The Sam is the Man?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Investigation of Complaints Against Police Officers

B.C. Chief takes the lead.

In a move that demonstrates vision, foresight, and a true commitment to openness and accountability Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu is urging the British Columbia  government to expand the investigative mandate of the proposed civilian oversight agency.

As it now stands the proposed agency would only investigate in custody deaths and incidents that result in severe injury.  Based on past experience Chief Chu estimates that the proposed agency’s current mandate would limit its investigations to an average of 4 annually in relation to the Vancouver police.

Although Chu feels that the Vancouver Police are fully capable of conducting competent and unbiased investigations internally,  his suggestion is a recognition that with issues such as the police investigating themselves,  perception is reality.  Investigation by an external body would remove the perception of bias.

Winnipeg Police Association Endorses Sam

Buying the Union Vote

I’m sure Sam is grinning from ear to ear – now that he (the conservative candidate and not Judy WL) has the endorsement of the Winnipeg Police Association (WPA) the union that represents Winnipeg police officers and staff members.  Unions traditionally support candidates with a labour background – but not the WPA.

The Winnipeg Police Association is a different sort of union.  With the vast majority of its members being police officers (the WPA also represents the staff sector), there is nothing left leaning or labour oriented about its membership.  Police officers tend to be conservative in their values and political orientation.  It comes with the job.  The WPA is largely a union in the same sense that the NHL Players Association is a union.  The ‘union’ is a vehicle that allows them to bargain collectively – no more and no less and that is where their unionism ends.

So how did Sam ‘buy’ the support of the union that isn’t really a union?  Largely by promising to increase their membership.   Do the math: unions are funded through union dues.  More members mean more money in union coffers.  In this case the addition of 77 members represents additional cash flow into the WPA coffers in the amount of approximately 30 to 40 thousand dollars a year.

The WPA is apparently prepared to enter into this unseemly arrangement in return for more money and more power.

Sounds cynical?

The fact is, Sam has got this one figured out at least in the short-term and right now I don’t think Sam is thinking much past October 27th 2010.   In the long-term, the more powerful a union becomes, the more potent  an adversary it will be  when it’s time for collective bargaining.

In the event Sam is re-elected the time will come when WPA will call in its chips and remind the mayor “We endorsed you”.   When that happens, the old adage of ‘pay me now or pay me later’ may well change to ‘pay me now and pay me later’.

At this point it is not known whether the mayor sought the political endorsement of the WPA and the union agreed, or whether the union proposed the endorsement and the mayor accepted it.   But it really doesn’t matter who courted whom because in an ethical sense, both sides in this questionable arrangement are on the precipice, if not the downside, of the proverbial slippery slope.

Honesty and Trust No Longer Winnipeg Police Core Values

Commitment to Excellence also eliminated as  a core value

Although the changes may not  be readily obvious to the public in terms of how the Winnipeg Police Service operates, the Service made the decision to alter its Vision and Mission statements  a few months ago.  At the same time, the core values of the organization were changed.

The core values of an organization are intended to be fundamental values that serve as reference points for operational decision making on the street and administrative decision making at the executive level.

The following core values have been eliminated:

  • Honesty – Being truthful and open in our interactions with each other and the citizens we serve
  • Trust – Being honourable and maintaining a high level of trust with each other and the members of our community
  • Commitment to Excellence – Adhering to a strict standard of conduct and performance in everything we do

The core values that were nominally retained are integrity, respect and accountability although the definitions applied to the terms have been altered.

Added as  core values are:

  • Citizen Focus – Conducting ourselves in a professional manner at all times, showing pride in service and commitment to serve the greater good.
  • Courage – Serving on the street and in leadership roles, being ready to make tough decisions to valiantly protect people and their property

The mission statement has also changed.  The new Mission Statement for the Winnipeg Police Service is as follows:

As members of the Winnipeg Police Service , we are committed to making Winnipeg safer by:

  • Performing our duties with integrity, compassion and respect,
  • Building strong, trusting relationships with the community because we can’t do it all alone,
  • Enhancing our effectiveness so we can be there when we’re needed the most, and
  • Finding innovative ways of delivering our services.

Lastly the Service’s vision statement has been changed.  The vision now is:

A safer community, built on strong, trusting relationships

Reactions from within the Service are mixed and varied ranging from indifference to complaints that the process used to establish the new vision,  mission and values was exclusionary and did not allow for street level input (constables and sergeants).  Some within the Service also suggest that the `building relationships` phrase is getting a little tired.  Poorly defined terms, especially when overused, risk losing their meaning and credibility.  There is a difference between a slogan and a philosophy and in this case that difference has never been convincingly established.

Changes to an organization`s vision, mission and values are usually a precursor to the development and unveiling of a comprehensive strategic plan.  Such a plan would generally include goals, strategies and measurable performance indicators.  It is not known if the Winnipeg Police Service  developed strategies and performance indicators.  If they have not, then the vision and mission statements are essentially meaningless.

For an example of a well developed strategic plan visit the Vancouver Police website at :

Click to access vpd-strategic-plan-2008-2012.pdf

Maintaining the Public Respect

Some Short Term Pain for Long Term Gain

A recent column by Kevin Engstrom in the Winnipeg Sun caused me to reflect on an earlier post  dealing with the issue of police retaining the respect of the public.  It fits in well with Sir Robert Peel’s second principle which says:

To recognize always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

Retaining the respect of the public is best achieved through openness, transparency and accountability.  If the police set and apply a different standard for dealing with members of the Service than would apply to a member of the public, the Service is well on its way to sliding down the slippery slope  of ethical decay and abandonment of their sacred public trust.

Some police agencies actually have a specific section in their media policy that deals with the release of information as it relates to police members who are charged criminally.  In most instances these policies require immediate release of information such as the officer’s name, rank, years of service, the charge as well as the officer’s current status with the Service.    That removes the temptation  to withhold information or any  attempt to ‘time’ the release so as to mitigate what the organization might see as negative media coverage.  In the long run the public support and respect garnered through openness and transparency  far outweigh any potential negative consequences.  The public is generally willing to accept that there will be limited instances of criminal activity by police officers.  They do, however, want to be assured that such behavior will not be tolerated and will be dealt with quickly, openly and fairly.  In other words:  that the police service is prepared to clean its own house.

Based on  Mr. Engstrom’s example, the Winnipeg Police Service would not appear to  have the appropriate media release policy in place, that is, one that requires immediate release of  pertinent information when an officer is charged.  Conversely, if they do have such a policy but are choosing to ignore it, then their behavior is  beyond merely ‘ethically sketchy’.

Either way, it’s a problem.

The below link is to Mr. Engstrom’s column.

Helicopter Naming Rights

Today the City’s Executive Policy Committee approved the capital expenditure for the purchase of a helicopter for the Winnipeg Police Service.  Already, the spin from City Hall is taking the citizens of Winnipeg on a new course.  It is no longer just a helicopter: it is now a “Crime Copter”.  A catchy phrase with a  strong ‘law and order and tough on crime’ ring to it.  Politicians are astute enough to recognize the benefits of portraying that image.  

Personally, I was not surprised to see our Mayor come up with the required funding for the so-called Crime Copter.  It seems at budget time there are always a few hidden pockets or hats with rabbits or money in them tucked away for pet projects.  The helicopter money was a nice ‘pull from the hat’ at the eleventh-hour.  

What did surprise me was the discovery that the helicopter was listed on the Sponsor Winnipeg website as one of the city assets available for naming rights.   Had the debate about the merits of  purchasing a helicopter been legitimate the posting of the naming rights would have been delayed until the funding decision was made, if for no other reason than for the sake of perception.  Some people may have naively concluded that as the issue was being debated and winding its way to  EPC for a vote, a final decision was still pending.   Listing the helicopter as being available for naming rights two weeks prior to the vote suggests the decision to purchase a helicopter was made at least two weeks ago, maybe longer, but certainly not today.  

Listing a city asset as being available for naming rights before the decision to even acquire the asset is finalized is, if not an abuse of process , at the very least, inappropriate.  One could simply dismiss it as a scenario where the organization is so large that the left hand is not aware of what the right hand is doing.  Or, is it instead a situation where the right hand is simply arrogant. 

Perhaps the City should take a closer look at what else is on the ‘naming block’ and make sure we own it before naming rights are awarded.

The link below will take you to the Sponsor Winnipeg website:

Taser Cams

What is a Taser Cam?  Quite simply it’s a digital audio and video recording device that’s attached to the battery that powers the Taser. 

What does the Taser Cam do?  Once the Taser is removed from its holster and activated it starts recording.

What does the Taser Cam cost?  $400 to $500 (USD) per unit.

Which model of Taser will accommodate the Taser Cam?  Model X26

Which model of Taser do the Winnipeg Police use?  Model X26

How many Tasers does the Winnipeg Police Service have?  In the range of 175

What would it cost to equip the Winnipeg Police Service with Taser Cams?  Between 70 and 90 thousand dollars

Why don’t the Winnipeg Police use Taser Cams?   That’s a question worth considering.     

Based on the 2010 capital budget submissions it seems that the Winnipeg Police Service is preparing to spend a fair bit of cash on digital recording technology.  The 2010-2015 preliminary capital budget contains $523,000.00 for digital recoding devices in interview rooms in 2012.  It also contains $1,000,000.00 (yes you read that right, it’s one million) for an officer mobile video system in 2015.  These preliminary capital budget figures would seem to suggest that capturing the actions of officers and suspects on video is of some importance. 

Capturing the actions of officers on video is especially important in circumstances where force is used.  This became very apparent as the Braidwood Inquiry into the RCMP use of Taser at the Vancouver airport unfolded.  The Braidwood Inquiry was able to rely on some video recorded by a by-stander but in most cases police use of Tasers is unrecorded.  Unrecorded, despite the fact that the technology to do so exists, and is relatively affordable.   Using an estimate of 175 Taser units the cost of equipping the Winnipeg Police Service with Taser Cam would be under 100 thousand dollars. 

With the existing climate in Canada regarding Taser use it is in everyone’s interest to record their use.  A video of each and every Taser deployment would establish an unbiased record of what took place.  It would serve to protect both the public and the police.  It would curb any misuse of Tasers by police, and it would nullify complaints against police about Taser use in situations where they were clearly appropriately deployed.  

Perhaps this is any area where Standing Committee on Protection and Community Services could ask the police to do a study and submit a report.  Careful examination might reveal that although the police have not asked for and perhaps don’t want Taser Cams, they may actually need them.   

Pictured below (left) is the Taser Cam and (right) a Taser X26 gun.  (Images retrieved from the Taser International website on 09 11 24)


A Helicopter for the Winnipeg Police – Part 2

Part 2 

In the early 1960’s Mick Jagger and Keith Richard wrote, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you find you get what you need”.  Although the words were written some 50 years ago, one can find some relevance to the current argument about whether or not police in Winnipeg need a helicopter, serving as they do, to underscore the difference between wants and needs. 

At a personal level the utilization of our own resources gives us the freedom to indulge ourselves in terms of what we want.  They are our resources, not public resources and the individual is the ultimate decision maker on how those resources should be spent or allocated. 

In the public realm the expenditure of public monies must involve a careful examination of ‘wants’ and ‘needs’.  In terms of Winnipeg, should the police feel that they currently are not able to fulfill their mandate unless they have the use of a helicopter, then they may be able to make the argument that they ‘need’ a helicopter.  If, on the other hand, they are executing the fulfillment of their mandate and a helicopter would simply enhance their ability to do so, then it becomes a ‘want’ versus a need. 

At both the individual and organizational level, things we want are usually justified on an emotional basis and supported by anecdotes.  Needs on the other hand are justified based on logic, reason and factual proof.   Phrases  like “it would be a huge benefit” or “it could be used to locate missing elderly people in Assiniboine Forest” or “ it’s the right thing to do” and even “it’s as good as 18 officers on the ground;” and “it could be used to put a sniper on a roof” do not reflect deep thought from our deep thinkers. 

Where is the beef?  Where is the report being prepared by the Winnipeg Police Service, the report that was supposed to be released months ago?   

Things that are asked for because they are needed are backed by factual information that can be used to reach a logical conclusion and justify the decision made.    One can only hope that the police helicopter report will be brought to bear before the funding decision is made. 

It is the role of the police to prove the effectiveness of helicopters to those who control the purse strings.  And the proof should consist of more than simple anecdotes from police agencies that have a helicopter or companies trying to sell helicopters.  It should consist of more than just examples of things a helicopter could be used for.  The proof needs to be in the form of outcomes, end results that can be attributed to a helicopter.  Results must be evidence based. 

Politicians must be prepared to ask the pertinent and at times tough questions.  We need politicians who are prepared to be objective and who insist on seeing the proof even if they personally support a proposal.  What we need are politicians who are willing to determine objectively whether a helicopter is a ‘want ‘or a ‘need’.  That is their fiduciary responsibility when spending taxpayers’ public dollars.      

If any civic department comes before their Standing Committee or Executive Policy Committee (EPC) and is able to prove that in order to fulfill their mandate (which is set by council), they require additional or different resources or policies, the decision makers have three choices:  fund the request or approve the policy change being sought; change the mandate; or, allow the department to flounder knowing they will be unable to fulfil their mandate with their existing resources or under existing polices. 

Leaving funding for a helicopter out of the first draft of the capital budget may mean that the mayor and EPC have decided it’s a want and not a need.  On the other hand it may simply be an astute political move.   From a strategic standpoint, by not including the funding, the mayor and EPC provide themselves with an opportunity to gauge the response on the issue without incurring any political heat or backlash.  The process provides for enough wiggle room for helicopter funding to be added later in the process.   It’s always easier to add something to a draft budget than to remove something.   Anything removed from a budget, even a draft, is seen as a promise broken.  Anything added is seen as being responsive to the will of supporters.

If logic and reason prevail, the decision will be based on facts.  If  ‘we want what Calgary has or what Edmonton has’  is the mentality that prevails, don’t be surprised to see funding for a whirlybird in the budget when it’s finalized in December  – with or without a formal report on the study conducted by police. 

The facts might only confuse the issue.

Peel’s Eighth Principle

Principle Eight 

To recognize always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the state, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty. 

This principle addresses the separation that must exist between the police and other components of the criminal justice system. 

The criminal justice system consists of four main components.  They are: the police; the crown; the judiciary; and corrections.  Each component plays a specific role in the criminal justice process.  The police determine what will become the subject of investigation, and how the investigation will be conducted.   With a few exceptions (cases where the approval of the attorney general is required to lay specific charges), crown prosecutors cannot tell the police if charges should be laid or which charges should be laid.  The police may at times consult the crown to avail themselves of legal expertise but the decision to lay charges (with the noted exception) falls under the purview of the police. 

Police may lay a charge if they, on reasonable and probable grounds, believe that an offence has been committed.  Reasonable and probable ground (sometimes referred to as simply reasonable grounds) has been defined as a set of conditions or circumstances that cause an ordinary prudent individual to form a strong belief which goes beyond mere suspicion. 

If police determine that reasonable and probable grounds exist and lay a charge, the crown determines if the charge will be prosecuted.  The crown will examine the strength of the case in terms of the credibility of the witnesses and the admissibility and strength of the evidence gathered by police.  The crown must look beyond simple reasonable grounds.  In court the crown must prove criminal cases ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’.  This is the highest level of proof required by the courts.  Civil cases are decided based on a lower standard,  the civil standard being  balance of probabilities.  If the crown is of the opinion that the case can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, in other words there is a likelihood of conviction, there is a secondary consideration.  The crown must determine if it is in the public interest to prosecute the case.  Although the police can offer their opinion, the decision to either proceed with or stay a charge lays with the crown.   

Judges have no input into police investigations or decisions by the crown in terms of cases that should be brought before the courts.  Their role is to hear and pass judgement on the cases that are brought before them.  Judges decide if the crown, based on the evidence gathered by police, has proved a case ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’.  If not, judges are required to ‘acquit’, that is  find the accused person not guilty. 

If a person is found guilty, it is the role of judges to impose a penalty. 

 The main issue addressed by this principle, that of the police not ‘usurping’ or ‘seeming to usurp’ the role of judges, is at times not adhered to by police and at times results in public sniping by police. Although there are at times disagreements between police and the crown as to whether cases should be prosecuted, these disagreements rarely spill over into a public forum. 

Comments by police on either a judge’s findings or penalties imposed are not in keeping with this principle and are somewhat unseemly.  Firstly, they speak to a possible lack of understanding on the part of some police executives and union spokespersons as to the police role in the criminal justice system.  Secondly, to publicly criticize judges is inappropriate for two reasons:  judges are not in a position to defend their findings and decisions in a public forum, and an appeal process exists to review and remedy flawed judicial decisions.     

Police executives should not allow  frustration in relation to specific cases to cloud their judgement.  They should refrain from public comment that is critical of the judiciary.  Police constables and investigators working on the front lines should not and must not allow their own personal views of judicial decisions, or the comments of police executives, to influence them in terms of their interaction with suspects.  Any police perception of either an unwillingness or inability by the judiciary to impose appropriate penalties cannot be allowed to translate into any form of behaviour either seen, or intended, to be punishing to the suspects they interact with.  Punishment is clearly not the role of police. 

The criminal justice system was designed to ensure a separation of roles between the police, the crown and the judiciary.  The system is designed to ensure fair treatment at all stages of the process.  The truism that it is preferable for 10 guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to be convicted speaks to the tradition of our approach to justice.  While all legal avenues should be pursued to ensure that the guilty are convicted, the pre-conviction rights of suspects, and the rights of the innocent must share an equal footing.  Those rights include the right not to be punished prior to conviction. 

Any police officer who either does not understand this or can’t live with it should pursue alternate employment.

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)