Just Answer the Question, Sam

When I read Bartley Kives’ interview with Mayor Sam Katz in today’s Winnipeg Free Press where Kives asked the mayor about the murders in the north end, two things came to mind: firstly,  the answer does not fit the question, and secondly, in the words of Shakespeare, he  “doth protest too much, methinks”.

It is not unusual for politicians to avoid answering questions put to them by the media.

What is unusual (and curious) is when  politicians offer up information that although not relevant to the question invites all kinds of other questions while revealing  their insecurities and self doubt about the things they are doing.

In his year end interview with the Mayor, Bartley Kives asked the Mayor a simple question:  FP: How do you feel about the unsolved triple shooting at the end of October?”

The Mayor’s reply was It was not a good day in the City of Winnipeg, I’ll be blunt with you. I assume (the police) are still doing their investigation and will come up with information and hopefully solve it. For all I know, they could have suspects as we speak. But I don’t know, because I don’t interfere with police investigations. I have never done it before and I have no intention of doing it right now.”

Let’s analyze the part about the shootings not being “…a good day in the City of Winnipeg…”

He seems more concerned with the overall image of the city, but is this the time to be worrying about it in this context?!  What kind of day do you think it was for the 3 people who were shot?  What kind of a day to you think it was for their relatives, friends and neighbours?  What kind of day do you think it was and still is for the neighbourhood where the random shootings took place when they are advised by police that they couldn’t protect them and they should stay in their houses?

When you look at the Crimestat map depicting homicides, shootings, muggings and sexual assaults in a few of Winnipeg’s north end communities, it’s readily obvious that it’s been awhile since those communities have had a “good day in the City of Winnipeg”.

Winnipeg Police Crimestat (depicting homicides, shootings. muggings and sexual assaults  between January 1st 2010 and December 27 2010)

The mayor went on to say “I assume (the police) are still doing their investigation and will come up with information and hopefully solve it. For all I know, they could have suspects as we speak.”

Unless the mayor is not reading the briefing notes he is sent (or dozing off during his weekly briefings with the chief of police), there is no need for him to make any such assumptions on the progress of an ongoing investigation. To suggest he is taking a disinterested ‘hands off approach’ in terms of the progress of this investigation means he is either a fool or he is negligent.  Politicians need to keep themselves informed and abreast of what is happening.  To pretend otherwise is cause for concern.  The mayor can and should be kept informed about the progress in an investigation of this magnitude and it can be accomplished without piercing the ‘sacred veil’ of police operations.

Lastly, the Mayor says:  “But I don’t know, because I don’t interfere with police investigations. I have never done it before and I have no intention of doing it right now.”

Where is this comment coming from?  Where in the interview is it suggested that he has or may be interfering with police investigations? Why the unsolicited denial?  Even the layperson knows that there is a big difference between being briefed and being kept aware of the progress of police investigations, and interfering in them.  Politicians should keep themselves informed, and they must not yield to the temptation to interfere.

The mayor then qualifies his statement further by saying he has never done it (it being, interfering with police investigations) and that he has no intention of doing it right now.  Never is a pretty strong word. All inclusive, leaves little wiggle room, little room for interpretation. Never means never. Not even once.

The mayor says he will not interfere with the ongoing police investigation “right now.”  Does that mean he is reserving the right to interfere in this or other police investigations in the future?

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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.

Will the New PSB Please Step Forward

The New Mega Public Safety Building 

This is the first in a series of articles examining the re-location of police headquarters from 151 Princess Street to 266 Graham Avenue.  This series will take a  look at the expressed operational rationale behind the move and the related costs. 

The Question:  Which building will the Winnipeg Police Service be moving into when they vacate the Public Safety Building?   

A)  The Winnipeg Post Office office tower at 266 Graham,    

                                                    OR

B)  The Winnipeg Mail Processing Plant, (WMPP) illustrated in the photo below?

The Answer:  B, the Mail Prosessing Plant

There is a lot of buzz in Winnipeg these days, especially in the police community, about what has been dubbed as the new ‘Mega PSB’.  The $135 million plan recently approved by council will see police moving out of its current headquarters, the Public Safety Building at 151 Princess Street, by 2013. 

Which space are they actually moving into?  If your impression is that it will be the office tower facing Graham Avenue, featured on the City of Winnipeg website as the new headquaters, then you have the wrong impression.  In this case what you see is not what you get.  * (See web link below)  You can’t be blamed entirely, though.  The mayor and the city spin doctors (another example of your tax dollars at work) have done a nice job of spinning this one.   

The portion of the property that the police are actually getting is the old Winnipeg Mail Processing Plant – the dumpy, or shall we say, squat, four-storey structure at the south end of the property and not the impressive office tower that has been so prominently featured in the media.  (Of course, once you put that brand spanking-new shooting range on top, it might not look so squat.)  The public seems to have concluded, almost unanimously, that the police were moving into the office tower.  But even with the best spin it is difficult to fool all of the people all of the time. 

In fairness the report prepared for Council when carefully read implies that the police won’t be getting the office tower.   As is so often the case, interpretation becomes important and the devil is truly in the details. **  In this instance, the ‘details’ reveal that  the portion of the property being redeveloped is limited to the Winnipeg Mail Processing Plant and does not include the office tower which served as the backdrop for the ‘turning over the key/early Christmas present ceremony’ orchestrated by the City.  The office tower portion of the property, it turns out, is tied up in existing leases and options and will not likely be available for police use for the next 15 years

The current plan calls for the city to develop approximately half a million square feet of space for police use at a cost of $135 million:  $30 million to purchase the building and another $105 million to do the upgrades.  There are some important unanswered questions hanging in the air.  Anyone who has restored an old building, or watched This Old House knows that when you revive old buildings they can become money pits. Does buying and restoring a 55 year old building to replace a 45 year old building (PSB), the interior of which has been recently and extensively upgraded, make good sense from a practical business perspective?   Were other options considered?  Can this project be brought in on budget or is there a risk that this project will become a public money pit with Winnipeg taxpayers footing bill? 

Frankly, a more thorough examination of the monetary and non-monetary reasons put forward by the Police Service and the Property and Development Department in support of this proposal is needed.  Is the space being redeveloped adequate to house all Divisions, Units, and services being proposed for relocation to the site?  Is relocation of units such as the Professional Standards Unit within the confines of a police station appropriate?  Are the operational advantages and savings cited in the report real or are they empty words used to prop up the proposal and make it easier for decision makers to arrive at the ‘right’ decision?   

Those issues and questions as well as others will be examined in future posts.

In the meantime, a quick memo to Sponsor Winnipeg:  Now that the City owns the building at 266 Graham, best to put it on the naming block, and consider removing the Winnipeg Square Parkade in light of the fact that the City has already paid someone $400,000 in commissions to sell that particular property.

* Image of Post Office Tower from the City of Winnipeg website at:

http://winnipeg.ca/interhom/headquarters.stm

** Complete report on the City acquisition of the property at 266 Graham Avenue is available at:

http://winnipeg.ca/clkdmis/ViewDoc.asp?DocId=9721&SectionId=&InitUrl=

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?

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.

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.