Is Crimestat Broken?

Why are crime numbers on the rise in Winnipeg?

As indicated in a previous post, when the auto theft numbers are excluded, crime in the other 8 categories monitored under the Crimestat process is seen to have risen by 11 per cent in 2009.

What is Crimestat all about?  Crimestat is both simple and complicated.  Like community policing, if Crimestat is treated as an add-on to existing operations as opposed to a pervasive organizational- wide approach it is doomed to failure.  If an organization is not willing to ingrain Crimestat into the organizational fabric as its premier management and accountability process, it will ultimately fail.

Winnipeg Crimestat is based on the same four principles that were first set out by the New York City Police Department in 1995.  They are:

  • Accurate and timely intelligence (gathering and disseminating real time crime data and intelligence information);


  • Effective tactics (using evidence based approaches that have been proven to work);


  • Rapid deployment (recognizing crime trends and implementing action plans in a timely manner);


  • Relentless follow-up and assessment (holding commanders accountable for performance and results).

The Crimestat process has one primary goal:  crime reduction.  The added positive spin-off effects are transparency and accountability, both internally and publicly. 

The first step in the process is actually the easiest.  The gathering and formatting of accurate and timely crime data and intelligence information, although time consuming and labour intensive, is not difficult. 

What can be difficult is interpreting the data and identifying trends quickly, and selecting and implementing the appropriate tactics to deal with the issues identified.  Although difficult, it is not beyond the grasp of most qualified police commanders. 

The most important aspect of the program is follow-up and assessment.  Under the Crimestat process police executives must be immersed in the process.  This means they must be totally up to date on what is happening on the streets, they must be able to spot and identify trends, and have a good grasp as to tactics that will likely be successful as well as the resources required to implement specific plans.  If the police executive is not fully invested in the process the accountability aspect of the process will be lacking and it will fail. 

Normally when Crimestat like systems fail to reduce crime, it’s because either the organization (the executive) do not understand or appreciate the importance of the four basic principles, or they are not committed to the process.  In the words of Jeff Godown:

Chiefs are the linchpins of the CompStat process. They serve as both sponsor and champion of the philosophy. Only through chiefs’ leadership does the process gain the voluntary cooperation and support of others in the organization. If an agency’s chief does not believe in the process, neither will command, support, or line personnel.* 

A lack of understanding and appreciation of the process can be remedied; a lack of commitment to or belief in the process is more problematic. 

Is  Crimestat in Winnipeg broken?  If its goal is to reduce crime, and instead crime is increasing, there is reason for concern as to its current effectiveness. 


Sustaining the Illusion of Crime Reduction

Crimestat has been used as an effective  investigative and management  tool by the Winnipeg Police Service for several years now.  The results have been impressive in terms of showing a reduction in the overall crime rate in Winnipeg since 2007.  If one  links the crime rate to safety,  the citizens of Winnipeg should generally feel safer now than they did 2 years ago as the crime rate for the crimes being tracked has dropped.

One needs to ask, however, whether Winnipeg is a safer city today or whether the Crimestat numbers paint an illusion of a safer city.

The downward crime trend as presented by the Crimestat numbers has been driven by a very effective proactive campaign directed at reducing auto theft.  As the auto theft numbers approach the national average, the decrease in auto thefts will level out.  In the last several years the dramatic reduction in auto thefts have negatively skewed the overall crime numbers in Winnipeg.

For example, currently Crimestat shows an 18% reduction in crime year to date comparing 2008 to 2009.   However, if the numbers for attempted and actual auto theft are screened out there is actually a 6 % overall increase in crime.  This increase is driven by a rise in residential break-ins (11%) and non-commercial robberies (38%).  *

There is no secret to the success of the auto theft reduction program.  The program uses a  multi-faceted, inter-disciplinary strategy unlike the strategies applied by the police service to other crime areas.  As the auto theft strategy accomplishes its goal, the overall crime numbers in Winnipeg will rise.  Unless of course the police service steps away from its over-reliance on reactionary policing and uses the principles embodied in the auto theft strategy to address other areas of crime.   This would not be all that difficult to do now that a working prototype has been created.

If, on the other hand, the service continues with its current “back to the future” course of reactive policing methods,  crime will increase in Winnipeg.  It seems that the current administration is bent on re-creating a policing model from the 1970’s and 1980’s that relies heavily on reactive tactics, a show of force and use of force approaches using SWAT teams and a general avoidance of innovative approaches.

The city recently spent close to a half a million dollars on a CCTV pilot project, to watch citizens in the downtown area.  Perhaps if the City spends another 2 million on a helicopter and perhaps a few additional SWAT teams we can recreate the Los Angles Police Department of the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Or should we stop and ask if that is the type of policing we want in Winnipeg.  I think Rodney King and a host of people who belong to  minority groups in Winnipeg would say no.

Perhaps its time for the Winnipeg Police Service to revisit the principles of policing laid down by Sir Robert Peel.  Perhaps we need to start measuring the performance of the police not by the amount of activity the police engage in but rather by the absence of crime.

*Statistic on crime in Winnipeg taken from the Winnipeg Police Service Crimestat site on 09 07 21