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?

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 Sixth Principle

Principle Six

To use physical force only when the  exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public cooperation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order; and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

This principle can be divided into two sub-principles.  The first deals with the hierarchy of approaches that should be used by police in securing observance of the law or to restore order in situations where the law has been violated.  The second deals with situations where a decision has been made that the use of physical force is appropriate and deals with the degree or amount of force that should be used. 

Peel makes it clear  the initial approach by police should be to use methods such as persuasion, advice and warning in preference to physical force.  This implies a rational approach to situations.  The corollary is that police are dealing with rational individuals.  Irrational individuals are not likely to respond positively to a verbal exchange. 

The majority of situations involving exchanges between police and citizens are rational exchanges.  This is reflected in the National Use of Force Framework promoted by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.  A visual representation of the framework is presented here to add clarity. 

  05-Nuff

 Source:  Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.  Available at: http://www.cacp.ca/media/library/download/266/Useofforcemodel.pdf 

This framework assists officers in their decision making process in terms of ensuring the approach they use is not only appropriate but also effective in the given situation they are facing.   

The chart is read starting from the 12 o’clock position.  The center of the chart represents the situation faced by a police officer and may vary from friendly/passive encounters to life and death scenarios.   

The first police response is simply a physical presence.  In many situations the presence of a police officer is all that is required to quell a situation.  The second response (the 2 o’clock position on the chart) is communication.  In many situations a conversation between an officer and a citizen(s) is all that is required to ensure compliance with the law and/or to restore order.  This second response can be related to Peel’s ‘persuasion, advice and warning’. 

The subsequent responses in the use of force framework rely on an ever increasing use of force in the form of hard physical control, intermediate weapons and ultimately the use of lethal force. 

The principle goes on to state that if non-physical measures are not adequate to secure observance of the law or to restore order then only as much force as is necessary should be used by police. 

This is an area that often causes  conflict between police and the public.  Many citizens when arrested claim that the amount of force used against them was excessive based on what their intention was.  They may have known what their intention was but the police officer did not and cannot assume what the citizen’s intention might be.  For that reason most use of force polices in Canada employ the ‘plus one doctrine’ which sees police officers use force that is one step above the force or resistance they encounter.  This approach is taken to ensure the safety of the officer. 

One of the shortcomings of the use of force policies of most policing agencies is their failure to educate the public as to what the policy is.  Proper education and perhaps even publication of the use of force policy would address the issue of people not understanding what the police are likely to do in a given situation, and why.  Using the plus one doctrine, police are justified, by policy, in using lethal force when confronted by an aggressive suspect with a weapon such as a knife,  if the suspect does not drop the weapon when ordered to do so.  Perhaps if suspects were aware of this they would be more likely to drop the knife when ordered to do so by police.

Peel’s Fifth Principle

Principle 5 

To seek and to preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustices of the substance of individual laws; by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing; by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life. 

This principle gets to the meat of the matter in terms of separating policing from political influence. Public favour is maintained not by catering to the wants and needs of interest groups in society but rather by complete and total impartial service to the law.  Everyone is deemed equal before the law and through observance of the rule of impartiality the police can make that a reality.  

Police policies must be independent of political influence and they cannot and should not be over-ridden by political agendas.  Police policy must provide equality of service to all citizens.  It must not matter that one knows the premier, a member of the Legislative Assembly, the mayor or a city counselor.  The true test of the equality of a system is the ability to get the same service and treatment despite the fact that you have no political connections.  This separation of politics and policy does not imply that politicians cannot provide policy direction.  It simply means that once policy has been put in place there should be no attempt by politicians to influence outcomes or interject themselves into situations on a case by case basis.  To do so would “pierce the sacred veil of operations”, the veil being the invisible barrier that separates political decision making from operational decision making.   

Police must refrain from being publicly critical of existing legislation.  The role of the police is to enforce laws, not to criticize legislation.  The police must also refrain from criticizing judicial decisions as doing so undermines the administration of justice.  Criticism of the law and judicial decisions, especially in terms of sentencing decisions, reveals a glaring lack of their understanding of the police role in the criminal justice system.  If police officers are not able to accept that at a personal level that they will not agree with some judicial decision then they are in the wrong line of work. Not only will it cause frustration, it may also lead to flawed decision making and differential treatment of members of the public.     

 It is especially troublesome when senior police executives don’t understand their role and make public comment critical of judicial decisions.  Police executives certainly have a role to play in this regard but it should not be one of offering criticism in a public forum.  They have access to politicians both on an individual basis and through advocacy organization such as associations of chiefs of police at both the provincial and federal level which afford the opportunity to air their concerns and make recommendations for change.      

This principle also makes it clear that individual wealth and social standing should not affect the level of service citizens receive from police.  Because these principles were written in the early 1800’s, race is not mentioned as British society at that time was not racially diverse.  In modern society the delivery of police services and race has become an issue and police service delivery must not only be blind in terms of wealth and social standing, it must also be color blind.  It is ironic that most police agencies as part of the screening process, test applicants for colour blindness.  Applicants who are colour blind (in terms of the primary colours) are screened out.  In a broader social sense, police agencies should in fact attempt to identify and hire recruits that are truly ‘colour blind’.          

The last aspect of this principle addresses the willingness to make individual sacrifices to protect and preserve life.  Police agencies have an obligation to create a safe workplace for police officers through training, policy, procedures and the use of technology and appropriate equipment.  It must be recognized that some aspects of police work are inherently dangerous.  This principle addresses the issue of officer safety from the perspective of ensuring that procedures not become so restrictive that the safety of citizens is negatively affected.  An example might be a restriction that does not allow an officer to go to the assistance of a citizen at risk unless accompanied by another officer.  A healthy balance must be struck between officer safety concerns and the safety of citizens.