Police Staffing Through Election Promises

Election promises at both the civic and provincial level have become the defining vehicle in terms of determining police staffing.

Announcing proposed increases to police funding at election time is not a new thing.  In the mid 1990’s the Filmon government made the first foray into this area by announcing that the Province would provide funding to expand the complement of the Winnipeg Police Service by 24 positions.  This was a purely political decision made at the Provincial level without any prior consultation with the Winnipeg Police Service.  As a matter of fact the Chief of the day was advised on the morning  the announcement was made and asked to attend the announcement to serve as ‘wallpaper’ for the Premier’s announcement.  The Chief of course, not wanting to ‘look a gift horse in the mouth’,  attended and came away with an additional 2 million dollars for the police budget.

Over the years, announcing police funding increases at election time has become the norm.  It has proven to be a sure-fire way to attract votes and win elections.

During the last civic election the Mayor used the same tactic.  Mayor Katz pledged increases to both police and civilian staff and was endorsed by the Winnipeg Police Association (WPA).  Some argued that the WPA  endorsement was contingent on the commitment to increase police and staff positions while others believed the increase in staffing to be contingent on the WPA endorsement.  Others insisted that the two issues were unrelated and the fact that the Mayor announced the staffing increase at the same time as the WPA endorsed the mayor was purely a coincidence.

As the current provincial election campaign gains traction it is interesting to see the bidding war that is developing as the two main contenders attempt to outbid each other (using our money) on the policing and law and order issue.

One of the major problems with politically motivated spending on policing is that additional money (positions) are allocated not by the police service but rather by the politicians to coincide with their current political priorities.

But that’s only partially the politicians fault.  Blame must also be placed with the police executives.

In the absence of a well laid out policing and crime deduction strategy with specific goals and costs attached, politicians jump into the fray and set the agenda.  To a degree they are simply filling a vacuum created by the lack of strategic operational leadership within policing.

As I have said before, what should be happening in terms of policing, crime reduction and police staffing is that politicians should clearly state their goals to police in terms of what they want accomplished, ie a percentage crime reduction across the board or in specific offence categories.

Police executives should devise a plan complete with broad goals, strategies and tactics that would be employed to accomplish the stated goals along with an  outline of specific areas of responsibility within the police service.  Such a plan would be accompanied with a price tag in terms of additional resources that would be required in terms of increase in personnel and other costs.

Once such a plan was developed politicians could decide if that is was they want and whether they want to fund it or not.  If the plan is adopted and funded,  accountability then exists between the police and the elected officials.

Until this happens we will continue to see money spent haphazardly, at election time, based on the political priorities of the day.

Province Quashes Warrants

Quite apart from the core issue, which is whether the Province should have quashed old outstanding warrants in the first place, there is another issue.

How many warrants were quashed,  for what types of offences,  and why is the government reluctant to disclose that information?

The province is taking the position they don’t know how many cases this purge involved and  that it would be expensive and time-consuming to make that determination.

I believe the reason is not a time and money issue.  I believe the province does not want to share the information so as to  (hopefully) avoid a political fire storm.

Why do I believe that it’s not a time and money issue?  Because I believe a list already exists.

Outstanding warrants are entered on the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) system so that if police encounter a wanted person they can execute the warrant.  So….at the time that the warrants were quashed, the Province would (or should) have provided  Winnipeg Police and RCMP with lists of the names of accused persons whose warrants were quashed in order that police could remove them from CPIC.  The police would need to do this to ensure persons no longer wanted on warrants are not unnecessarily arrested.  Unnecessary arrests could create a liability issue; if not for police, certainly for the province.

Such lists were provided to police, right?

If not, they should be, and quickly.

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) http://www.taser.com/products/law/Pages/default.aspx


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.

A Helicopter for the Winnipeg Police – Part 1

The Players 

All the usual players are lined up in their starting positions.  The mayor has let it be known that he thinks Winnipeg needs a whirlybird.  After all, he had a conversation with a police officer from Alberta who told him that a helicopter in the air is as good as 18 police officers on the ground.  Convincing argument?  This is also another opportunity for the mayor to “deliver” something paid for by others, an area in which he’s demonstrated a certain amount of talent.  

 The Chief of Police, taking his lead from the mayor, concurs.  He even went to Alberta, took a ride, and liked it.  It would seem that, unlike the photo radar issue where the mayors message was not getting through to the Police Service, this is one of those issues where the directive has been received and the chief has the song book open at the right page.  

For the official opposition it’s a ‘no brainer’:  if they support the concept and it happens then they will be able to claim part of the credit.  If it doesn’t happen, then it serves to differentiate their position from that of the government.  The helicopter issue along with photo radar could be the first plank in the policing and law and order platform for the next election. The Provincial Conservatives are on side. 

The Winnipeg Sun is gleeful at the prospect of a police helicopter. 

Some civic politicians, sensing votes to be had, are lining up behind the Mayor.  

It’s almost a perfect storm.  

Why almost?   Because the Minister of Justice and Attorney General who would need to convince his  provincial colleagues that this would be a good expenditure of tax dollars has not weighed in yet.    

Could it be that he is the only decision maker in this equation that will actually gather the facts and make a rational as opposed to a political decision on this matter? 

In policing and other fields of public service delivery, there are times when political ‘wants’ trump operational ‘needs’.  In current times it seems that political decisions are made and then studies on the operational aspects of the issue are ordered to prop up the reigning political position.  

That would appear to be the case on the Winnipeg police helicopter question.  

Any bets that the Winnipeg Police examination of the issue will come out in support of the mayor’s  position?

Part 2 will examine the difference between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ as they relate to public policy issues. 

Part 3 will look at the process that the Winnipeg Police Service should follow to determine if they ‘need’ a helicopter.