The Whistle Blew, Was Anyone Listening

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We know from the Quebec experience that even in a sophisticated developed country like Canada, some politicians at the municipal level engage in fraudulent activities for personal gain.

Over the years some Winnipeg contractors have bemoaned the fact that some company owners and contractors have had a too close and cosy relationship with civic politicians and senior civil servants in the area of property development.

A parcel of land may have a very low value based on how it is zoned.  If a zoning change or variance can be obtained the price of a given parcel of land can greatly increase in value overnight.

Zoning changes and variances are obtained through civic standing committees usually based on the advice of senior officials in the administration.

Then there is the whole issue of awarding city contracts which greatly broadens the field of play into areas such as  water and waste, road and building construction, snow clearing, garbage and recycling pickup and a host of other soft services such as consulting contracts which the city regularly enters into.

The problem has been that business owners and contractors have been  loath to come forward and file formal complaints because many rely heavily on city business for their livelihood.  They have not been confident that a complaint would result in the required changes, and they cannot afford to be black-balled.

Based on media reports it would appear that we are now in a position where a number of people with apparent knowledge of alleged wrong doing have come forward to police.  Naturally police need to establish the credibility of the individuals coming forward and  assess the validity and reliability of the information they are providing.  If the individuals are credible and the information passes the initial test, there would appear to be a basis to initiate an investigation.

Lets hope that the appropriate approaches were used to ensure this matter was dealt with properly and that an opportunity was not lost.

Corruption at any level of government undermines both democratic principles and the workings of a  free market economy.  All available steps must be taken to investigate and prosecute corruption.

Municipal Corruption

With everything that is going on in this city some may be too busy to do research so I have reproduced here for easy reference Section 123 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

123. Municipal corruption

123. (1) Every one is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years who directly or indirectly gives, offers or agrees to give or offer to a municipal official or to anyone for the benefit of a municipal official — or, being a municipal official, directly or indirectly demands, accepts or offers or agrees to accept from any person for themselves or another person — a loan, reward, advantage or benefit of any kind as consideration for the official

(a) to abstain from voting at a meeting of the municipal council or a committee of the council;

(b) to vote in favour of or against a measure, motion or resolution;

(c) to aid in procuring or preventing the adoption of a measure, motion or resolution; or

(d) to perform or fail to perform an official act.

Influencing municipal official

(2) Every one is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years who influences or attempts to influence a municipal official to do anything mentioned in paragraphs (1)(a) to (d) by

(a) suppression of the truth, in the case of a person who is under a duty to disclose the truth;

(b) threats or deceit; or

(c) any unlawful means.

Definition of “municipal official”

(3) In this section, “municipal official” means a member of a municipal council or a person who holds an office under a municipal government.

R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 123; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), s. 16; 2007, c. 13, s. 6.

Winnipeg Police Response to the Laszlo Piszker Case

Winnipeg Police recently issued a News Release after they got some push back from Laszlo Piszker.   Piszker was issued with a traffic offence notice alleging distracted driving (talking on a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle).

In this particular case the issue made its way into the media and quickly became not only a local but also a national story.

This is the News Release issued by Winnipeg Police:

  Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

In response to media inquiries regarding a distracted driving provincial offence notice that was recently issued, the Winnipeg Police Service has the following response:
Distracted driving is a serious safety issue similar to impaired driving or speeding and numerous studies have concluded that it increases the likelihood of collisions.
The Winnipeg Police Service has conducted a review of this incident and has information that is contradictory to the information that has been depicted in the local media.
It is alleged that on March 2nd, 2012 officers were in a police cruiser car that was travelling on Portage Avenue when they observed a male driver of a vehicle with a cell phone held to his ear. Officers were 7 to 8 feet away from the driver when this was observed.  Emergency lighting equipment was activated and it took several blocks before the vehicle pulled over.  A provincial offence notice was issued to the male driver of the vehicle.
The Winnipeg Police Service will not be discussing this specific incident any further as the proper forum to contest an offence notice is in a Provincial Court.  A Judge or Judicial Justice of the Peace will hear the evidence and render a decision.
Winnipeg Police Service will continue to enforce the sections in the Highway Traffic Act related to Distracted Driving to ensure our roadways are safe.

For further information contact either: 
Constable Natalie Aitken, Public Information Officer
Constable Jason Michalyshen, Public Information Officer

Office: (204)986-3061
Fax: (204) 986-3267

The purpose of this post is not to discuss the merits of the case against Mr. Piszker.  That case is before the courts and will and should be decided in the courts, not in the media, and not in the court of public opinion.  The purpose is rather to respond to how the police service has reacted to the media.

Police departments are well aware that comments to the media about pending court cases, especially the discussion of the evidence in a particular case, can prejudice the case and the ability of the accused to  get a fair trial.

That is why most police departments including the Winnipeg Police Service have policies that restrict and, in many  cases prohibit, police from commenting on cases before the courts. The Winnipeg Police Service Media Policy and the media policies of most police departments have a line that says: “Do not prejudice trials” and the first point listed usually references”discussing evidence”.  That is why so often you will hear police respond with “we cannot comment further as the matter is before the courts”.  That is a reasoned and appropriate response.

So what was it that prompted Winnipeg Police to violate that policy and issue this press release which discusses the evidence?

Several things come into play: police officers and police unions put significant pressure on police executives to respond to the media in situations such as this to defend the actions of the officers involved. Secondly, as a police executive, it is only natural to want to defend the organization when its actions or the actions of its members come under attack.   Some police executives wisely take the heat in the short-term and do the right thing which is to advise the media that the matter is before the courts, the evidence will be revealed at trial and the decision will be made by the courts and decline further comment. Not so the Winnipeg Police Service.

The Actions of the Winnipeg Police

Let’s start by examining the content of the News Release.  It starts by comparing distracted driving with impaired driving and speeding.  The purpose here would be to villianize the accused in this case (who has dared to speak publicly about this issue) and place him in the same category of offender as impaired drivers, a category of offenders who have little public sympathy.  Are impaired driving and speeding actually similar to using a cell phone while driving?  I think that an argument can be made that distracted driving, although a serious offence in its own right, is still just a violation of the Highway traffic Act, A Provincial Statute, and subject to a fine.  That’s a poor comparison to impaired driving which is a criminal offence which can result in license suspension and in extreme cases, jail time.  In terms of speeding, drivers exceeding the limit by say 10 or 15 KPH are much less likely to cause or become involved in an accident than a distracted driver.  Neither offence is a good comparator.

The News Release then goes on to discuss the evidence in terms of what the issuing officer(s) saw.  This is out of line.  Evidence should be presented to the court not the media.

The case reminds me of the reaction of Winnipeg Police in the Evan Maud case, a case that involved an allegation that members of the Winnipeg Police Service had taken a young male on a “Starlight Tour”.  The case eventually resulted in a charge of public mischief being laid against Maud but again the police released a lot of the evidence in the case to the media in an attempt to sway public opinion in favour of the Police Service.

It is not appropriate for police to pick and choose when they will comply with their policy to not discuss cases and release evidence relating to matters before the courts..

Expedience should not replace adherence to  basic policies, values and principles in police decision making in matters such as these.

A Man’s Home is His Castle

(This article first appear in the March issue of Lifestyles 55)

The concept that a person’s home is inviolate originates in British common law.  In its original form the common law was intended to protect citizens not only from each other but perhaps more importantly from unlawful incursions by the King.

One of the first references in the common law in terms of the right to defend one’s home was in the Samynes case (1604) where it was stated: “That the house of everyone is to him as his castle and fortress, as well for his defense against injury and violence as for his repose…”.

In 1628 Sir Edward Coke wrote Institutes of the Laws of England.  Coke coined the phrase “For a man’s house is his castle”.

Banned from entry

A man’s house is his castle and woe betide all who would enter without permission

In 1763 the term “castle” was defined by British Prime Minister William Pitt, the first Earl of Chatham, also known as Pitt the Elder, who stated:  “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown.  It may be frail – its roof may shake – the wind may blow through it – the storm may enter – the rain may enter – but the King of England cannot enter.”

The evolution of the British common law in North America has resulted in the codification of many common law principles.

In Canada, for example, Section 40 of the Criminal Code outlines the rights of persons who occupy a dwelling house to defend their “castle”.    Section 40 states:
40. Every one who is in peaceable possession of a dwelling-house, and every one lawfully assisting him or acting under his authority, is justified in using as much force as is necessary to prevent any person from forcibly breaking into or forcibly entering the dwelling-house without lawful authority.

Police announce themselves
In Canada the authority of occupants of a dwelling house is not absolute.  Firstly, if the person attempting entry has the lawful authority to do so, the occupant is not justified in using force to prevent the entry.  An example would be a police officer with a search warrant.  That is why when police execute a search warrant they loudly announce their presence and make it clearly known to the occupants that they are the police.  Such an announcement makes any violence directed at police unlawful.  Failure to do so could give rise to a defence by the occupant that he was under the impression that a home invasion was in progress.  Secondly, the authorization to use force is not carte blanch.  The wording “as much force as is necessary” expresses the clear intent of the legislation that the amount of force used should be proportionate to the threat.

Many American states have taken a different approach. Thirty-one states have passed laws based on the “Castle Defence Doctrine”.  Castle defence laws allow a person whose home is under attack to use force up to and including deadly force against the attacker.

The laws vary from state to state with states having either strong or weak castle laws.  States with weak castle laws require that the homeowner retreat as opposed to using force, if retreat is feasible.  Other states do not require retreat but allow homeowners to “stand their ground” against unlawful attack.

In all cases, the occupant must legally be in the residence, and the intruder must be there illegally. Additionally, castle laws may extend these rights to a workplace, a vehicle or other residences, as long as the occupant is legally there.  Some states offer immunity not only from criminal prosecution but also civil liability in situations where the occupant used force to repel an attack.

Few criminal charges
Castle laws in many American states are relatively new, having been passed in the last 10  years.  In states with castle laws there have been very few cases where homeowners  have been charged criminally in situations where they used force to defend their homes.
Canada has not yet enacted American style castle laws.  In Canada the presumption is that if you can safely retreat from the situation without using force you should do so.
Perhaps the law needs to change.  In cities like Winnipeg, which chronically suffer from high rates of violent crime and an increase in the number of home invasions, perhaps it is time for the law to be clarified and even expanded in terms of the rights of individuals to defend their “castle”.

New Blog Page

Today I am introducing a new “PAGE” to the blog.  The title is Definitions.

The content on the definitions page is simultaneously satirical, whimsical and deadly serious.

The  page is still in its early stages and will be expanded on an ongoing basis.

If you have suggestions for further terms that should be included on the definitions page please send me an email with your suggestion.

Controlling Police Overtime Costs

For the majority of police departments, it is a constant struggle to control overtime costs.  In policing, overtime is often not a planned activity so controlling it requires  a joint effort between the officers on the street, their supervisors, and the police executive.

The degree to which police departments control their overtime budgets is directly related to budget accountability.

If the attitude of city council or civilian oversight boards is laissez faire (i.e. overtime is viewed as just one of the costs of doing business) and they are willing to approve special appropriations when overtime budgets are exceeded, overtime can spiral out of control.

If, on the other hand, the police departments are held  strictly accountable for their overtime budgets and therefore must be vigilant because overruns will not be covered though special appropriations, controlling the overtime budget takes on more meaning.

Staying on budget can be accomplished in several ways:  First, put in place procedures that govern the granting of overtime and that require overtime be pre-approved.  Second, establish overtime approval guidelines for supervisors.  Third, audit the process to ensure the guidelines are being followed.  Lastly,  hold everyone within the organization, especially the Chief of Police, accountable.

In terms of executive accountability one of the best motivators is knowing that overtime overages will have to be made up from within the existing budget.  If the approved budget is ‘tight’, meaning there are no  inflated accounts from which funds can be diverted if the overtime budget is exceeded, then the executive is motivated to run a ‘tight ship’.

When police executives are faced with budget shortfalls they have few options:  they can either cut the budget by reducing staffing (layoffs), or they can increase revenue.

Opportunities to generate revenue are limited.  The main revenue source for police is traffic offence fines.

In 2008, when Winnipeg police faced a budget short fall, offence notices under the photo radar program (i.e. mobile photo radar, the positioning of which is manually controlled) jumped 59% from 74,442 in 2007 to 118,692 in 2008.  In the same year static photo radar (red light cameras) dropped 21%.  It was this unseemly increase of 59% that changed the minds of many Winnipeggers about photo radar.  Many no longer saw it as a safety initiative but rather as a cash grab – a cash grab orchestrated by the Police Service to cover its lack of control on overtime spending.

The Minneapolis Police Department provides a good case study on dealing with overtime expenditure.

In 2010 the Minneapolis Police Department was facing a budget shortfall of $4.3 million, most of it related to overtime expenditures.  With no special appropriation to cover the shortfall,  police in Minneapolis shed civilian staff and delayed the hiring of police officers to balance the budget.

In 2011 Minneapolis Police implemented tighter overtime control, as recommended by the City Auditor.   Despite the  tornado which struck Minneapolis last summer,  a Presidential visit and the Occupy Protest,  Minneapolis only spent $2.8 million of its $5.3 million overtime budget in 2011.

According to Minneapolis Police the overtime saving resulted from a concerted department wide effort to rein in costs.  The lay offs the previous year added a degree of urgency to those efforts.

The following is an excerpt from a recent article in the Minneapolis StarTribune:

Deputy Chief Scott Gerlicher said Thursday that the overtime savings came about after a department-wide effort to rein in costs, particularly because the earlier overruns had resulted in layoffs.

“It really hits home when you have police officers not able to work,” he said. “Everyone does whatever they can to cut costs and do their part.”

The department budgeted $5.3 million for overtime in 2011, but spent $2.8 million — the lowest amount paid out for police overtime in a decade. The 2011 Police Department budget of $136.3 million amounted to 10 percent of the city’s total expenses.

The city’s audit, issued last April by a revamped city audit arm, did not find evidence that overtime had been misused, but it did recommend better controls to help supervisors control it.

Gerlicher said that discretionary overtime has been cut back, but that it was impossible to reduce other overtime costs, such as court hearings that officers are required to attend or incidents that occur late in a shift.

New reporting controls do allow for more real-time observation of overtime costs, said Gerlicher.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of tweaking the way we do business,” he said. “We’re able to do a more rapid job of identifying issues and addressing them more quickly.”

The department also planned ahead for special events, like President Obama’s visit last year, and used officers from other areas of the city if possible rather than calling in extra officers on overtime, he said.

Investigations that required officers working overtime still went forward, said Gerlicher. “Those are still a high priority for us,” he said.

Controlling spending is a better approach to meeting overtime budget goals than increasing revenues,  such as those from mobile photo radar.  Spending controls demonstrate sound management practices  and are sustainable while increases on the revenue side are unsustainable and only serve to erode public confidence in police.

Winnipeg Police Pull 2010 Annual Report from Website

In a previous post I wrote:

The next step was to do the actual calculations using the District and city-wide data as listed in the 2009 and 2010 Annual Reports.  The results of those calculations are listed in column 2.  There is a significant disparity between the two columns – at this point I’m ready to suggest that the Police Service  pull the 2010 Annual Report off the website, scrap the whole mess and start over.

I checked the site this morning and noticed that the 2010 Annual Report has been deleted from the site.

The site still offers access to Winnipeg Police  Annual Reports prior to 2010.

The 18:1 Police Officer to Patrol Unit Ratio

This is the last in a series of posts dealing with the 4/10 shift schedule and will answer the question that has been previously raised: why does it take 18 officers to staff 1 two-officer patrol unit?

If you have not read my post on the 4/10 shift schedule you might want to read that first for some background on this posting.

Under the 4/10 shift schedule officers assigned to general patrol are divided into 2 platoons, A-Platoon and B-Platoon.  When A-Platoon is working B-Platoon is off and vice versa.  Except for overlap periods half the personnel in general patrol are off duty.

Each platoon is subdivided into 3 sub-platoons, which correspond to day shift, evening shift and midnight shift.

So right off the bat in order to field 1 two officer unit the police department must assign 2 officers to A1 platoon to work day shift, 2 officers to A2 to work evening shift and 2 officers to A2 to work midnight shift.  That’s a total of 6 officers on A-Side.  The same thing happens on B-Side which now brings us up to 12 officers.

In many work places the staffing plan may call for, say, 5 people performing a particular function.  If one is not available they simply operate with 4.   In the case of the police service the Collective Agreement must be factored in.  The Agreement stipulates that each shift  must start with  27 two-officer patrol units.

In order to meet the Collective Agreement requirement the Service must have available  a pool of officers that can be drawn upon in the event one of the 12 officers assigned to staff a patrol unit in not available to work. That brings us to the crux of the matter.  On average, how many hours a year are officers not available to work their assigned shifts and what is it that draws them away?

The following is a list that covers most of the issues that  draw officers away from being available to work their assigned unit:

Sick Leave

For some time sick leave within the Service has averaged around 60 hours per year per officer.  In the past officers were able to ‘cash in’ a portion of their unused sick leave upon retirement.  That provision was removed some years ago through the collective bargaining process.  There is a general concern within the Service that as the ratio of officers who do not have a sick leave cash out option increases,  sick leave use will escalate.

Court attendance The number of court appearances for officers is dependent on the number of arrests they make and the number of traffic tickets they hand out.  The bottom line is that once  a subpoena is served, there is no option – the officer must attend.

In the last decade a program has been instituted to reduce both the on duty and off duty hours officers spend in court.

Statutory Credit Leave  As part of the 4/10 shift schedule agreement between the City and the Winnipeg Police Association, officers are required to work statutory holidays as they fall.  The working agreement stipulates the statutory holidays that will be observed  and a formula is used to determine the average numbers of hours  officers work on statutory holidays.  The premium rate is then applied.  Instead of paying officers overtime for those hours worked they are provided with a Statutory Credit Leave (SCL) bank.  This is a bank of hours officers are required to take as time off during the course of the year in which it was earned.  Statutory credit leave works out to 149.5 hours per officer per year.

Temporary Assignments The Service  operates a number of units that are over and above the authorized complement.  As well, ad hoc working groups are created and assigned to special projects on an ongoing basis.  The staffing for these above complement and ad hoc working groups is largely drawn from the pool of uniform officers assigned to general patrol.  The number of hours of temporary assignment time varies from year to year.

Extras duty leave (EDL)  This is another time bank  in which officers are allowed (and in some cases encouraged) to accumulate time.  When officers attend court, or work overtime at the end of a shift, they generate overtime.  Overtime can be claimed as pay or can be accumulated as EDL.

For the most part officers in their ‘best five years’ (for pension purposes) will not accumulate EDL as under the Winnipeg Police Pension Plan overtime is pensionable income. Officers in their best five years, usually their last 5 years  prior to retirement, primarily take overtime in the form of pay.

Younger officers who have young families might well see the merits of taking their overtime in EDL so that they can take additional time off.

In any event officers who accumulate EDL must take it as time off and this draws them away from patrol unit duty.

Training All officers are required to participate in mandatory training on an ongoing basis.  Some training such as firearms re-qualification is an annual requirement while other training is less frequent.  As well, officers are drawn away from regular duties to attend out of province training at the Canadian Police College and other out of province training institutions.

Maternity Leave Under provincial legislation officers are entitled to go on maternity (and parental)  leave for extended periods of time.  This is a greater reality that as  the Service’s complement of female officers continues to grow there may be an impact on staffing in the future and an adjustment to the 18:1 ratio.

Annual Leave Annual leave (holidays) accounts for another 160-200 hours that officers are away from the work place.

Without getting totally bogged down in details, suffice it to say that when all these absences from regular duties are compounded  officers who work 2080 hours a year are only available to perform their assigned uniform patrol function for approximately 1400-1500 hours per year.

As mentioned earlier, 12 officers (6 on A-side and 6 on B-side) are required to field one unit 24 hours a day 365 days a year.  That works out to 24,960 (12 x 2080 ) person hours.  When officers are only available approximately 1400 hours per year to work patrol, that works out to  18 officers (24960/1400= 17.8).

Hence the 18:1 ratio.

Unpuzzling the Mayor About Downtown Safety

Air Canada recently put out a directive to staff instructing them to no longer stay in downtown Winnipeg hotels citing safety concerns.  According to media reports, our Mayor is puzzled by this move.

The Mayor,  other politicians and special interest groups with a  vested interest in the downtown, have for years been perpetuating the illusion that the downtown area of Winnipeg is a safe place.

I suppose Air Canada’s refusal to ignore the facts is what is puzzling the Mayor.

The Crimestat Maps that follow depict the 8 types of crime tracked by Crimestat for the period for October 1st 2010 and October 1st 2011.  Map 1 shows the Portage South Community, Map 2 the Central Park Community, and Map 3 the Portage Ellice Community.  The maps (and statistic tables) for those 3 downtown communities show that in the previous calendar year there were 4 homicides,  111  muggings,  and 24 *  sexual assaults.

Map 1

                                                               South Portage Community

Map 2

                                                               Central Park Community

Map 3

Portage Ellice Community

Now let’s have a look at the St. James Industrial Community, where the Ar Canada staff will be staying.  This area  had no homicides in the last year, 6 muggings and 6 sexual assaults and a smattering of other property crime.

Map 4

                                                              St. James Industrial Community

If you are still puzzled Mr. Mayor why not go for a walk with the Chief of Police to Portage Avenue and Main Street, pull your collective heads out of the clouds and look what is happening on Portage Avenue.  Alternately have a close look at Crimestat and ‘visit’ some of the neighbourhoods in the downtown and the immediate north end and ask yourself how safe you would feel to live there.  And finally, do something about it.

Stop spewing the election time propaganda that policing and the safety of Winnipeg streets is a provincial problem.  It’s not.  It’s a City of Winnipeg problem.  It’s your problem and a Winnipeg Police problem.  Do your job and provide appropriate policy direction to the Police Service and hold them accountable to address the issue of crime on the streets of Winnipeg.

*  correction to original post