A Helicopter for the Winnipeg Police Part – V

Several years ago the Winnipeg Police Service (read Mayor Katz) decided that Winnipeg needed (read wanted) a helicopter.  At that time  I wrote a series of posts commenting on the decision-making process employed to determine whether the police service should acquire a helicopter,  as well as the nuts and bolts of running a flight operations unit.

Links to the previous posts are listed here:

A Helicopter for the Winnipeg Police – Part I

A Helicopter for the Winnipeg Police – Part II

A Helicopter for the Winnipeg Police Part – III

A Helicopter for the Winnipeg Police Part – IV

Selling Helicopters Not Naming Rights

Can a Police Helicopter Make Pursuits Safer

The Winnipeg Police Service recently issued the 2012  Flight Operations Unit Annual Report.

It is of some interest to note that the Flight Operations Unit is the only unit within the Police Service that issues an in-depth annual report,  separate and apart from the normal Winnipeg Police Service Annual Report.   Perhaps this is a forerunner of other unit annual reports to come.   I’m being facetious of course.

The only reason the Flight Operations Unit issues a stand alone annual report is to justify the initial capital and subsequent  ongoing operational expenditures of the unit.  The real purpose of the report is to demonstrate that the original decision to purchase a helicopter was a good one.

Although I have not dissected the report in detail I have noticed a number of interesting points.

When the helicopter idea was being ‘sold’ to the public,  politicians and police officials talked about the helicopter being in the air 4 to 5 hours a day.  The 2012 reports shows 2.7 hours of flight time per day.

One of the primary reasons originally cited for acquiring a  helicopter,  was  to deal with Winnipeg’s ongoing problem of auto theft.  A helicopter it was argued would be very beneficial in terms of discouraging auto theft and, in cases where cars had been stolen,  tracking stolen vehicles on the road and assisting in the arrest of auto thieves.

In a previous post I argued that if the Police Service operated a helicopter it would only be available to assist in approximately 12% of stolen car chases.  At the time, some questioned my calculations and subsequent estimate.  Turns out I did indeed miscalculated…. by 2%.     In 2012 the police helicopter was available to assist in a total of 5 pursuits which works out to  just under 14% of the total number of car chases that took place.

And what happened to the promise in terms of the positive effect a helicopter would have on auto theft rates in Winnipeg?  In  the last 12 months auto theft has gone up 10%, this during a period that the Flight Operations Unit was up and running.  This comes on the heels of many years of double-digit declines  thanks to the Auto Theft strategy.

And things are not looking better for 2013.  Although the numbers are still small this early in the  year, the rate of auto theft in Winnipeg climbed 23% so far this year when compared to the same period last year.

Also of interest is the cost per “arrest” in which the helicopter played a role.  Based strictly on the operating budget the Unit spent $1,327,950.00 in 2012.  Based on that figure the cost per arrest that the unit  ‘assisted‘ with  is in the range of $7200.00.  If, however, the capital depreciation cost of the  helicopter is factored in then the cost of operating the unit is more in the range of $ 1, 727,590.00 and the cost per arrest jumps to $9300.00. *

Contrast that with the cost and the results generated by the  Warrant Apprehension Unit.  They also get bad guys off the street – not by ‘assisting’  or being in the vicinity but by actually going out into the street, and doing investigations and apprehensions.  The cost of that unit is in the range of $ .8 million and with an arrest rate of approximately 800 per year, the cost per arrest is in the range of $1000.00, a far cry from $9300.00.

Were an additional $1,727,590.00 allocated to the Warrant Apprehension Unit  at $1000.00 a head they could have arrested an additional 1700 criminals.  That would be a somewhat better return on the dollar than the 285 arrests the Flight Operations Unit  ‘assisted’ with.

*  I’m not suggesting that the number of arrests should be the only criteria used to measure the performance of the Unit.  However,  based on the fact that all but one of the anecdotal examples of Unit activities cited in the report involve arrests,  it is obvious that the Winnipeg Police Service sees this as one of the primary, if not the prime function of the Unit.

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Helicopters, Lasers and the Media

The recent reaction by Winnipeg Police to the actions of an idiot (and that is being kind) shining a laser beam at the police helicopter is an example of a poorly conceived media strategy.

The incident, although deadly serious and with grave potential for serious consequences for the helicopter crew, is of the type that is best dealt with in a low-key manner.

By expressing such immediate and public outrage at the incident, the police are exposing their raw nerves to other potential fools.   An isolated incident that could have been effectively dealt with and without fanfare has instead resulted in a media furor – one that has spun out of the control and out of the hands of police.   It has grown legs.

When police over react, the media will over react, which is what we are seeing.  One news outlet actually featured a rambling interview with the suspect marvelling at how by simply  using a two-bit laser pen, he was almost able to bring down a 3 million dollar helicopter.   This only serves to sensationalize what is a serious issue.  The suspect was nabbed quickly and efficiently by the police.  No fanfare was needed.

Police officials have provoked a media circus with the potential of rousing other fools in the possession of two-bit laser pointers who may now feel the urge to tear themselves away from their video games and play a dangerous game of cat and mouse with police.

Fantasy Island

Remember Fantasy Island?

Tattoo:  “Look boss, de plane, de plane!”

Mr. Roarke:  “No Tattoo, that is not de plane.  That is de Winnipeg Police Helicopter.”

The Winnipeg Police Helicopter,  we are told,  is now operational.

The on time criteria has not been met as it is about 5 months behind schedule.   No word yet as to whether it is on budget.

However, step aside, all ye naysayers:  the Police Service has come up with yet another potential use for the helicopter.

When it is not busy  rescuing elderly confused males lost in the Assiniboine Park Forest, it will be used to fight the anticipated 2011 flood.  Will it be used to deliver sand bags?  No, it is too small for that.  Will it be used to pluck people from the rooftops of their houses?  No, it’s not equipped for that.

What will it do during the flood?

Seeing as it is jointly funded by the city and the province, it could be used to take the mayor and the premier on “rides” so they could view the devastation from topside.  I’m not sure what the protocol is in terms of who has first dibs – the city because it bought the helicopter; or, the province because it pays for the pilot and the fuel.  But I’m sure they will work that out.

In any event, can you visualize this:  the Winnipeg Police helicopter, just a speck in the sky, approaches the flood-way gates where a throng of reporters are waiting.  The helicopter lands, and the mayor and/or the premier get out quickly before the rotor blades stop turning (this allows their hair to get messed so they look like action heroes).  They greet everyone, thank them for coming and launch into a speech describing the great things they are doing to protect Manitobans from devastation.  Then,  quickly back into the helicopter to save us from something else.

Great photo-op I agree but, at several thousand dollars an hour, a bit of an expensive ride.

Lets get real, this is Winnipeg not Fantasy Island.  We have buses not light rail, we have the Moose not the Jets;  the Blue Jays visited once but our everyday fare is the  Goldeyes;  and finally, we have Sam, not a visionary.

Enjoy the ride Sam and as always send us the bill – in one way or another, you always do.

2010 Winnipeg Police Annual Report – Not

Annual reports can be very useful tools, generally providing a review of the previous year’s performance. Like most major corporations, the Winnipeg Police Service releases an annual report.   Based on the late year release of the 2009 Annual Report – it wasn’t made available until December 2010 – one can anticipate that it may be another 11 months before the public and media see the 2010 Annual Report.

Eleven months after the fact is a little too late to get crime statistics.  After 11 months, statistics, especially crime statistics, are old,  stale and  really of little if any use if one wants to analyze them and effect any meaningful change.

So if you want a statistical  preview  of  the 2010 annual report visit the Crimestat website and click on ‘view report’.  Unlike the Annual Report (i.e. the official ‘picture book’ version), the website has no glossy pictures of helicopters and guns (the preoccupation of the mayor and current police executive).   You can look at the pictures, however, when the actual  annual report comes out in December.  If, of course, that’s what you’re after.

The ‘star’ again this year driving the  majority of the 8% reduction in the crimes tracked by Crimestat was the award winning  Winnipeg Auto Theft Reduction Strategy, the evidence based and data driven strategy that was implemented in 2005.

The “Reactive” Councillor Steeves

Politicians see themselves as leaders not followers.  They tend to portray themselves as proactive not reactive.

Yet at times during periods of extreme political euphoria such as the recent political spin fest centered around the unveiling of the Winnipeg Police Helicopter,  politicians at times develop loose lip syndrome.

Loose lip syndrome usually occurs  when politicians stray from their prepared script and say what they actually think or believe.

At the recent Winnipeg Police helicopter unveiling where politicians attempted to out gush each other and  convince themselves, each other and the unwashed masses who pay the bills that  they are spending tax dollars wisely, Councillor Steeves made a fatal slip of the lip displaying his true colours when he said:

“The announcement today is going to give the Winnipeg Police Service an increased ability to react.

Yes, React!

If the best we can expect from a 3.5 million dollar capital expenditure coupled with 1.3 million dollars annually is a better reaction perhaps it might have been beneficial to examine the expenditure more closely and consider other options that  had a realistic chance of preventing crime.

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.