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.

A Dragons Den Scenario

The long-awaited $75,000.00 helicopter report hit the table of the Standing Policy Committee on Protection and Community Services on January 11th 2010.  Despite the fact that it has been in the works for over six months, it was late in getting there and required a suspension of the rules in order for it to be considered by the Committee.  

Let’s try to imagine for a moment what the discussion would have looked like if the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS)helicopter proposal had been brought before the popular television show, “Dragon’s Den”, instead of Standing Committee:  

WPS: “Good morning Dragons. The WPS is seeking approval for the creation of a Flight Operations Unit.  Other people wiser than you (with access to lots of money) have already decided it’s a good idea and have set aside 3.4 million dollars in the capital budget to purchase a helicopter and build a hangar.  Even wiser people (and with even more money) are looking at funding the 1.3 million dollar annual operating cost of the unit.”   

Dragon 1: “So let me get this straight.  You are not here asking for the money.  You are actually asking us to sanction the creation of a Unit within the Police Service so that you can then spend the 3.4 million dollars that has already been set aside?”  

WPS:  “Well yes, the decision has already been made but if you sanction the creation of the Unit it will make it easier for us to talk the Province into giving us the 1.3 million dollar annual operating cost.”  

Dragon 2:  “Just so that I understand – the City will incur a one time expenditure of 3.4 million for a helicopter that has a life span of, say, 10 years and the Province will pick up operating costs of between 11 and 15 million dollars over that period?”   

WPS: “Well… I guess when it comes right down to it, yes, that is what the numbers say.” 

Dragon 3:  “That sounds like a pretty sweet deal for the City.  How do you plan on talking the province into that one?”  

WPS:  “Once we get your approval it shouldn’t be too difficult.  Since the Province announced a willingness to negotiate a funding agreement in the Throne Speech, we’ve already got one foot in the door.  Besides, this isn’t an economic decision, it’s political.”   

Dragon 4: “You’re in the wrong place; you should be next door in front of Standing Committee on Protection and Community Services.  We only deal with proposals that involve a potential positive return on investment.  Our concern is the bottom line, not politics.”  

Dragon 5:   “But seeing as we have reviewed your proposal, why don’t we ask you a few questions.  It might be a good learning experience for you in the event you ever have to sell a proposal on its economic merit; you know, a proposal that involves an actual cost /benefit analysis.  Why don’t we pretend you are asking us for the money and we’ll ask you some of the questions we would ask people who ask us to invest our money in their proposals.”   

Dragon 1:  “That’s a great idea.  I’ll begin.  Your report says that a helicopter has the potential to save the Police Service money.  You mention reducing the amount of damage caused to patrol units during vehicle pursuits which right now is costing you $400,000.00 per year.  How much do you anticipate you will save in that area alone?” 

WPS:  “We haven’t actually come up with a number.” 

Dragon 1:  “I’m sure you must have looked at the vehicle damage costs in jurisdictions that currently operate helicopters.  You must know what their costs are.  How much could you save – 50%?  Say, $200,000.00?” 

WPS:  “Well perhaps, but we really haven’t run the numbers on that.” 

Dragon 1:  “You should have.  I’ll tell you what; I’ll give you 3.2 million dollars if you agree to make up the remaining 200 thousand from your existing budget based on anticipated savings.  Deal?” 

WPS:  “Actually, we were not planning on using existing budget to fund any of this cost – we were hoping to get all new money for this.  We are not prepared to put any real dollar savings on the table.”  

Dragon 1:  “And for that reason, I’m out.” 

Dragon 2:  “Maybe I can make a deal with you.  In your report you mention a number of scenarios that could yield opportunity savings, in terms of freeing up patrol units.  It you can show me a detailed report that shows projected flight times, a list of the types of incidents that the helicopter will be deployed to, and an estimate of the potential opportunity savings in terms of hours and how those savings will be invested, I’ll fund you.”   

WPS:  “That report has not been prepared yet.” 

Dragon 2:  “For that reason I’m out.”  

Dragon 3:  “Let’s try to make a deal on investing opportunity savings from another angle.  You indicate that the Service is involved in approximately 1,825 ‘containment’ operations annually and that having a helicopter would free up patrol units to perform other duties.  You also mention several other scenarios where patrol units would be freed up.  Here’s my deal:  You make an estimate as to the total number of hours of patrol time that would be freed up service wide, and use that amount of time as an opportunity saving to attack the chronic issue of slow response times to high priority calls by setting a goal for response time reduction, and I’ll give you the money.”  

WPS:  “We can’t do that because we have not run those numbers and are not prepared to commit ourselves to measurable goals that could be difficult to achieve.”     

Dragon 3:  “And for that reason I’m out.” 

Dragon 4:  “I was going to go down the research road and ask you about cherry picking quotes from studies that support your position.  Research is intended to present both sides of the argument on the issue being researched.  I’m no longer convinced that is your interest.  The last quote at the bottom of page 10 says it all and I’ll just paraphrase here:  ‘Don’t think of a helicopter as a tool to achieve specific results, think of it rather as a nice thing to have in and of itself.’   

“I’m out.” 

Dragon 5“What about me, don’t I get a shot at this?” 

Other Dragons:  “Go ahead.” 

Dragon 5:  “I don’t think this is going to fly.  I’m out.” 

Back to reality:  The WPS has brought their proposal before Standing Committee on Protection and Community Services.  It was quickly rubber stamped and sent on to EPC.  There, another rubber stamp is poised to apply the ‘approved’ label.  Then it’s off to council for a vote by the same group that already tucked the 3.4 million into the capital budget.     

And next,  its off to Broadway.  

What would happen if the Province offered to buy the city a helicopter and made the City responsible for the operating costs?  Isn’t that how deals between different levels of government are usually structured?  The senior level provides capital funding, the level delivering the service covers the operating cost.

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?