did not mention and The Sam’s Plan for the future will be the subject of another post.