Winnipeg Police 2010 Annual Report Late – Again

Between March and September of 2011 the following western Canadian police departments released their 2010 annual reports:

Edmonton Police 2010 Annual Report,  released March 16th 2011.

Calgary Police Annual Statistical Report 2006-2010, released May 2011

Vancouver Police Department 2010 Annual Report, released in August 2011

Regina Police Service 2010 Annual Report,  released August 2011

Saskatoon Police Service 2010 Annual Report, released September 2011

Winnipeg Police Service 2010 Annual Report:  sorry, not yet released

This is the second year in a row that the Winnipeg Police Service annual report is late, and I mean really late.  This year we will be lucky to see the report released prior to 2012.

The Winnipeg Police Executive is fortunate they only  report to citizens and politicians.  If they were reporting to shareholders and a board of directors they would be toast!

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Election Promises: Part I

During the recent election campaign Sam Katz made a number of promises ranging from pop bottle recycling, additional monies for community centers, and of course, more money for policing.

This will be the first in a series of posts that will examine the policing/community safety commitments made by the mayor during the 2010 election campaign, those being:  the addition of  20 officers for beat patrol; 18 officers for general patrol;  20 officers for a gang unit; and 19 civilian positions for the 911 call center.

Subsequent posts in this series will provide some history in terms of police initiatives and practices as they relate to foot patrols, general patrol and the gang unit.

Putting Additional Officers on the Street

Screening, hiring, training and putting police officers on the street is a long and arduous task.  The majority of the 58 additional police officers promised by the mayor will not be fully trained and ready for street duty until  late 2011 or early 2012.  The next Recruit Training Class is not slated to start until August of 2011, just 2 months prior to the next provincial election.

In light of the fact that the Police Service has more than a year of lead time, they  have an opportunity to give some serious thought to the assignment, priorities and job descriptions for these additional officers.  That’s assuming that the decision as to their deployment will be based on operational needs as opposed to political whims.  Should the gang unit be launched  first, or should the foot patrol officers or the additional general patrol officers take precedence?  Only the Service (or the mayor) will answer those questions.

The decision, whatever it is, will signal whether the Service is going to stay the course in terms of using a largely reactive approach or whether they are ready to embark on a more proactive approach to dealing with crime in this city.

Part II will start by examining the Winnipeg Foot Patrol experience from around 1970 onward and provide backdrop for the decision-making process concerning the assignment of the new foot patrol positions.

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.

Peel’s Ninth Principle

Principle Nine

 To recognize always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

In 1829 the word ‘efficiency’ had a broader meaning in the context of measuring organizational performance than it does now.  As performance measurement has progressed, organizational performance measurement has been divided into two distinct areas, efficiency measurement and effectiveness measurement.  In 1829 the term efficiency essentially embodied the meaning of both those terms.  As the word is used in the Ninth Principle it embodies both the concept of delivering a service at a reasonable price, and delivering a service that has the desired outcomes.

This principle is one of the first to express the need to test or measure  police performance.  It essentially says the emphasis should be on outcomes as opposed to outputs.  In this context the desired outcome is the absence of crime and disorder, the outputs are the actions undertaken by police to achieve the outcome.         

Efficiency is measured in terms of cost, i.e. are tax payers receiving good value for their tax dollars?  In the policing context cost is examined at various levels.  At the highest level cost would be looked at as the per capita cost of policing.  The per capita cost of policing in Winnipeg according to the Winnipeg Police 2008 Annual Report was $259.40.* Cost can also be calculated on a per-unit of service basis.  As an example, the cost of issuing a photo radar ticket in Winnipeg was reported to cost $48.01 in  2004. **  Once established, cost figures can then be compared to costs reported by other police agencies to determine a relative level of efficiency. 

Establishing whether the organization is effective is more difficult and involves an examination of whether the organization is doing the right things to achieve its stated goals.  Most police agencies have a stated or at least implied goal of reducing crime and disorder. Effectiveness measures establish whether the strategies, approaches and tactics employed result in the desired outcomes.  In Winnipeg, as an example, the Police have employed an innovative strategy to address the auto theft issue.  The stated goal was to reduce auto- theft.  With reductions of 16, 37 and 43 percent between 2006 and 2008 the strategy can be judged to be effective. *   The desired outcome was realized.

Many public service delivery organizations (both policing and non police) have become overly politicized.  In the case of municipal policing, police departments can become extensions of their political masters – especially if there are no effective buffers between the police and the mayor.  This is most clearly demonstrated in the United States where the links between municipal policing and mayors is closer than in Canada.  In the United States the mayor’s agenda frequently becomes the police agenda.  In some major American cities the position of Chief of Police is essentially a political appointment.  Many mayors in large American cities run on law and order platforms and one of the first things they do when elected is to appoint a new police chief whose approach and values are in keeping with their own.  Miami and Atlanta are recent examples of this phenomenon.

The more politicized an agency becomes the greater the emphasis on activities, or in Peel’s words, “visible evidence of police action”.  The emphasis on action allows both the politicians and the police to be seen to be doing something.  The emphasis on action can detract from a close examination of the services being delivered.  Program evaluation is mandatory to determine if the actions undertaken are yielding the desired results in terms of outcomes. The action orientation tends to discourage evaluation. 

Daily news conferences held by police agencies are intended to inform the public through the media of crime that is currently occurring in the community and, of course, what the police are doing about it (actions).  News conferences are not the forum in which to discuss outcomes. 

Reporting to the public on outcomes is more appropriate in an annual report.   Most police agencies, however, give limited coverage to reporting on outcomes in their annual reports choosing instead to highlight activities.  It is the statistical portion of the annual report that tells the real story about police efficiency and effectiveness, not the pictures and stories.  Statistical reporting, however, accounts for only 10% (in terms of volume) of most police agency annual reports. 

Some progressive police departments actually publish meaningful business and strategic plans that outline in detail police priorities and goals for the next 1-3 years.  The degree of goal achievement is reported upon in subsequent years and in some cases during the course of the current year.  Generally the goals relate to crime reduction or the restoration of order in the community and reflect an attempt by police to deliver services and measure their outputs and outcomes in keeping with this principle as opposed to simply reporting on their activities.    

In order to achieve outcomes police agencies need to state their goals and objectives up front and then report on their progress.  This needs to become part of the public accountability process.  In order for police to establish widespread public support they need to be accountable to the public. 

The Vancouver Police Department publishes an Annual Business Plan which lists both its goals and the strategies that will be employed to achieve the goals. ***  It serves as a good example for police agencies that do not formulate or publish meaningful business or strategic plans. 

*Winnipeg Police 2008 Annual Report.  Available at   http://www.winnipeg.ca/police/annualreports/2008/2008_WPS_Annual_Report_English.pdf

** City of Winnipeg Photo Radar Audit.  Available at  http://www.thenewspaper.com/rlc/docs/2006/winnipegaudit.pdf

*** Vancouver Police Department, 2009 Annual Business Plan.  Available at http://vancouver.ca/police/policeboard/agenda/2009/090121/8VPD2009BusPlan.pdf

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?