Policing in Winnipeg is at a crossroads

photo courtesy winnipegfreepress.com


Murders are at an all time high.  Assaults, robberies and theft are rampant.  Our streets are more unsafe than in recent memory.  Retailers are being robbed daily.  Homeowners are having their personal property vandalised and stolen.  In the minds of many their homes are no longer a place of security.

The question is, what are we going to do?  Are we going to wring our hands and bemoan this current sad state of affairs or are we going to demand action?

The problem is, even if enough people got together and demanded action who do we direct such a demand to?  Our Mayor and City Councillors who are responsible for the oversight of policing in Winnipeg?  The Police Board or the Police Service?  Or should we go straight to the Chief of Police?

The 2015-2019 Winnipeg Police Service Strategic Plan outlined four goals and objectives for that time period.  The Police Service’s mission statement is, “Build safe and healthy communities across Winnipeg through excellence in law enforcement and leadership in crime prevention through social development”.  The specific goals are stated as, “less crime and victimization, engaged communities, effective and efficient service and a healthy organization”.

The goals sound laudable enough but when the entire approach is predicated on the flawed strategy of “crime prevention through social development”, the chances of success are limited.  One has only to  look at what is happening on our streets and to look at the crime statistics.  The goals are not being achieved.  The crime rate is rising, calls for service are increasing, and response times are suffering.

Our Mayor seems totally preoccupied with the budget — limiting the size of any tax increase and cutting services is the order of the day.  Nobody wants to pay higher taxes but by the same token nobody (except the criminals) wants to see a continuation of the lawlessness we see on our streets, in our stores and even in private homes.  The Mayor and the Police Service seem to be in lockstep doing the crime prevention through social development and addressing root causes two step.  Its not working and the public is getting tired of hearing the same music and watching our leaders dance the same dance.

The time is right for our leaders to dig deep and reassess how Winnipeg is policed, and how it should be policed.   The recently announced study being conducted in conjunction with Harvard University is a step in the right direction.  Our police officers have become so entangled performing tasks that fall outside the scope of policing that there is limited time to concentrate on their primary mission.   We need to decide what we want our police to do.

Back in 1974 when the eight municipal police departments were amalgamated into the Winnipeg Police Department (as it was then known), every officer was issued with a set of regulations that governed the police and outlined what their function was.  It outlined the primary objectives of the Police Department as: “The safety of the lives and property of citizens, The preservation of peace and good order, The prevention of crime, The detection of offenders, The enforcement of the laws”.

The reason I believe we are at a crossroads is because we have wandered a long way from those objectives outlined in the early 70’s.  We must decide what we want from our police.    Do we want our police officers to be social engineers?  Do we want our approach to crime prevention to be based on a social development strategy?  Do we want to task our police officers with the job of addressing the root causes of crime?

We need our police officers to get back to the basics:  keeping citizens and their property safe, preserving peace and order, preventing crime, arresting offenders and enforcing the law.


Strategic Planning in Policing – Part II

Planning – The Process

Planning is by definition a future oriented activity.  If an organization is satisfied with what it is currently doing and how they are doing it there is no need to plan. It’s simply a matter of maintaining the status quo. A plan is only required in situations where the destination or outcome is at variance with the status quo.

There has been much discussion among academics and practitioners alike as to what comes first in terms of the strategic planning process.  Although there is general agreement that strategic plans should include a vision statement, mission statement and core values, there is less agreement as to how they should be arrived at.

Many instances of major organizational change involve change at the top in terms of leadership.  In such scenarios leaders are frequently chosen based on their vision of the future of the organization.  In such instances the leader’s vision becomes the organization’s vision.  In terms of policing organizations the hiring of a new leader (chief) generally signals such a change which is usually accompanied by the introduction of a 1oo day, 6 month and 1 year plan outlining the new direction of the organization.

In situations where a leader is chosen to essentially be a caretaker of an organization and there is no anticipation of major organizational change, the emphasis will shift from strategic planning to greater attention of operational issues designed to maintain the status quo.

The alternative approach is to develop the vision and mission from within the organization based on the collective will of the organization (employees).  This is a slow, time consuming process.  In many instances organizationally developed plans are watered down plans that attempt to please everyone and in the end please no one.  This committee style of approach often results in the production of a ‘camel’ (a horse designed by a committee) as various groups and individuals add on humps and lumps to the original design.

Environmental Scanning

Dr. Chun Wei Choo (University of Toronto) provides the following definition of environment scanning: Environmental scanning is the acquisition and use of information about events, trends and relationships in an organization’s external environment, the knowledge of which would assist management in planning the organization’s future course of action.

There is general agreement that conducting a complete in-depth environmental scan is essential as a first step in the strategic planning process.  Private industry has successfully used this technique for decades to gain a competitive advantage.  Police departments, although a monopoly, can use the approach to improve performance and seek and establish an advantage in relation to criminals and criminal activity.

Environmental scans can be undertaken using various approaches or formats but some of the most common approaches center on the SWOT approach.  SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weakness’, opportunities and threats.  The strengths and weakness aspect deals with issues internal to the organization and would look at things like the size, training and level of commitment of the workforce, status of leadership within the organization at all levels,  and adequacy of existing policy.  The opportunity and threats analysis would examine issues such as synergies, partnerships and working relationships that could be developed along with threats to the organization.  As indicated in the table below, a SWOT analysis concentrates on identifying internal and external factors that are either helpful or harmful to goal achievement.

SWOT ANALYSIS MATRIX Helpful to goal achievement Harmful to goal achievement
Internal Strengths Weakness
External Opportunities Threats

There are other environmental scanning models such as the PESTEL analysis which examines political, economic, technological, legal and socio-cultural factors.  The analytical needs of an organization best determine the choice of an analytical model.  The issue is not which model you use but rather that you perform a systematic in-depth environment scan.  Because the field of medicine has been a leader in terms of implementing the scientific approach, let me use a medical analogy here:  formulating a strategic plan with goals, objectives, strategies and tactics without first doing a complete environmental scan would be akin to a doctor prescribing a drug or course of treatment prior to obtaining a complete medical history and doing an examination and perhaps tests on a patient.  Medical examinations and environmental scans identify symptoms and causes and form the basis for ‘treatment’.

The Nuts and Bolts of a Strategic Plan

What follows is a list of the key components incorporated in most strategic plans prepared by police agencies:

Vision Statement – The vision statement incorporates the desired end state or destination visualized by leadership of the organization.  It expresses what the organization wants to be or where it wants to be. Vision statements are not intended to be prescriptive in terms of how the organization will achieve its desired end state.  Prescriptive vision statements tend to limit the strategic options either available to or considered by the organization.

The very best vision statements are brief and to the point.  Ideally every member of the organization should be able to tell you what the organizations vision is.  If they cannot, then how can they be said to be working toward the vision?  Brief but meaningful vision statements are easily remembered and easier for individual members of the organization to incorporate into their personal raison d’être.

Mission Statement – In a private sector context mission statements generally address three issues -what is it that the organization does, who are the stakeholders or target audience, and what distinguishes this particular organization from all others, i.e. what is it about this organization that creates a competitive advantage.  Because public sector organizations such as police departments are monopolies and provide services to the entire public at large, identifying stakeholders and creating a competitive advantage as such are not an issue.  Creating and delivering a high quality of service is incumbent on all monopolies.

Let’s turn then to the first aspect of the mission statement, that being, describing what the organization does. Why is this so important?  It is important to ensure that there is agreement between the organization and the stakeholders as to what the mission is. In a police setting if the organization sees its mission as something else than what the stakeholders expect, there will be unfulfilled expectations and friction between the police and the public. That is why it is so vitally important that a police department have a clear mission statement that reflects the wants and needs of the stakeholders which in this context includes the public, elected officials and the members of the organization.

Core Values- In Canada we have incorporated into our constitution a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter is the prime law of the land.  This means that any law that violates the charter can be challenged as being unconstitutional.  If a law is deemed unconstitutional the portions of the law that are unconstitutional are deemed null and void.

The core values of an organization essentially form its internal charter of rights and freedoms, it’s prime law.  Organizations that are truly committed to their core values will ensure that all its policies and procedures are in keeping with its core values.  It will ensure that the actions of its members, especially the leadership cadre reflect the core values.  It will ensure that policies that violate the core values are amended, and that members of the organization whose actions violate the core values are censured or disciplined in a meaningful manner.  Every violation of the core values that is not addressed weakens the core value.

Core values in both private and public organizations are largely universal and center on values such as honesty, integrity, openness, trust, respect and accountability.

The next post will deal with the remaining components of a strategic plan.