Taking Care of Business in the North End: Again

While the  crime rate (for the crimes types reported on Crimestat) in north Winnipeg (police District 3) is basically static a study of specific north end neighbourhoods shows a much different picture.  Crime in neighbourhoods in close proximity to William Whyte is showing a disturbing trend.  The crime rate in these high crime neighbourhoods is rising, in some case dramatically.

The recent multiple shootings in the north end have again focused attention on this part of the city.  It is unfortunate that the only time these high crime neighbourhoods get attention is in times of tragedy.

The map below depicts the crimes tracked on Crimestat for the south-east portion of District 3.

Source:  Winnipeg Police Crimestat

The crime rate in these neighbourhoods is such that the icons depicting the various crimes overlap each other and it is difficult to appreciate the severity of the problem.  For the sake of clarity one needs to eliminate some of the crime types.  The image below illustrates the violent crimes (murder, shootings, robberies and sexual assault) for the area in question.

Source:  Winnipeg Police Crimestat

A further examination of the crime trend in seven specific north end neighbourhoods shows the following increases:

Neighbourhood 2010 Year to Date October 2009 toOctober 2010
William Whyte 1% 5%
Dufferin 11% 18%
Burrows Central 15% 13%
Robertson 25% 25%
Inkster-Farady 38% 30%
St. John’s 23% 26%
Luxton 16% 32%

Source:  Winnipeg Police Crimestat

The important issue with these data is not so much the actual increase but rather the trend they represent.  Increased crime in high crime neighbourhood or a cluster of neighbourhoods clearly demonstrates the area is not-self sustaining and needs help.  The approach currently employed in these neighbourhoods is not working

The north end communities clustered around the William Whyte have received sporadic attention over the past couple of years usually related to tragedies such as shootings and homicides.  When tragedies occur everyone (the police, the mayor and other civic and provincial politicians and the media) expresses outrage and vows are made to leave no stone unturned to bring the killer(s) to justice.  As indicated in a previous post the police flood the area with additional personnel and the hunt is on.

Such a sudden influx of police resources is in and of itself not a bad strategy, in the short-term.  It becomes problematic when it is the only strategy.  Flooding high crime neighbourhoods with additional police resources drawn from other areas (operational and geographic) is not a sustainable strategy nor is it a strategy that addresses the long-term needs of the neighbourhood and its residents.

Earlier this year police resources were shifted from the north end (and other parts of the city) to the west end to deal with shootings there.  Now resources are being shifted away from the west end back to the north end.  This endless cycle of shifting  resources to deal with emergency situations that crop up is symptomatic of a poorly planned (or unplanned ad hoc and reactive) approach to dealing with crime in high crime neighbourhoods.

The secondary flaw in the constant shifting of resources strategy is its reliance on using a strict law enforcement approach to address a much broader social issue.  You may be able to apply a strict law enforcement approach and arrest you way out of a purely law enforcement issue but you cannot arrest your way out of a social issue.

The problem is that many tradition bound police executives are tethered to the strict law enforcement approach.  They are not adequately familiar with cutting edge approaches to neighbourhood redevelopment and neighbourhood capacity building. Many don’t see that as a policing function.  It may not be a policing function in the strict sense of the word, but what neighbourhood capacity building does is it empowers people and helps prevent crime.  Based on the policing principles laid down by Sir Robert Peel (which in my view are still very applicable today) the prime mandate of the police is crime prevention.

The important issue is not how you strengthen neighbourhoods and reduce and prevent crime but rather that you do it. For high crime neighbourhoods in Winnipeg if that means the police need to go down ‘the road less travelled’, then let the journey begin.

The nature of the issue (problem) must dictate the approach.  As well the nature of the issue must determine the timeline.  Complicated social issues cannot be resolved using simplistic short-term strategies and tactics.

The question is this:  is the Winnipeg Police Service willing to make the leap from using a traditional short-term reactive law enforcement approach to dealing with issues in high crime neighbourhoods to using a long-term proactive approach?

The Service certainly has the tools, the personnel and the budget to make it happen.  The question is: do they have the will?

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?

Truthfullness in Policing: An Issue of Public Trust

The citizens of Winnipeg expect police to be tough on crime but do they expect police to step beyond the bounds of the rules in order to do so?  Is it acceptable for the police to ‘fudge the truth’?  Do the ends justify the means if the cause is noble?

According to Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis, “Cops have been getting a pass on lying for a long time”.  This has prompted Davis to introduce a policy that sees police officers in Boston fired if they lie in the course of their duties. 

In Canada the approach has been less direct.  Although the courts have been urging police agencies to use audio and video tape interactions with suspects for some years, the reasons given have always been couched in benevolent terms.  The courts have indicated that audio and videotaping would establish an accurate record of what transpired and add credibility to the evidence of police officers.  What judges have been loath to say is that they simply don’t believe the testimony of some police officers who appear before them. 

The term used by defence lawyers and enlightened police executives in the United States (and at least one in Canada) is ‘testilying’.  The term is commonly used by defence counsel in Winnipeg.  It has even been suggested that lawyers maintain an informal list of police officers whom they suspect of ‘testilying’.  They share this list with each other so they can properly prepare themselves when they will be cross-examining one of the listed officers.    

Lack of truthfulness by police officers manifests itself in different situations.  Some of the common ones include:

  • When testifying in court
  • When preparing official police reports
  • When documenting a case in the form of their original notes
  • When presenting information to obtain search warrants
  • When being interviewed by internal investigators

Lack of truthfulness by police is one of the first steps down the road of alienating the public from its police.  It the police cannot be trusted to be truthful and honest in all their dealings, public trust is eroded.  

Police in the United States are starting to come to grips with this issue. 

 At a recent Police Executive Research ForumTown Hall Meeting (Denver Colorado, October  4th 2009), in excess of twenty Chiefs of Police including Toronto Police Chief William Blair confronted head on the issue of police truthfulness.  

The discussion revealed that most police chiefs understand the seriousness of the issue and like Commissioner Davis in Boston are taking steps to address it.  Some of their comments underscore the seriousness of the issue from both a public and an organizational perspective. 

Pasadena Chief Bernard Melekian indicated “The Public no longer presumes that police tell the truth”.  * 

North Charleston Chief Jon Zumalt stated: ‘My fundamental filter for making decisions on this is that we’ve got to gain the trust of the people we serve”. * 

And it’s not just an American problem.  Toronto Chief William Blair said this: “We’ve had lots of situations where officers have lied, and it has cost us dearly.”  Blair took it one step further: “And it’s not just a question of lying; it’s also about failing to tell the truth.  What we find so often in cases where an officer or a group of officers are engaged in inappropriate or even illegal behaviour there is reluctance in our policing culture to report it.  People simply don’t tell.  They avoid it, they stay out of it, they don’t have the courage to step forward”.* 

If, as is so often the case, the first step in addressing an issue is recognition that the issue exists, then in the United States and at least one Canadian city we are heading in the right direction.  The problem has been recognized and is on the action agenda.  

Ethics can be taught in a classroom but it does not end there. Ethical behaviour must be practiced on the street and in the office of police executives.  It must be modeled by those in leadership positions.  It must be reinforced through discipline.  Enforcing discipline within police organizations requires commitment from the chief of police.  It requires that tough decisions be made about the future viability of police officers who have been untruthful  as well as  police officers who have been convicted of committing a crime.  

Police chiefs must recognize that they cannot be everyone’s ‘buddy’.  

The first step is recognizing that a problem exists.  In Winnipeg we may not be there quite yet.    

* Quoted from Subject to Debate, A newsletter of the Police Executive Research Forum, Vol.23. No. 10 (October 2009)

Peel’s Sixth Principle

Principle Six

To use physical force only when the  exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public cooperation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order; and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

This principle can be divided into two sub-principles.  The first deals with the hierarchy of approaches that should be used by police in securing observance of the law or to restore order in situations where the law has been violated.  The second deals with situations where a decision has been made that the use of physical force is appropriate and deals with the degree or amount of force that should be used. 

Peel makes it clear  the initial approach by police should be to use methods such as persuasion, advice and warning in preference to physical force.  This implies a rational approach to situations.  The corollary is that police are dealing with rational individuals.  Irrational individuals are not likely to respond positively to a verbal exchange. 

The majority of situations involving exchanges between police and citizens are rational exchanges.  This is reflected in the National Use of Force Framework promoted by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.  A visual representation of the framework is presented here to add clarity. 


 Source:  Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.  Available at: http://www.cacp.ca/media/library/download/266/Useofforcemodel.pdf 

This framework assists officers in their decision making process in terms of ensuring the approach they use is not only appropriate but also effective in the given situation they are facing.   

The chart is read starting from the 12 o’clock position.  The center of the chart represents the situation faced by a police officer and may vary from friendly/passive encounters to life and death scenarios.   

The first police response is simply a physical presence.  In many situations the presence of a police officer is all that is required to quell a situation.  The second response (the 2 o’clock position on the chart) is communication.  In many situations a conversation between an officer and a citizen(s) is all that is required to ensure compliance with the law and/or to restore order.  This second response can be related to Peel’s ‘persuasion, advice and warning’. 

The subsequent responses in the use of force framework rely on an ever increasing use of force in the form of hard physical control, intermediate weapons and ultimately the use of lethal force. 

The principle goes on to state that if non-physical measures are not adequate to secure observance of the law or to restore order then only as much force as is necessary should be used by police. 

This is an area that often causes  conflict between police and the public.  Many citizens when arrested claim that the amount of force used against them was excessive based on what their intention was.  They may have known what their intention was but the police officer did not and cannot assume what the citizen’s intention might be.  For that reason most use of force polices in Canada employ the ‘plus one doctrine’ which sees police officers use force that is one step above the force or resistance they encounter.  This approach is taken to ensure the safety of the officer. 

One of the shortcomings of the use of force policies of most policing agencies is their failure to educate the public as to what the policy is.  Proper education and perhaps even publication of the use of force policy would address the issue of people not understanding what the police are likely to do in a given situation, and why.  Using the plus one doctrine, police are justified, by policy, in using lethal force when confronted by an aggressive suspect with a weapon such as a knife,  if the suspect does not drop the weapon when ordered to do so.  Perhaps if suspects were aware of this they would be more likely to drop the knife when ordered to do so by police.

Who is Responsible for Policing in Winnipeg?

So who exactly is responsible for ensuring the safety of the citizens of Winnipeg?  Is it the Minister of Justice?  Partly.  Is it would-be-Premier Andrew Swan? *  Maybe, if he wins the leadership race.  Is it the Winnipeg Police Association?  They seem to think so.  

There is no shortage of people lining up with the ‘answer’ to gang violence in Winnipeg.   Yesterday the Province announced its long awaited gang strategy.  Other than perhaps the ‘awareness strategy for parents’, nothing much seems to have changed.  Please tell me there is more – there must be more, right?

All of this, however, begs that question “who is charged with the responsibility of law enforcement and crime prevention in Winnipeg?”  Who should be proposing cutting edge approaches to dealing with gang issues in Winnipeg?  Perhaps the Winnipeg Police Service? 

The Winnipeg Police Service was represented when the government made its gang strategy announcement.  Their role, however, was largely to serve as wallpaper at a provincial news conference.  This is a Winnipeg issue and it should be addressed by the Winnipeg Police Service. 

There is an old adage that says if you don’t know how to do your job someone will tell you how to do it, if you don’t do your job someone will do it for you.  We have some experience with that in Manitoba.  In the aftermath of the Taman Inquiry the East St. Paul Police Service was disbanded and replaced by the RCMP.  There is no fear of that happening to Winnipeg.  There are, however, other more subtle ways for the provincial government to exert its influence over municipal policing: the formulation of policing strategies for municipal police departments being one.

*  Andrew Swan has since withdrawn form the leadership race.

High Tech Surveillance in Amish Country

Lancaster is a relatively peaceful city of 54,000 people situated in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish country.  Horse drawn buggies are not unusual in the surrounding area.  It certainly does not have the same level of crime as many large American cities.  Last year there were 3 murders in Lancaster.  

Lancaster is in the process of installing 165 surveillance cameras.  This blanket of surveillance comes as the result of the recommendations of a  2001 special commission which recommended the 2.7 million dollar system.  Once fully operational, Lancaster will have more surveillance cameras than some large cities like Philadelphia and Boston.   

Unlike other jurisdictions where surveillance cameras are primarily controlled and monitored by police, the Lancaster model relies on civilian monitors who are screened, trained and employed by the Lancaster Community Safety Coalition.   

The use of civilian monitors has raised some privacy concerns.  

The CCTV initiative in Lancaster is supported by local  police.  Statistical evidence as to the effectiveness of the system is as yet inconclusive.

Minneapolis Strike Force Shut Down

Metro Gang Strike Force Implodes 

The creation of special units within police agencies, or strike forces made up of officers from a number of agencies, are common responses to address specific forms of criminal activity such as organized crime, drug trafficking and serial property crimes.  

The concept of a special unit or strike force is sound from an investigative and enforcement perspective.  It facilitates the sharing and exchange of information, assists in the co-ordination of enforcement efforts and may create the synergy and critical mass required to address certain forms of criminal activity.  

Special units and strike forces are often viewed as ‘elite’ units both internally and externally. They normally operate from a distinct location separate and apart from normal police operations.  They tend to operate under a limited and distinct mandate which is usually quite narrow.  They normally use different, in some cases unique and innovative, approaches to achieve their mandate.  They are often issued with different, in many cases ‘better’ equipment in terms of uniforms (in the case of identifiable units), firearms, vehicles, communications devices, and the like.  All this adds to the perception of being an elite unit.  

Special units and strike forces are often staffed by officers who have earned a reputation for achieving results.  Some of these officers do a balancing act in terms of tip-toeing along the fine line that separates legitimate aggressive enforcement and non-sanctioned (and in some cases illegal) activity.  At times what is seen as the need to get the job done may overshadow ethical and legal concerns and restraints.  When this happens the unit or strike force invariably implodes.  

A recent example is the collapse of the Metro Gang Strike Force.  This Strike Force was primarily staffed by officers from the Minneapolis and St. Paul Police Departments, and the Ramsay County Sheriff’s Office.  The Strike Force was disbanded in July of this year and the FBI is currently investigating possible criminal conduct by some Strike Force members.  

The activities of the Strike force were examined by a state panel co-chaired by Andy Luger.  The panel concluded that as many as 12 members of the 34 members of the Strike Force had committed crimes.  The panel identified activities such as improper warrantless searches, improper seizure of property, and the conversion of seized property to personal use.  

Unlike the Canadian funding model where special units are usually fully funded up-front by one (or a combination) of the three levels of government the, American model encourages ‘self funding’.  This requires the seizure of evidence (assets) that are converted to cash to fund the unit.  This practice is fraught with the possibility of corruption.  This practice has been identified as a concern in the Minneapolis case.  

The following are some basic guidelines that should be applied when creating a stand-alone ad hoc unit or strike force: 

  • Avoid creating a  special unit or task force that is viewed by others or sees itself as elite
  • Fully fund the unit at start-up to avoid the need for ‘self funding’
  • Create clear lines of accountability to either a designated office or position within one of the contributing agencies or to a steering committee that represents all the participating agencies
  • Make the unit subject to existing policy and procedures to reinforce the importance and needs for accountable ethical behavior
  • Establish a clear mandate
  • Require the approval of operational plans
  • Ensure strategies and tactics are ethically and legally sound
  • Have a well thought-out staffing plan when selecting personnel to staff the unit

Couldn’t Put Humpty Together Again…..

And so it came to pass, that  summer followed spring and crime and violence in the north end of Winnipeg flared up again.  This is a surprise?  Humpty is broken again.  

The William Whyte community and surrounding communities have seen spikes in violence during the summer months for some years now.  That is the reality of north end Winnipeg. 

The next step of course is to fix Humpty.  How do you do that?  That’s simple; you assign all the king’s horses and all the king’s men to put Humpty together again.  And if they can’t put Humpty together again, then what do you do?  That is simple as well: just get more horses and more men, right?  Well, that seems to be the police response in Winnipeg. 

Assigning large numbers of police officers to trouble areas seems to be the standard response in this city.  In and of itself that is not a bad short term strategy, but only if it is paralleled by a long term strategy that addresses the issues that caused the problem.  In the short term, reactive policing may be a necessity to stabilize communities.  However, rushing in large numbers of resources to quell violent spikes in communities is not sustainable.  In order to fix Humpty in the long term, more horses and more men are not the answer.  

What is needed in the north end is a long term far sighted strategy to deal with the underlying issues.  The police service tends to fixate on short term efforts that yield impressive short term outputs and quick political gains. Recently the police service did a crack down in the north end and trumpeted the number of arrests that were made and the quantity of contraband that was seized.  Is this going to fix the problem in the north end?  Will this put humpty together again?