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.

Dealing with Crime at Election Time

Let me begin by using an analogy:

When the British Petroleum well in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, spewing million of barrels of oil into the water, two simultaneous approaches were implemented to deal with the issue.  First, immediate attempts were made to cap the well to stop the flow of oil, and secondly, remediation efforts  were employed to deal with the effect of the spill in terms of doing clean-up along the coastline of various southern states.  Both the cause and the effects were dealt with.

Now, let’s draw a comparison to crime in Winnipeg:

Traditional reactive policing can be compared to relying on remediation efforts as a means of addressing the issue of crime.  You allow the well (in this case, crime) to spew unabated and spend most if not all of your policing resources on cleaning up the mess created by criminal activity.

The problem is that it never ends.  The well spews out new criminals on a daily basis and the system is caught up in a catch 22.  The police are so busy attending calls for service, making arrests, seizing evidence and testifying in court that they have little time left to perform in a proactive manner.  Nor is there time left to enact preventative measures.  The result: the well never gets capped.

A preventative mindset would see police employ an approach that focuses much greater attention to capping the well;that is, activities designed to reduce criminal activity and to keep young people from becoming involved in criminal activity.  A preventative mindset and a proactive approach are long term strategies.  It involves recognizing the need for some short term pain for long term gain.  It involves investing in the future of our community.

One of the problems in terms of the municipal approach to policing is the definition of ‘long term’.  For municipal politicians, long term means their current term in office.  A 3 or 4 year term is not long enough to enact significant changes and produce results from a policing and crime prevention perspective.  Municipal politicians are more attuned to the`flavour of the day approach’.  Crime prevention is not a sexy political issue.   More uniform officers on the street,  CCTV cameras, a gang unit and a helicopter may not solve our crime problem but they certainly are bound to create attention-grabbing headlines to hang your hat on at election time.

It’s about time the electorate woke up and had a close look at how the current civic administration is spending our money.  Municipal taxes are meant to pay for civic infrastructure and services.  They are not meant to be squandered at election time by politicians seeking to buy our votes with our own money.   The problem of crime is not solved by political expediency.

Although oil wells can be capped completely, stopping the flow of oil, no one is naive enough to believe that all crime can be totally eliminated through preventative measures.   But nor does it take a rocket scientist to comprehend that leaving the well uncapped means crime will keep increasing, the police will continue to be overtaxed with calls for service, and the cost of providing municipal services will keep increasing.

I’m waiting for a mayoralty candidate that is prepared to stand up and say “I’m going to devote resources to capping the well”.

Using Crimestat to Best Advantage

What is Crimestat and how does it work – a brief history

On July 26th 2006 Council passed a resolution that directed the Administration to report back to Executive Policy Committee (EPC) and the Standing Committee on Protection and Community Services on the following:

What, if any, additional resources will be required to develop and implement a COMPSTAT style management and accountability mechanism that will provide weekly updates to citizens on crime trends on a geographical basis across each of the Police Districts; and, propose how the existing Police Command structure with its specialized operational units can be augmented by weekly organizational and strategy meetings chaired by the Chief of Police to respond to crime and safety concerns across each geographical districts and coordinate Clean Sweep Task Force Operations; and

How the Administration proposes to measure Police Service outcomes related to crime prevention and enhancement of neighborhood safety.

This direction resulted in the preparation and submission of a report outlining a Neighborhood Safety and Crime Prevention initiative which became known as Crimestat.

The nuts and bolts of the Crimestat initiative are contained in a report from the Police Service to Standing Committee dated January 5th 2007   which can be accessed at:

http://www.winnipeg.ca/clkdmis/ViewDoc.asp?DocId=6830&SectionId=&InitUrl=  (look under Reports at the top of the page and scroll down to #85)

For the casual observer, Crimestat is simply a website that displays crime statistics and crime maps.  For police, it’s significance is far greater.  Crimestat is a management and accountability strategy that directs police commanders to concentrate on emerging crime issues and trends in the area under their command.  It forces them to track criminal activity in their area, identify emerging crime trends, develop effective tactics, and deploy resources quickly to deal with emerging trends in their early stages before they develop into a full blown crime spree.  Lastly, there is follow-up and assessment by the executive.  This is the accountability feature of the process that ensures everyone (commanders in particular) have their eyes ‘focused on the ball’, the ball being crime prevention and crime reduction.

When Crimestat was introduced in Winnipeg in 2007 many were convinced that it could be a useful tool to prevent crime, not in the traditional crime prevention sense in terms of programming, but rather in an operational sense.  What is visible on the public side of the Crimestat site is less detailed than what is available on the police side.  If one studies the numbers (on the police side), specific crime trends can be seen developing in specific areas of the city.  These trends can be nipped in the bud so to speak, largely by identifying and arresting perpetrators.  These preemptive arrests prevent the trend from continuing and reduce the amount of crime.  It’s not the be all and end all but it is a valuable tool.  Like any tool, though, in order for it to work effectively a few basic rules must be followed.

Here is an illustration of how it works:  Using the neighbourhood of South Point Douglas as an example we can go back and have a look at the early stages of what looks to be a pattern of commercial break-ins.

Going back to July of  2009 (on the public site of the Crimestat site you can only go back one year) we see that during the months of July there were 3 break-ins in South Point Douglas.

For the sake of this exercise we will make that the starting point of a ‘trend’.  

July 2009 (3 break-ins)

Source: Winnipeg Police Crimestat website

August 2009  (3 break-ins)

Source:  Winnipeg Police Crimestat website

September 2009   (6 break-ins)

Source:  Winnipeg Police Crimestat website

This trend continued with 0 in October, 3 in November, 1 in December, 3 in January, 0 in February, 4 in March, 2 in April and 5 in May.

At the end of almost a year the crime map for South Point Douglas looks like this:

July 1st 2009 to May 30th 2010

Source:  Winnipeg Police Crimestat website

During that 11 month period there were 30 commercial break-ins in the South Point Douglas neighbourhood.

Police Commanders are provided with this information virtually in real time.  As a trend such as this one develops, commanders assign resources and tactics are developed.  That is, if the series of events is recognized as a trend.  Because there is a high likelihood that these 30 break-ins in close proximity to each other were not committed by 30 different perpetrators but rather by 1 or a group of individuals known to each other, the trend can be halted by identifying and arresting that individual  or group of individuals.

Had that been done back in  July of 2009 when the first break-ins in South Point Douglas occurred the next 30 could perhaps  have been prevented.

That is a simplistic example of how division commanders can use Crimestat to prevent crime.  The principle can be applied to other crimes at the community level.

Crimestat was designed to be a tool to track crime in our city’s neighbourhoods.  It does that very well.  The process has a proven record in helping to combat crime throughout major cities in North America.  In order for it to be  effective the tool must be used in the manner it was designed to be used.  All players in the system must understand and execute their roles.  Division Commanders must stay on top of crime in their area, identify trends and devise effective tactics to deal with them.  The Police Executive must be fully engaged and ensure the resource is used as intended.

The executive of the Winnipeg Police Service does not appear to understand or appreciate the capabilities of Crimestat and that could explain why they have largely turned their backs on it.  A key aspect of the Crimestat process centers on  accountability.  The Executive needs to hold Division Commanders accountable. Accountability is exercised most visibly during Crimestat meetings.  That cannot happen if the Executive does not attend Crimestat meetings.   Residents of Winnipeg have a vested interest in the overall safety of all neighbourhoods.

Winnipeggers need Crimestat to work.

Where Crime is Taking Place

All it takes is a glance at the Winnipeg Police Crimestat website to see that there is no real surprise here in terms of the recent shootings in the City’s West End.  And certainly no need on the part of the police to be shocked as they recently claimed.

When it comes to homicides, shootings, sexual assaults and muggings (the four main crime types being tracked by Crimestat that are classified as  “crimes against persons”), Crimestat tells the public exactly what most police officers working in Divisions 11 and 13 are already aware of.  These four specific types of crime occur with alarming frequency in Districts 1 and 3 and more specifically in rather small geographical areas within those two Districts.  As seen below, the first Crimestat map makes that point:

City wide map showing homicides, shootings, sexual assaults and muggings from June 16th 2009 to June 14th 2010.

Source:  Winnipeg Police Crimestat website

The above map shows two very distinct data clusters, one in District 3 and an even larger one in District 1.  The two maps below show a close up of those two areas and leave no doubt as to the high number of homicides, muggings, shootings and sexual assaults.

Crimestat map showing homicides, shootings, sexual assaults and muggings in a portion of District 1 for the period June 16th 2009 and June 14th 2010.

Source:  Winnipeg Police Crimestat website

Crimestat map for a portion of District 3 depicting the same four offences for the same period:

Source:  Winnipeg Police Service Crimestat website

These two Districts, and primarily the concentrated areas of the two districts shown above,  account for  70% of all homicides,  68% of  muggings, 55% of sexual assaults and 88% of all shootings in the entire city for the period between June 16th 2009 and June 14th 2010.

Still shocked about what happened recently in the West End?

The police response has been predictable.  More officers, more guns, more arrests, more seizures.  In other words, more visible evidence of police activity.   In the next little while we will be seeing reports and statistics outlining those numbers as a testament to the efficiency and effectiveness of the approach being taken by police.

Ask yourself, is it really effective in a long term sense?  Can you arrest your way out of a social problem?

Sir Robert Peel suggested a measurement to test police efficiency that concentrated not on statistics listing police activities but rather a measurement of the level of crime (or lack thereof) in the community.  Peel’s Ninth principle says:

To recognize always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

Let’s make sure we don’t get too dazzled by the activity.  Let’s look down the road and measure what is being done in the West End based on outcomes.  In  this case, the absence of crime.

Westend Story


A really short play in one Act and one Scene

Act 1, Scene 1   Police officials and the mayor are gathered for a news conference outside the mayor’s office.  Representatives of Winnipeg’s print and electronic media are present to be briefed about recent violence in the West End

Police Public information Officer (shocked):  “We’re shocked.”

Chief of Police (sanctimoniously):  “These things cannot be tolerated.”

Mayor (indignantly):  “The public should be angry.”

Media Person #1              Can you explain to us why it is that you are shocked?  For those of us who follow crime in this city, especially as it affects the West End, what has happened these past days does not seem all that surprising.  Crimes of violence are not unusual in the West End.  How many shootings have there been in District 1 in the 5 month period since January 1st. 2010?

PIO                                         I don’t know off hand but I can get you that information.

Media Person #1              Your Crimestat website indicates 9 shootings since January and that’s up from 2 for the same period the previous year.  In the Daniel McIntyre Ward alone, Crimestat shows 5 shootings for that period – that’s up from 1 the previous year.

Media Person #1              How about muggings and sexual assaults?   Any idea how many of those offenses occurred in the Daniel McIntyre Ward?”

PIO                                         Again, I can get those numbers but off hand I don’t know.  In terms of the Crimestat Management and Accountability System, your questions on that topic should be directed to the Chief of Police.

Media Person #1              I’m starting to feel like I’m performing a public service here.  In any event I have those numbers and am prepared to share them with you if that would be helpful.   The long and the short of it is that there has been an abundance of violent crime in the West End and I’m surprised that you were shocked.

Media Person #1              Let me ask you, Chief: as you sat through the bi-weekly Crimestat meetings for the past 5 months and you saw the crime maps displayed on the screen depicting the  number of shootings and other violent crimes in the west end, did it occur to you that a trend might be developing?

Chief of Police                   Actually, I no longer attend Crimestat meetings.

Media Person #1              Fair enough, did your Deputy Chiefs report back to you on what was happening in the West End?

Chief of Police                   Actually they don’t regularly attend Crimestat meetings either.

Media Person #1 (shocked)              Surely, someone must have reported back to you about the violence in the West end as the crime maps went up on the screen week after week?

Chief of Police                   I have been told we no longer display crime maps at Crimestat meetings.

Media Person #1              That is something I would be interested in discussing with you at length.

Chief of Police                   Perhaps some other time.  This is not the time or place for that discussion.

Media Person#2               Chief, you indicated that what is happening in the West End ‘cannot be tolerated’ and have announced the assignment of additional resources.  There are other parts of the city that have levels of crime that are as high or perhaps even higher than the West End.  Will you be assigning additional resources to those areas as well in a proactive manner?

Chief of Police                   As you are aware, we are trying to do the best we can with the resources we have.  We would like to be able to have a greater presence in a number of communities but a ‘cop on every corner’ is just not possible.  We are concentrating our efforts, not just on having a presence.  We’re trying to build relationships within the community.  That is what it’s all about: building relationships.

Media Person #2              In your expert opinion, could the presence of a number of full-time dedicated beat officers assigned to the West End community have prevented these latest acts of violence?

Chief of Police                   It might have, but there is a real problem with assigning resources to prevention activities.  It’s very hard to measure their value because you are never able to truly measure their effectiveness.  How can you measure and put a value on something that did not happen?  The thing to remember, though, is that it is all about building relationships.  That is what I am committed to doing.

Media Person #3              Almost 200 years ago when Sir Robert Peel was charged with the formation of the London Metropolitan Police he laid out 9 basic principles to guide policing.  Are you familiar with those principles?

Chief of Police:                                  Yes of course I am, as are most police officers.

Media Person#3               I am specifically interested in your views on the first principle as it applies to the situation in the West End.

Chief of Police                   In what sense?

Media Person #3              In a general sense but  specifically do you agree with the principle?

Chief of Police                   I think we are getting side tracked here.  We are not here to discuss principles we are here to discuss what has happened in the West End and what we are going to do about it.

Media Person #3              Would it help if I read out what the principle says?

Chief of Police                   Let’s move on.  We are dealing here with reality not theory.

Media Person #4              Mr. Mayor, you have said that the people in the West End have a right to be angry and that they should be angry.  Who should they be angry with?

Mayor                                   They should be angry with the politicians in Ottawa.  We need harsher criminal laws to keep criminals behind bars.

Media Person #4              Should any of that anger be directed at the city and the police service whose job it is to police the city?

Mayor:                                 Absolutely not.  The city has worked hard to increase the number of officers on the street.  My, excuse me, I mean our, police officers under the guidance of the Chief of Police are putting their lives on the line every day.  Their efforts  should not be criticized.

Media Person #4              Increases in police complement over the past decade have been almost exclusively funded by the province.  Are there plans to increase the size of the Service further using city dollars?

Mayor                                   The city is not in a position to spend additional tax dollars on policing.

Media Person#4               And yet, in the last year the city (with assistance from the province) has spent or committed to spending approximately 5 million dollars on Closed Circuit Television and the purchase of a helicopter.  Some have suggested that is politically motivated pre-election spending that could have been devoted to increasing the size of the police service and putting dedicated foot patrols in high crime areas such as the West End.  What is your response to that?

Mayor (defensively and offensively)              That is a ludicrous suggestion.  I’m offended that you would even ask such a question.  There are serious issues at stake here and you are trying to turn this into a political issue.  And as you all know because I’ve said it many times, I am not a politician.

(The mayor, displaying his best exasperated look, motions to the PIO and the Chief of Police to follow him into the mayor’s office and they depart.)

The following is a link to the City of Winnipeg/Winnipeg Police Service Crimestat website:

http://www.winnipeg.ca/crimestat/whatisCrimeStat.stm

The map below displays reported crime for the ten offenses tracked by Crimestat for the Daniel McIntyre Ward for the period of June 2009 to May 2010

Source:  City of Winnipeg Crimestat website

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. 

*   http://policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display&article_id=1859&issue_id=82009

Mayor Follows Lastman’s Lead

In 2002 Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman reached out to shake the hand of a member of the Hells Angels, unleashing a fire storm of protest from police officials in Ontario. Gerald Tremblay, the mayor of Montréal at the time who, unlike mayor Lastman, had an understanding and appreciation of what the Hells Angels were all about condemned it as well.    

In Winnipeg this week the publication of a photo showing Winnipeg’s mayor wearing a big grin and posing with former gang members, some with charges still outstanding, didn’t seem to ruffle too many feathers.  

Seven years ago mayor Lastman attempted to deflect criticism by using the ignorance defense, claiming he did not know who the Hells Angels were.  Winnipeg’s mayor employed a similar defense, claiming ignorance of the fact that any of the men he was posing with had outstanding criminal charges.  It worked for Lastman.  Or did it?  

In the Toronto case the mayor’s actions were soundly criticized by then Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino as well as the head of the police union.  

Mayor Katz probably does not have to worry that his actions will be criticized by the Winnipeg police.  The Mayor is invoking the ‘police made me do it’ line of defense to bolster the ‘I didn’t know’ defense.  According to the mayor the only reason he posed for the picture was because the police asked him to do it.  

Police in Winnipeg say the photo will be helpful in conducting background checks.  Does that suggest that the background checks were not conducted and the personal histories of these people were not known prior to the police service advising or asking the mayor to pose for the picture?  

This would seem to be a situation where either the mayor is receiving bad advice from the ‘experts’, or he is exercising poor judgment in terms of dealing with the advice he is receiving.  Perhaps the so called experts in this instance are also lacking better judgment.  

Enlisting the help of ‘reformed’ gang members to help fight the gang problem is not new to Winnipeg.  Former Chief of Police Dave Cassels got himself in a lot of hot water over the issue.  More recently the Pappiiwak halfway house fiasco illustrated the pitfalls of taking the word of ex gang members at face value.     

When governments are approached by former gang members wanting to initiate gang prevention programs, governments have the upper hand.  These people want something, usually funding.  This puts government in the driver’s seat.    At a very minimum government and the police should: 

  • Check for outstanding warrants;
  • Conduct a criminal record check;
  • Conduct an in-depth background investigation similar to the kind the police do on prospective recruits;
  • Insist that those involved have been pardoned, or at a minimum, have applied for a pardon.   

This is not to suggest that gang prevention strategies cannot or should not involve ‘flying with the crows’.  Flying with the crows, however, comes with its own set of risks.  By taking the appropriate measures up front one can at least be prepared. 

Of prime importance is that governments, when they embark on gang prevention strategies involving ex-criminals, ensure they are indeed ex-criminals.  There must at a minimum be a ‘do no further harm’ guarantee.  There must be a high (very high) probability that those enrolled in such programs will be helped, not further corrupted.

Peel’s Ninth Principle

Principle Nine

 To recognize always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

In 1829 the word ‘efficiency’ had a broader meaning in the context of measuring organizational performance than it does now.  As performance measurement has progressed, organizational performance measurement has been divided into two distinct areas, efficiency measurement and effectiveness measurement.  In 1829 the term efficiency essentially embodied the meaning of both those terms.  As the word is used in the Ninth Principle it embodies both the concept of delivering a service at a reasonable price, and delivering a service that has the desired outcomes.

This principle is one of the first to express the need to test or measure  police performance.  It essentially says the emphasis should be on outcomes as opposed to outputs.  In this context the desired outcome is the absence of crime and disorder, the outputs are the actions undertaken by police to achieve the outcome.         

Efficiency is measured in terms of cost, i.e. are tax payers receiving good value for their tax dollars?  In the policing context cost is examined at various levels.  At the highest level cost would be looked at as the per capita cost of policing.  The per capita cost of policing in Winnipeg according to the Winnipeg Police 2008 Annual Report was $259.40.* Cost can also be calculated on a per-unit of service basis.  As an example, the cost of issuing a photo radar ticket in Winnipeg was reported to cost $48.01 in  2004. **  Once established, cost figures can then be compared to costs reported by other police agencies to determine a relative level of efficiency. 

Establishing whether the organization is effective is more difficult and involves an examination of whether the organization is doing the right things to achieve its stated goals.  Most police agencies have a stated or at least implied goal of reducing crime and disorder. Effectiveness measures establish whether the strategies, approaches and tactics employed result in the desired outcomes.  In Winnipeg, as an example, the Police have employed an innovative strategy to address the auto theft issue.  The stated goal was to reduce auto- theft.  With reductions of 16, 37 and 43 percent between 2006 and 2008 the strategy can be judged to be effective. *   The desired outcome was realized.

Many public service delivery organizations (both policing and non police) have become overly politicized.  In the case of municipal policing, police departments can become extensions of their political masters – especially if there are no effective buffers between the police and the mayor.  This is most clearly demonstrated in the United States where the links between municipal policing and mayors is closer than in Canada.  In the United States the mayor’s agenda frequently becomes the police agenda.  In some major American cities the position of Chief of Police is essentially a political appointment.  Many mayors in large American cities run on law and order platforms and one of the first things they do when elected is to appoint a new police chief whose approach and values are in keeping with their own.  Miami and Atlanta are recent examples of this phenomenon.

The more politicized an agency becomes the greater the emphasis on activities, or in Peel’s words, “visible evidence of police action”.  The emphasis on action allows both the politicians and the police to be seen to be doing something.  The emphasis on action can detract from a close examination of the services being delivered.  Program evaluation is mandatory to determine if the actions undertaken are yielding the desired results in terms of outcomes. The action orientation tends to discourage evaluation. 

Daily news conferences held by police agencies are intended to inform the public through the media of crime that is currently occurring in the community and, of course, what the police are doing about it (actions).  News conferences are not the forum in which to discuss outcomes. 

Reporting to the public on outcomes is more appropriate in an annual report.   Most police agencies, however, give limited coverage to reporting on outcomes in their annual reports choosing instead to highlight activities.  It is the statistical portion of the annual report that tells the real story about police efficiency and effectiveness, not the pictures and stories.  Statistical reporting, however, accounts for only 10% (in terms of volume) of most police agency annual reports. 

Some progressive police departments actually publish meaningful business and strategic plans that outline in detail police priorities and goals for the next 1-3 years.  The degree of goal achievement is reported upon in subsequent years and in some cases during the course of the current year.  Generally the goals relate to crime reduction or the restoration of order in the community and reflect an attempt by police to deliver services and measure their outputs and outcomes in keeping with this principle as opposed to simply reporting on their activities.    

In order to achieve outcomes police agencies need to state their goals and objectives up front and then report on their progress.  This needs to become part of the public accountability process.  In order for police to establish widespread public support they need to be accountable to the public. 

The Vancouver Police Department publishes an Annual Business Plan which lists both its goals and the strategies that will be employed to achieve the goals. ***  It serves as a good example for police agencies that do not formulate or publish meaningful business or strategic plans. 

*Winnipeg Police 2008 Annual Report.  Available at   http://www.winnipeg.ca/police/annualreports/2008/2008_WPS_Annual_Report_English.pdf

** City of Winnipeg Photo Radar Audit.  Available at  http://www.thenewspaper.com/rlc/docs/2006/winnipegaudit.pdf

*** Vancouver Police Department, 2009 Annual Business Plan.  Available at http://vancouver.ca/police/policeboard/agenda/2009/090121/8VPD2009BusPlan.pdf

A Helicopter for the Winnipeg Police – Part 3

Part 3

Parts 1 and 2 likely conveyed a hint of cynicism.  Any cynicism would be based on an examination of various documents:  specifically, the most recently available Winnipeg Police Business Plan and the recently submitted Capital Budget request.  Neither mentions a helicopter which might suggest that acquiring one is a ‘Johnny come lately’ idea.  

Based on media reports, it would appear that acquiring a helicopter was not high on the minds of anyone – not the mayor, the police service, nor the province – until the idea was refloated by the Winnipeg Sun about a year ago.  Was there a memo somewhere that  decisions re police tactics and approaches now come under the umbrella of the Winnipeg Sun?!  

Be that as it may, at least according to newspaper reports, a Sun reporter brought up the topic with the police service a few months later and they subsequently agreed to study the issue. 

Could it be that the Sun’s giddiness about a helicopter is related to a desire for naming rights?  ‘Sun 1’ has a nice ring to it and goes well with the ‘midnight sun’ feature most police helicopters are equipped with.  Perhaps the mayor’s ‘put your name on a piece of Winnipeg’ campaign is about to pay off.  

The study of the issue by police started some 10 months ago.  The report generated by that study has not been shared publicly.  Perhaps the mayor has a copy, but it’s probably too complicated for the tax paying masses to comprehend. 

What the Report Most Likely Contains 

One can only guess at what is contained in the report.  Probably fairly precise figures as to the cost of purchasing a helicopter together with the cost of the special equipment required in order for a helicopter to be useful in an urban setting.  It may outline additional costs relating to leasing hangar space.  Appropriate housing space is critical if the helicopter is to meet the “it can be in the air in a matter of minutes” criteria expressed by the Winnipeg Police Service, especially on those minus 30 degree days.  Suffice it to say the purchase and storage costs are the easiest to estimate and will be in the report.  

Based on the experience of other police departments, the operating costs can also be determined with a high degree of precision.  A figure for salary costs (pilot and spotter), plus fuel, maintenance, insurance etc., can all be plugged into the costing formula.  

Determining the cost side is the easy part.  It’s determining the benefits side that requires greater discussion and presents more challenges.    

The Report will no doubt contain operational performance information from other police departments such as Edmonton and Calgary listing total flight hours, response times, vehicle pursuits and foot chases managed, as well as the number of arrests directly attributable to the presence of the helicopter.   And by the way, Winnipeg must be looking at some kind of ‘super’ whirlybird as, according to the Winnipeg Police, it’s expected to be in the air some “4 to 5 hours a day”.  That is actually quite amazing: the Edmonton police helicopter, for example, had an all time high of 1150 flight hours in 2007 which  equates to 3.15 hours of flight time when averaged over 365 days.  There is a limit to how many hours a year a helicopter can be flown from a technical maintenance and safety standpoint.  The only way to achieve the suggested four to five hours a day would be to restrict the helicopter to only flying between 230 and 287 days a year.  

Without questioning the validity of the figures from other police agencies the definition of the terms being used is important.  One must remember that when new programs, or equipment acquisitions (particularly expensive ones as in this case) are being evaluated, the definition of terms such as ‘arrest directly attributable to’ becomes important in terms of evaluating the actual role played by the new technology or approach that is under study.    

The report, in addition, will no doubt include one of the mayor’s favorite lines of reasoning about how in terms of efficiency a helicopter on the ground is the equivalent to a large number of police officers on the ground.  A study conducted by KPMG pegged that figure at 15 two-person units.  That’s a ratio of 30:1 – even higher than the 18:1 ratio the mayor talked about.   

What the Report Should Contain 

The report should reflect the realities of policing in Winnipeg with the ultimate decision being based on a careful examination of the intended use of a helicopter.  

This would involve preparing a list of all the call types (situations and scenarios) to which a helicopter would be most likely dispatched. 

A review of historic calls for service data would determine the frequency of the types of calls identified for helicopter dispatch.  (Such an analysis should be mandatory in any event to determine when most of those calls occur so as to best determine during which hours of the day a helicopter should be deployed.)  Once those data are available the following questions need to be answered: 

  • How many calls identified for helicopter dispatch ( vehicle pursuits, pursuits of suspects on foot,  and of course those other examples cited – putting  snipers on roofs, locating lost elderly people in the Assiniboine forest) occur in Winnipeg on an annual basis; 

 

  • How many of those calls occur during the proposed helicopter flight hours; 

 

  • In what percentage of cases would the presence of a helicopter make an appreciable difference in terms of a successful conclusion to the call for service/incident? 

 

Only once those numbers have been determined, can the cost per incident of helicopter usage be established.  It’s simple mathematics. 

Even that step is fairly basic compared to establishing the benefits.  Benefits come in the form of either real savings or opportunity savings.  ‘Savings’ in this context are not usually calculated in terms of millions of dollars that can be removed from the police budget; rather, they are primarily in the form of opportunity savings.  Opportunity savings are defined as savings in terms of freeing up resources to do other things because of the deployment of a helicopter. 

Consider the scenario of a helicopter being dispatched to do a flyover over of a ‘brawl’ that involves a large number of brawlers.  (This is an example given by the Winnipeg Police although no media reporting of brawls comes to mind.)   Further, suppose the helicopter crew were to determine that it was actually a fight between two or three people as opposed to a brawl involving a large number of people and therefore less likely to spin out of control or require a large police presence.  In such a case the patrol units dispatched to the event could be diverted to other activities, thereby creating an opportunity saving.  In other words, instead of wasting their time driving to a non-existent brawl they could perform other policing functions.  Opportunity savings, if properly invested, can enhance efficiency and effectiveness.  

The report should address all potential opportunity-saving scenarios and once those are quantified, the next step would be to address the issue of how those ‘savings’ would be invested.  Unless those savings can be directed into specific areas of police operations and used to translate operational activities into tangible outcomes (such as a reduction in response times, the overall crime rate, or a reduction in crime rate related to specific crimes, i.e. residential break in or non-commercial robberies which are currently on the rise in Winnipeg), the savings would be meaningless.  They become nothing more than paper tigers in support of a weak argument.  

Once the capital and operational costs, the per-call cost, and the question of how the opportunity savings will be invested has been determined, politicians can start wrapping their heads around the issue and intelligently address the appropriate question, that is, do the Winnipeg Police need a helicopter vs. the want aspect of the question. 

The following questions need to be answered by our politicians:  Can the per incident cost of having a helicopter be justified?  Are the opportunity savings real, and have they been presented in the form of evidence based outcomes that are measureable?  Lastly, if the police service were given 1 to 1.5 million dollars of new money annually with the understanding it was to be applied to the most effective and most efficient means of preventing crime, reducing crime, and enhancing community safety, would they then use it to purchase a helicopter?