Mayerthorpe Inquiry Begins

On March 10th 2005, I, along with hundreds (if not thousands) of police officers from Canada and the United States marched through the streets of Edmonton en-route to the funeral of four members of the RCMP.  It was a show of  solidarity and respect for the fallen officers  who had been murdered while on duty in Mayerthorpe Alberta.

There has been much speculation about what went so dreadfully wrong on that fateful day in March of 2005.  Publicly the RCMP have been tight-lipped about how it was possible for the killer to get back to the quonset hut the Mounties were guarding, unnoticed, and kill all four members present.

An inquiry under the Alberta Fatality Inquiries Act began Monday.  The intent of the inquiry is not to assign blame but rather to establish the facts and make recommendations to avoid similar tragedies in the future.

The determination that the four officers were murdered by James Roszko, aided and abetted by two others has settled the question of who was blameworthy in a criminal sense.

The inquiry, however, may shed further light on what actually happened; what the RCMP  policies and procedures were in relation to the incident  in question; what changes the RCMP have made in the ensuing 6 years; and what still needs to be done.

Many police officers (albeit without all the facts) are of the opinion that these four deaths were preventable.

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How To Not Get Your Ass Kicked by the Police

Well known comedian Chris Rock performed a  public service when he put out the video that outlines in a humorous manner how to “avoid getting your ass kicked by the police”.

Although based on the American experience, most of Rock’s ‘hints’ are as applicable in Winnipeg as anywhere else. Following  these common sense  suggestions might save you time and aggravation if you were to have an encounter with the police.

Hint #1  Obey the law

Most law abiding citizens have fewer  negative encounters with police than those who break the law.  Most people have a pretty good idea as to what is and is not legal.  If you don’t,  find out what the law is (in most cases a quick Google search will tell you) and obey it.  That way in the event you are stopped you know what the outcome is going to be.  You will be leaving on your own and end up at home as opposed to the Remand Center courtesy of  a black and white taxi.

Hint #2   Stop Immediately

If the police are attempting to pull you over they usually have a reason for doing so.  Perhaps you violated the Highway Traffic Act or you (and/or your vehicle) match the description of a person or vehicle wanted for a crime recently committed, or you are riding in a stolen car.  Once you see the flashing lights – stop.  Your encounter with police will be less traumatic it they don’t have to chase you down.

Hint #3 Be Polite

Most police officers, when they stop you, will be polite.  Be polite in return.  Do not give the police a reason to not be polite.  If your car is bouncing up and down with the music, take Chris Rock’s advice and ‘turn that shit off’.  If you are asked for your drivers license and registration (which police are entitled to do if you are driving a car), produce them.

Hint #4  If stopped stay in your car with your hands visible

With the number of illegal weapons (guns, tasers, peppers spray) on the street, police have a legitimate concern for their safety when they stop you either as a pedestrian or driving a vehicle.  If the police pull you over while driving your vehicle stay in the vehicle and keep your hands where police can see them.  Don’t be reaching under the seat or your glove box as police walk up to your vehicle.  They may think (and legitimately so) that you are reaching for a weapon.  Stay in the car until police ask you to get out.  If you are stopped as a pedestrian, don’t reach into your pockets, or inside your coat.  If police want you to pull out your identification, they will ask you.

Hint #5  Respond to questions when asked and avoid being verbally abusive

Most times when you are stepped by police they will advise you why they stopped you.  If they don’t, politely ask them for the reason.  Yelling and screaming at police during the first stages of a stop will not work in your favour.  If police are going to ‘detain’ you even for a short period of time, be aware that every citizen has the right under Section 10 of the Charter of Right and Freedoms to being informed of the reason for the detention.  So if you are not told up front, ask –  politely.

Hint #6  Be aware of what passengers in your car have on them

If you are going to give someone a ride and you know that they usually carry a gun, drugs,  other contra ban such as stolen goods or have outstanding warrants for their arrest, you are asking for trouble.  If the police see such a person in your car you will be stopped and the stop may well be treated as a high risk take down so you and your passenger(s) may find yourselves out of the car quickly and spread eagled on the street without a lot of questions being asked.  If you don’t want that have your friend take a taxi or a bus.

Watch the video.  Chris Rock says it so well  and he’s so right.

How To Not Get Your Ass Kicked By The Police

Force Option Decision Based on Politics

San Francisco Police Commission ignores  data during Taser debate.    

In a previous post I discussed the lengths the San Francisco Police Department had gone to  in examining its use of force policy, and to review the data on actual use of lethal force by members of the  Department  over a four-year period.  

The results of that review supported the introduction of a less than lethal force option (Conducted Energy Device) commonly know as Tasers.  The study showed that in five of the  cases where lethal force was used between 2004 and 2009, Tasers would have been a viable option.  In other words,  lives could have been saved.  A motion to introduce Tasers was recently debated by the San Francisco Police Commission and rejected.     

Reading between the lines one could conclude that the rejection of the motion was not really about Tasers.  Rather it seems to be about the power struggle between a new Chief of Police and the Commission.  George Gascon was brought in to implement change and he is trying to do that.  Some members of the Commission, however, see him as a threat to their traditional power base.  

The members of the Commission who voted against the Taser proposal could be accused of putting their own agenda ahead of public safety.  Yes there are dangers inherent in Taser use but what is the alternative?  I know if I were to be on the receiving end and were given the option of the Taser or the Glock, the decision would be quick and easy.  The choice is between the very slight possibility of serious injury and almost certain death.  

So why did the Commission vote the way they did?  I recently did a presentation at the University of Winnipeg on the Economic Model of Crime and one of the things discussed was the decision-making process that led to Council approval of the helicopter in Winnipeg.  I said at the time that politics trumps economics, every time.  In San Francisco we have a case where politics trumps data, evidence, and common sense.  This can happen anywhere but only when we let it.   

Politicians are our elected representatives and if they are acting out their fantasies or serving their own personal interests as opposed to serving the public will, election time serves as a good opportunity for the electorate to respond.

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.

Winnipeg Police Physical Fitness – Part II

The potential cost of the proposal by the Police Union in real terms

During the helicopter debate I discussed the concept of opportunity savings which in that context dealt with the number of officer hours that the introduction of a new tool or technology might free up.  The saving comes in the form of an opportunity to redeploy officers for a period of minutes or hours to a new duty from the duty they previously were engaged in.  Such redeployment is referred to as opportunity spending.  

In both the opportunity saving and spending scenarios the bottom line in terms of budgeted spending remains static.  Change is instead reflected in the activities in which the officer’s time is invested.  In order for the equation to remain truly static an opportunity saving must be created  before opportunity spending can be contemplated. 

The recent attempt by the Winnipeg Police Association (WPA) the union representing police officers in Winnipeg to get the city to agree to paid workout time as part of their regular shift is an example of opportunity spending.  

The union would argue that it is a no cost item as officer salaries (and the salary budget) would not increase.  From the union perspective it is simply a matter of time reallocation from regular duties such as uniform patrol or investigations to time spent working out in the gym.  They would argue that there is no real ‘loss’ to the city.  From the union perspective the city would be swapping patrol time for officers who would in turn be more fit and effective during the times they are on the street.  

Because the union proposal did not contain any ‘savings’  to be invested, there would be a significant cost to the city in terms of time diverted from regular policing duties to work outs.  For union/management bargaining purposes, this body of time needs to have a dollar value attached to it.   From the city’s perspective the starting point would be to calculate a dollar value based on a scenario where all eligible officers availed themselves of the benefit at every opportunity.  For the purpose of this discussion let’s look at a scenario where all 1328 officers employed by the WPS (based on the authorized 2008 complement) chose to take advantage of either a 20 or 30 minute paid workout period during each shift worked.     

The maximum amount of  time that would be consumed if all officers were granted 20 minutes to work out per days would be roughly 64 hours per year per officer.  Multiplied by the total number of officers that works out to approximately 84,000 thousand hours.  That is the equivalent to removing 40 officers from the street for a full year.  Add to that the 20 minutes of accumulated time that would be taken by the officer and the ‘street absence’ doubles to 168,000 hours or the equivalent of 80 officers per year.  

Under the 30 minutes per workday scenario it would work out to 96 hours per officer,  representing a total of 60 person years that the city would give up and once the additional time off taken by officers is factored in, it works out to losing the equivalent of 120 officer years of street duty.     

These calculations are based on the presumption that all officers work 10 hour shifts.  The fact is that many officers work 8 or 9 hour shifts.  For officers working the shorter shifts the cost would be significantly higher since they work more days per year and would therefore have more opportunities to avail themselves of the work out time.  The calculations are done on a worst case scenario from the city perspective, assuming all officers availed themselves of the work out provision at every opportunity.  The union  would argue that would not happen and that there would not be 100 percent uptake on the program.  They are  correct but in a scenario where you don’t know what would happen you need to establish what could happen (that is, the potential risk to the city).     

In dollar terms the opportunity spending cost of this proposal would be close to 2.95 million dollars for the 20 minute plan and 4.4 million dollars for the 30 minute plan.  This again is based on a worst or best case scenario (depending on your perspective) where each officer availed themselves of the workout period during each shift.  

The union’s position has consistently been that the city requires more police officers on the street.  It is difficult to mount a logical argument to expand the police complement when in the same breath you say that removing the equivalent of between 40 or 60 officers from active street duty would not negatively affect service delivery.

The next post in this series will examine the bargaining approach the union used in this instance and the difference between positional and interest based bargaining.

Winnipeg Police Physical Fitness – Part I

The cost of the existing police physical fitness program in Winnipeg

All Police officers hired since the late 1980’s are subject to a physical fitness standard as a condition of employment.  The standard which requires completion of drills and activities that simulate on the job activities such as speed, agility, endurance and strength must be completed within a fixed period of time.  Officers are tested annually.  Because progression through the various classes of Constable and promotion to higher ranks is tied to meeting the fitness standard, the compliance rate is high. 

Officers are further encouraged to meet the standard through an incentive program which gives officers who meet or exceed the standard 20 hours of time off annually.  Officers hired prior to the introduction of the mandatory program can enter the program on a voluntary basis and if they meet the standard, they too receive 20 hours of time off annually. 

If all officers availed themselves of this provision, it would result in the granting of 26,400 hours of time off annually.    At an average wage of $35.00 per hour, the dollar cost equates to just under 1 million dollars a year.   

Other fitness incentives for police officers offered by the City include gymnasiums in the Public Safety Building as well as in the other four District Stations and the Police Academy.  The City pays for the space, heating/cooling and general maintenance of these gymnasiums.  Much of the equipment was purchased by the Police Union and the ongoing maintenance and replacement of equipments is covered by a dollar a week levy that is assessed to all users.  The facilities located in operational police buildings are open 24 hours a day. 

The City also pays the cost of fitness passes to other city owned facilities such as the Sam Southern complex, The Pan Am Pool, the Cindy Klassen Recreation Centre and others for officers who prefer these facilities to a conventional gym.    The City also picks up the salary cost for the physical fitness coordinator. 

The overall cost to the city is in the range of 1 million dollars. 

Based on the recent attempts by the Winnipeg Police Association (the union which represents police officers in Winnipeg) to negotiate paid workout time through the media (a request which was denied), the union is clearly of the view that officers are not as fit as they should be. 

Subsequent posts will look at the cost of what the union was asking for and their approach to bargaining.

San Francisco Police – Making Force Option Decisions Based on Evidence

San Francisco Police review  police shootings and use of force policy. 

George Gascon took over as the Chief of the San Francisco Police Department in July of 2009.   Early on in his tenure he realized that there might be a problem with the Department’s use of force policy.  San Francisco is one of the few major American police agencies that does not use conducted energy devices (Tasers).  This creates a gap in terms of the use of force options available to San Francisco Police officers – a gap that Gascon perhaps thought might be resulting in the overuse of the deadly force option. 

Instead of simply relying on intuition and making a unilateral move to introduce conducted energy devices to fill the apparent gap he  ordered that the issue be studied.  

The study undertaken by Assistant Chief Morris Tabak* used an evidence based approach to study the issue.  Tabak reviewed a total of 15 files that involved the use of deadly force by San Francisco police officers between 2005 and 2009.  

File data revealed that  police actions resulted in the death of the suspect in 8 of the 15 cases; the other 7 cases resulted in serious injury but the suspects survived.  Tabak concluded that the existing use of force policy (which did not include the use of conducted energy devices) was complied with in all 15 cases.  Under the existing policy the use of deadly force was justified as no less lethal option existed.       

Most, if not all, use of force policies do not consider the use of less than lethal force as an option in situations where the suspect is armed with a gun.  Seven of the 15 cases in question involved suspects armed with guns.  

The review centered on the remaining 8 cases that involved suspects not in possession of firearms.  Based on information in the case files it was concluded that in 5 of the remaining 8 cases the use of less than lethal force such as a conducted energy device would have been a viable option without endangering the lives of police officers. The study in essence superimposed a policy template that included a less than lethal force option over 5 real life scenarios to determine how the police response in  those 5 cases would have been affected had such an option existed.  

The study produced evidence  (data) that adds clarity to the issue and can be used by decision makers to debate and decide the issue on its merits.  This is an example of how evidence can be used to diminish arbitrariness in the decision-making process.  

Based on the findings, Chief Gascon will be recommending that  the use of force policy be amended to include a less than lethal option and that officers be issued with conducted energy devices.  The San Francisco Police Commission will have at its disposal research based evidence when this issue is debated and decided later this month.    

* The 185 page report written by Assistant Chief Morris Tabak is available  under the heading  –Officer Involved Shootings- A five Year Study at:

http://sf-police.org