Election Promises: Part I

During the recent election campaign Sam Katz made a number of promises ranging from pop bottle recycling, additional monies for community centers, and of course, more money for policing.

This will be the first in a series of posts that will examine the policing/community safety commitments made by the mayor during the 2010 election campaign, those being:  the addition of  20 officers for beat patrol; 18 officers for general patrol;  20 officers for a gang unit; and 19 civilian positions for the 911 call center.

Subsequent posts in this series will provide some history in terms of police initiatives and practices as they relate to foot patrols, general patrol and the gang unit.

Putting Additional Officers on the Street

Screening, hiring, training and putting police officers on the street is a long and arduous task.  The majority of the 58 additional police officers promised by the mayor will not be fully trained and ready for street duty until  late 2011 or early 2012.  The next Recruit Training Class is not slated to start until August of 2011, just 2 months prior to the next provincial election.

In light of the fact that the Police Service has more than a year of lead time, they  have an opportunity to give some serious thought to the assignment, priorities and job descriptions for these additional officers.  That’s assuming that the decision as to their deployment will be based on operational needs as opposed to political whims.  Should the gang unit be launched  first, or should the foot patrol officers or the additional general patrol officers take precedence?  Only the Service (or the mayor) will answer those questions.

The decision, whatever it is, will signal whether the Service is going to stay the course in terms of using a largely reactive approach or whether they are ready to embark on a more proactive approach to dealing with crime in this city.

Part II will start by examining the Winnipeg Foot Patrol experience from around 1970 onward and provide backdrop for the decision-making process concerning the assignment of the new foot patrol positions.

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.

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.