A Lack of Operational Planning

Through a woeful lack of planning the Mayor and the Chief of Police keep managing to create a sense of urgency on funding police initiatives. First they managed to create a near panic about helicopter funding. Then they attempted to do the same with cadet funding stopping just short of calling the Province deceitful.  I’m starting to get used to the two of them standing together speaking with once voice, joined at the lip so to speak berating the Province. 

It may be time for the province to advise the Mayor and the Chief of Police that a lack of planning on the part of the City and the Police Service does not automatically create an emergency for the province. 

Perhaps its time for the City and the Police Service to put the things they are actually planning to do in the Business Plan and the Captial Budget.  If they did, and  then shared the document with the Province everyone would have a heads up on whats coming.  This would be helpfull for the Province especially as it relates to programs the City wants them to fund. 

An examination of the City’s Departmental Business Plans best exemplifies the City’s  lack of planning.

In 2008 the Police Service created and published its 2008-2010 Business Plan.* That document outlines the goals for the police service for the three-year period, and lists the strategies it will be using to accomplish its goals.

One would think that somewhere in that document one would find a reference to the Closed Circuit Television Cameras the mayor had installed in the downtown area. Surely they could not be funded and installed unless it was a police priority and identified as such in the business plan. Well they were not part of the business plan yet they were purchased and installed. Look up sometime when you are downtown. You’ll see them and even if you don’t, they will “see” you. 

Okay, maybe that one slipped through but surely the helicopter was part of the long-term business plan, or if not part of the business plan then in the capital budget. Wrong! Have a look at the 2008 and 2009 capital budgets. The helicopter does not appear there either.

Surely the reintroduction of the cadet program was part of the business plan. Wrong again!

If none of these initiatives were identified as priorities by the Police Service through the business planning or capital budget process, how did they get on the action agenda? It begs the question: whose agenda is being implemented? Does the agenda reflect the operational needs of the Police Service or the political needs of the Mayor in an election year?

 Perhaps I wrongly concluded at the outset that there was a lack of planning at City Hall and the Public Safety Building. Perhaps there is planning taking place it’s just that it’s political not operational.

*   http://winnipeg.ca/cao/BusinessPlanbySvc.stm

Winnipeg Police Physical Fitness – Part III

Making the Argument for on duty workout time

(This was originally intended to be a 3 part series but has now been extended to 4)

 If you are the police union and you want the City to give you something you must first establish that there is a need and secondly, how it will benefit the city.

The recent attempt by the Winnipeg Police Association (WPA) to get the City to give  police officers on duty time to work out was based primarily on the argument that criminals are coming out of jails bulked up and more fit than in the past. The answer according to the WPA is to grant police officer on duty time to work out so they can match the fitness level of the criminals they deal with.

Unfortunately the union failed to provide data to support their position. Although the data probably exists in terms of prisoners weight and musculature upon entering and leaving prison it’s not likely anyone can access it. The union might have considered making its case using other data.  If indeed there is a trend, historical data on assaults against police officers, injuries sustained by police officers resulting from physical confrontations, and Workers Compensation claims would assist in factually establishing what is happening on the street. Making a blanket statement that bulked up criminals coming out of prisons is putting police officers at greater risk  is not a convincing argument without  supporting data.

To support its position the union  brought forward examples of other western Canadian cities that are granting officers on-duty work out time. They mounted a political argument in a context where political arguments (as opposed to evidence based arguments based on data) are ineffectual. They can’t really be blamed though for trying this approach. They just saw the Service use the same approach and obtain funding for a helicopter from the City.

During the helicopter debate the Service  relied heavily on political arguments and anecdotal examples to support its position. The Service cited other cities that use helicopters as a basis for why Winnipeg should get a helicopter. They relied on various quotes from police officers in other cities about how  a helicopter in the air equated to a large number of officers on the ground to bolster their argument. It seemed this was particularly appealing and persuasive for the mayor. 

However, this is not a two-way street. The City decides which issues will be allowed to sail through city hall with an assisting political tail wind, and which will be held up to scrutiny. The Service’s helicopter proposal was largely political (based on wants not needs) but the Service had a benefactor who provided the tailwind. A true economic business case was not asked for nor provided.

That won’t be the case in this instance.  The union  will be required to make a business case (an economic argument) to support its position on the paid work out issue.  They will be required to provide evidence, data, hard facts not just anecdotes. It’s definitely more difficult to make your case when as Bob Seger says you are “running against the wind”.

The last post in this series will look at the  approach the union took on this issue and will examine the differences between positional and interest based bargaining.

Operational Funding for the Winnipeg Police Helicopter

The following is Clause 1 of the Standing Committee Recommendation which deals with the funding of operating costs for the proposed Winnipeg Police helicopter which was approved by Council in January of 2010. 

That subject to approval of new incremental funding from the Province of Manitoba for all ongoing annual operating costs, estimated at $1.3 million in 2010 plus cost increases thereafter, the Winnipeg Police Service be directed to procure a fully equipped Flight Operations Unit together with a hangar to house the unit.  (Emphasis added is mine) 

Several key words are highlighted.  The first is all.  In his attempt to spin this scenario to  best advantage, the Mayor has talked about being agreeable to limiting increases to an agreed upon formula such as the cost of living or consumer price index.  On the surface that may sound reasonable, however, it only limits increases in expenditures to a percentage above the amount spent in the previous year.  It does not prevent the introduction of new expenditures.  The agreement binds the province to all ongoing annual operating costs.  The province would incur  full liability for expenditures it has no control over. 

This approach can be likened to the ‘we’re talking about less than 40 thousand dollars’ argument.  The mayor is essentially borrowing a line from the used car salesman’s handbook:  it’s the ‘if you are willing to spend $1.3 million, surely you’re not going to let this deal get away for a mere 40 thousand’ line.

The point that can not be ignored is that the province is being asked to enter into uncharted waters.  One question that needs to be asked and answered is, how firm is the estimated operating cost figure?  Why does that become important?  Because, based on the wording of the clause passed by Council, if the estimate is off by a couple of hundred thousand dollars the province will be on the hook for that as well. 

In the context of financial agreements and contracts ALL is a very inclusive term and can be a very expensive word.  And to top it all off, the phrase plus cost increases thereafter leaves the door wide open to additional expenditures that could be billed to the province.   The wording is much to loose.  A very careful, detailed and in depth examination of what is included in the estimate of $1.3 million for operating costs is clearly in order. 

To further bolster his argument, the mayor has pulled out and played the ‘lives are at stake’ card.  The fact is, that can be said about almost everything involving policing.  Police policy and procedure on vehicle pursuits, response to domestic violence, and use of force and a myriad of other issues can also put lives at risk – perhaps much more so than having or not having a helicopter.  But none of those issues are currently on the political radar nor are they likely to the subject of discussion as people cast their ballots in the civic election later this year.  The helicopter, on the other hand, is very much on the political radar.  In a political forum using an argument such as ‘lives are at stake’ can be  successfully employed as a  tactic because it strikes a chord with the public.  It is also difficult, if not impossible, to quantify or to either prove or disprove.  How can anyone argue against a move if failure to make the move could cost lives?  One can only hope that citizens (the electorate) see though this sort of gamesmanship and demand decisions and outcomes based on the merits of the issue versus the use of slick political spin tactics and rhetoric.    

If the city is not confident enough in its estimate of operating expenses to commit itself to a firm funding number they need to go back to the drawing board and rework their estimate.  Further, if they are not confident that the addition of a helicopter will produce at least enough savings to offset inflationary cost increases in the future years, then one might conclude that the rationale behind the entire proposal is flawed.  This is a classic ‘buyer beware’ scenario.  The buyer in this case is the province, which means all of us.

Outcomes Based on Evidence

If the  outcome is known in advance don’t fool yourself into thinking you are doing research.  

When police agencies are considering the deployment of new technology, new tools or innovative service delivery approaches, it’s not good enough to cite their use in other jurisdictions as justification to replicate them.  Unfortunately, all too often that is what happens.  Mayors and police chiefs look at what other jurisdictions are doing and fall into the ‘cookie cutter trap’, an approach that assumes that if something works in another jurisdiction it will work here as well.  A review of reports from the jurisdictions that are doing what you might like to do or emulate is substituted for real research.  The conclusions and anecdotal accounts contained in those reports are treated as evidence.    

The fact is, what works in one jurisdiction may not work elsewhere.  Consider the  use of bait cars  to address auto theft.    Some cities that use bait cars claim they are the answer to curbing the auto theft problem.  This may be true if the cars being stolen in a particular jurisdiction are high-end vehicles destined for export.   When the strategy was tried in Winnipeg, it was largely based on recommendations from police agencies in other jurisdictions and the company selling the technology.  Following the expenditure of a significant amount of cash it was determined that based on the unique characteristics of the auto theft problem in Winnipeg, as well as the  climate, bait cars were largely ineffective in Winnipeg and the program was discontinued.    

Another example is the ‘lets recreate Edmonton in Winnipeg’ experiment of the mid-1990’s that saw the proliferation of Service Centers, Community Offices, and Foot Patrol Offices under the guise of community policing, Edmonton style.  At the height of the euphoria (some called it madness), the Winnipeg Police Service was attempting to staff as many as 22 public access locations at a cost of millions of dollars.  These included 6 District Stations and 16 satellite offices.  With the departure of the  Chief (who was from Edmonton) most of those offices were quietly closed down.  The Police Service now operates a total of 7 public access locations, 5 District Stations and 2 satellite offices.  This is another example of a failed and very expensive experiment that can be attributed to the cookie cutter trap. 

Examples abound of failed attempts to superimpose apparently successful approaches and technologies from one jurisdiction to another.  

As argued during the helicopter debate (which was more of an announcement than a debate), evidence based approaches are essential.  In the case of the helicopter, determining  its effectiveness and efficiency from an evidence based perspective involves at a minimum the following steps: 

  • Establish the number of hours the helicopter will be airborne
  • Establish the number of hours that the helicopter will be on stand-by
  • Determine the type of calls for service to which the helicopter will be deployed
  • Call up the historical call for service data
  • Superimpose the deployment template over the historical data
  • Determine the number of instances the helicopter would have been deployed
  • Establish a cost per deployment
  • Establish the benefit or added value that the presence of a helicopter would have provided in the instances where it would have been deployed. 

Take vehicle pursuits as an example.  Police collect data on vehicle pursuits which include the number of pursuits per year, broken down by month, week, day of the week and hour of day.  There is also data about how long pursuits last.  

It would not be difficult or time-consuming to take the historical pursuit data, superimpose the anticipated helicopter flight times and  specify with a reasonable degree of certainty  the number of pursuits that a  helicopter would have been available to deal with in 2008.   

Let’s say for the sake of argument that Winnipeg has 100 vehicular pursuits per year and that the average pursuit lasts about 4 minutes.  This means that unless the helicopter is airborne it will arrive too late to be of use.  Based on an optimistic projection of 1000 hours of flight time, that means the helicopter would be available to aid in perhaps a dozen vehicular pursuits annually.  That’s one a month.  And based on experience in dealing with auto thieves in Winnipeg, I’m not convinced that in those dozen cases the thieves will stop the stolen vehicle, get out and lie on the ground, and wait to be arrested as has been suggested,  just because a helicopter is hovering overhead.  

This means that every time we have a pursuit in the city that ends badly and someone gets up on their soap box and says ‘it would have been different if we had a helicopter’ you need to take a big gulp of reality and say ‘it might have been different perhaps 12 percent of the time’.  The other 88 percent of the time the helicopter would have been sitting on the ground. 

It is research and data that bring reality to the debate.  It is data that elevates it from a political discussion to an evidence based debate and a decision-making process based on evidence 

Anyone who suggests that the recent council decision on the helicopter issue was an example of evidence based decision-making either does not fully understand the concept or has allowed their personal bias on the issue to cloud their judgment.   Anecdotes and rhetoric are not evidence.  

Winnipeg is a city with limited resources.  Our tax dollars need to be spent wisely.  Look at the spending of tax dollars like an investment.  Do we want our tax dollars invested with a money manager who does not do his homework, who does not do research, who simply looks at what other money managers are doing and attempts to mirror their investments and then crosses his fingers and hopes for the best?  

I suppose if you are not a Winnipeg resident and your  municipal tax dollars are going to East St. Paul  this may be less of an issue for you.   For the citizens of Winnipeg, however, it is a real issue.

A Dragons Den Scenario

The long-awaited $75,000.00 helicopter report hit the table of the Standing Policy Committee on Protection and Community Services on January 11th 2010.  Despite the fact that it has been in the works for over six months, it was late in getting there and required a suspension of the rules in order for it to be considered by the Committee.  

Let’s try to imagine for a moment what the discussion would have looked like if the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS)helicopter proposal had been brought before the popular television show, “Dragon’s Den”, instead of Standing Committee:  

WPS: “Good morning Dragons. The WPS is seeking approval for the creation of a Flight Operations Unit.  Other people wiser than you (with access to lots of money) have already decided it’s a good idea and have set aside 3.4 million dollars in the capital budget to purchase a helicopter and build a hangar.  Even wiser people (and with even more money) are looking at funding the 1.3 million dollar annual operating cost of the unit.”   

Dragon 1: “So let me get this straight.  You are not here asking for the money.  You are actually asking us to sanction the creation of a Unit within the Police Service so that you can then spend the 3.4 million dollars that has already been set aside?”  

WPS:  “Well yes, the decision has already been made but if you sanction the creation of the Unit it will make it easier for us to talk the Province into giving us the 1.3 million dollar annual operating cost.”  

Dragon 2:  “Just so that I understand – the City will incur a one time expenditure of 3.4 million for a helicopter that has a life span of, say, 10 years and the Province will pick up operating costs of between 11 and 15 million dollars over that period?”   

WPS: “Well… I guess when it comes right down to it, yes, that is what the numbers say.” 

Dragon 3:  “That sounds like a pretty sweet deal for the City.  How do you plan on talking the province into that one?”  

WPS:  “Once we get your approval it shouldn’t be too difficult.  Since the Province announced a willingness to negotiate a funding agreement in the Throne Speech, we’ve already got one foot in the door.  Besides, this isn’t an economic decision, it’s political.”   

Dragon 4: “You’re in the wrong place; you should be next door in front of Standing Committee on Protection and Community Services.  We only deal with proposals that involve a potential positive return on investment.  Our concern is the bottom line, not politics.”  

Dragon 5:   “But seeing as we have reviewed your proposal, why don’t we ask you a few questions.  It might be a good learning experience for you in the event you ever have to sell a proposal on its economic merit; you know, a proposal that involves an actual cost /benefit analysis.  Why don’t we pretend you are asking us for the money and we’ll ask you some of the questions we would ask people who ask us to invest our money in their proposals.”   

Dragon 1:  “That’s a great idea.  I’ll begin.  Your report says that a helicopter has the potential to save the Police Service money.  You mention reducing the amount of damage caused to patrol units during vehicle pursuits which right now is costing you $400,000.00 per year.  How much do you anticipate you will save in that area alone?” 

WPS:  “We haven’t actually come up with a number.” 

Dragon 1:  “I’m sure you must have looked at the vehicle damage costs in jurisdictions that currently operate helicopters.  You must know what their costs are.  How much could you save – 50%?  Say, $200,000.00?” 

WPS:  “Well perhaps, but we really haven’t run the numbers on that.” 

Dragon 1:  “You should have.  I’ll tell you what; I’ll give you 3.2 million dollars if you agree to make up the remaining 200 thousand from your existing budget based on anticipated savings.  Deal?” 

WPS:  “Actually, we were not planning on using existing budget to fund any of this cost – we were hoping to get all new money for this.  We are not prepared to put any real dollar savings on the table.”  

Dragon 1:  “And for that reason, I’m out.” 

Dragon 2:  “Maybe I can make a deal with you.  In your report you mention a number of scenarios that could yield opportunity savings, in terms of freeing up patrol units.  It you can show me a detailed report that shows projected flight times, a list of the types of incidents that the helicopter will be deployed to, and an estimate of the potential opportunity savings in terms of hours and how those savings will be invested, I’ll fund you.”   

WPS:  “That report has not been prepared yet.” 

Dragon 2:  “For that reason I’m out.”  

Dragon 3:  “Let’s try to make a deal on investing opportunity savings from another angle.  You indicate that the Service is involved in approximately 1,825 ‘containment’ operations annually and that having a helicopter would free up patrol units to perform other duties.  You also mention several other scenarios where patrol units would be freed up.  Here’s my deal:  You make an estimate as to the total number of hours of patrol time that would be freed up service wide, and use that amount of time as an opportunity saving to attack the chronic issue of slow response times to high priority calls by setting a goal for response time reduction, and I’ll give you the money.”  

WPS:  “We can’t do that because we have not run those numbers and are not prepared to commit ourselves to measurable goals that could be difficult to achieve.”     

Dragon 3:  “And for that reason I’m out.” 

Dragon 4:  “I was going to go down the research road and ask you about cherry picking quotes from studies that support your position.  Research is intended to present both sides of the argument on the issue being researched.  I’m no longer convinced that is your interest.  The last quote at the bottom of page 10 says it all and I’ll just paraphrase here:  ‘Don’t think of a helicopter as a tool to achieve specific results, think of it rather as a nice thing to have in and of itself.’   

“I’m out.” 

Dragon 5“What about me, don’t I get a shot at this?” 

Other Dragons:  “Go ahead.” 

Dragon 5:  “I don’t think this is going to fly.  I’m out.” 

Back to reality:  The WPS has brought their proposal before Standing Committee on Protection and Community Services.  It was quickly rubber stamped and sent on to EPC.  There, another rubber stamp is poised to apply the ‘approved’ label.  Then it’s off to council for a vote by the same group that already tucked the 3.4 million into the capital budget.     

And next,  its off to Broadway.  

What would happen if the Province offered to buy the city a helicopter and made the City responsible for the operating costs?  Isn’t that how deals between different levels of government are usually structured?  The senior level provides capital funding, the level delivering the service covers the operating cost.

Selling Helicopters Not Naming Rights

In some American cities, city bureaucrats are not selling the naming rights to their police helicopter; instead they are selling the helicopters.   The Colorado Springs Police Department, for example, is selling its two Bell Helicopters for $350,000 each. 

A number of other police departments, including Tulsa Oklahoma, Oakland, San Bernardino and Corona in California, have either grounded or eliminated their helicopter units.   

The reason cited in all the above mentioned cases is budget constraints.   When it comes down to boots on the ground as opposed to an ‘eye in the sky’, these American police agencies are choosing the boots. 

Winnipeg being flush with money, and having fully stocked libraries, no potholes, a fine rapid transit system etc. is bucking the trend.   Up to this point the city has made the purchase of a helicopter contingent on the Province picking up the operating cost estimated to be in the range of a million dollars a year.

A Helicopter for the Winnipeg Police – Part 4

When I  wrote Part 3 I did not anticipate a need to write a Part 4.  

I wasn’t operating under the naïve assumption that anything anyone said on the issue would reverse a decision that had already been made.  I was confident ‘the cat was already in the bag’.   

I did, however, believe that, as the mayor has a majority on council to support his position, just as a matter of process the $75,000.00 Winnipeg Police Service Helicopter Report would be made available to all the decision makers prior to the vote.  Such a move could have been made to look like a gesture of openness and transparency.  The release of the report, 6 months in the making if it contains all the required information, could have quelled the debate.  It would have answered all those unanswered questions and removed the need to simply ‘trust the experts’.      

So what is the rationale behind the $75,000.00 report being kept under wraps until sometime in the New Year?  Here are two possible scenarios:  

Scenario 1:  That the report is so woefully lacking in terms of addressing the cost/benefit aspect of the helicopter acquisition the mayor would be embarrassed to stake his reputation in support of the helicopter on the document.  The passage of a few weeks or months will ensure that this issue will have moved to the backburner in the minds of most Winnipeggers. When the report is made public most will treat it as old news.     

Number 2.  That the report is woefully incomplete and the additional time period from now until its release will be used to shore up its inadequacies so as to not embarrass the decision makers (i.e. those who had access to the report) in terms of the basis on which they made their decision.     

We may never know the answer or reasoning behind the delay in releasing the report.  If, however, we were in a position to compare the final report when it is released in 2010 to the version of the report the key decision makers no doubt had access to in November of 2009,  the question about the delay in its release might be answered. 

One last point about the decision making process on this issue centers on the council debate of the issue on December 15th.  (I cannot quote from Council Hansard as its publication is 6 weeks behind).  As I understand it, several councilors resorted to emotional and anecdotal arguments in support of their position, specifically, the death of Mr. Zdzislaw Andrzejczak.  The circumstance under which he died  is a tragedy in the first magnitude.  To attempt to insert that tragic situation into the debate without factual basis demonstrates that the councilors in question are perhaps true politicians.  It also exposes flaws in their decision making processes.  

The mayor, behaving a lot like a politician (which he originally claimed he was not), attempted to walk a very fine line on this issue.  On one hand, he agreed with the councilors’ conclusions and then in the next breath, conveniently distanced himself. 

Perhaps it’s time that the debate at the civic level be raised a notch or two.  If the debate contained more facts (what they know) as opposed to supposition (what they think they know) we might all be better off.  One thing is certain, fewer words would be used but the taxpayers would have a better understanding of what is really happening.  

One can only wonder at the questions the other $428 million in capital spending would have raised had it been subjected to closer scrutiny.  Astute parliamentarians have been known to insert red herrings into omnibus bills to divert attention away from the more substantive aspects of a bill.  Was the last minute introduction of the police helicopter a red herring designed to ensure that the remainder of the capital budget slid through the system largely unnoticed like ‘…. though a goose’ as one councilor likes to say?

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:


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?