Election Promises Part II – Foot Patrols

Foot Patrol in the 1970’s and early 1980’s

Up until the early 1980’s the Winnipeg Police Service had 18 or so areas of the city that were designated as ‘beats’. These beats consisted primarily of major streets in the commercial areas of the city.  Beat officers were assigned to patrol these beats, on foot.

Beats 1 and 2, as an example, covered Main Street from James Avenue to Higgins Avenue.  Beats 3 and 4 covered Main Street from Market Avenue to Mayfair Avenue and beats 5 and 6 covered Portage Avenue from Main Street to Sherbrook Street.  Other designated beats included north Main Street from Sutherland Avenue to Inkster Boulevard, Selkirk Avenue, Logan Avenue, Ellice Avenue, Sargent Avenue and portions of Corydon Avenue.

Beats were described in a ‘beat book’ which laid out the geographical area of the beats and included comments in terms of specific duties that officers assigned to that beat were required to perform as well as ‘special attentions’ (an early version of a ‘hotspot’).  Beat 4, as an example, required the assigned officer to perform traffic duty at the intersection of Mayfair Avenue and Main Street between 4:30 and 5:30 in the afternoon to facilitate the smooth egress of traffic from the downtown area.

The highest priority beats were beats 1 and 2 – the Main Street  ‘drag’ as it was referred to.

Beat patrol was primarily a duty assigned to raw rookies or more senior constables who were being punished for some real or imagined transgression.  I recall one officer, who was senior to me, walking the beat without a gun.  The problem was that he could not pass the required spelling test.  He was, however, an excellent shot with a hand gun and had earned ‘crossed revolvers’ during training.  So he walked the beat with the little applicate of crossed revolvers stitched to the sleeve of his tunic, but no gun.  He could not be assigned to a patrol unit because policy dictated that officers assigned to a car had to carry a gun.  When we patrolled the beat together the standing joke was that if we got involved in a serious situation that required gun play, I would toss him my gun, he would do the shooting  and I would write the required reports.  Although not as good a shot, I was issued with a gun because I could spell.

Another very senior constable, close to retirement, normally walked the beat in the Fort Rouge area.  He quite frequently missed his hourly calls and at times after being ‘missing’ for most of his shift, other beat officers were assigned to go search for him.  He was usually located at one of his favorite haunts on Corydon Avenue, generally two or three ‘sheets to the wind’.

Beat duty was fairly basic: Walk the assigned beat.  During day light hours.  Be visible.  Respond to any citizen enquiries on your designated beat.  Do occasional traffic duty during rush hour periods and hand out the odd parking tag and ‘mover’.

Movers were moving violations, breaches of the Highway Traffic Act such as running a red light or having faulty equipment on a vehicle such as a burned out head or tail light.  During hours of darkness, beat constables would ‘skulk’ around and do property checks. They were to be familiar with the call box locations on their beat, call in every hour, and to watch for the flashing lights mounted on top of the call boxes which indicated they were needed for a specific duty on their beat.

If a beat officer encountered a drunk individual the officer was expected to call for the paddy wagon or a patrol car to assist in transporting the drunk to the drunk tank.  Back in the seventies that actually meant a  drunk tank on the 4th floor at the Public Safety Building.

As a rule, beat officers patrolled by themselves and were not normally dispatched to calls for service. Those assigned to Beats 1 and 2, however, were assigned in pairs to walk Main Street – two officers on the east side of the street and two officers on the west side. Beats 1 and 2 were part of the notorious Main Street strip (the drag) that was home to a large number of hotels like the McLaren (which still exists), the Brunswick, the National, the Occidental, the Patricia and the Mount Royal. Officers assigned to these two beats saw a lot of action in the form of alcohol fuelled disputes, thefts, robberies and assaults.

The biggest ‘sin’ a beat officer could commit (well actually there were several), was to not call in every hour as required, to miss a flashing light, or to not be available for an ‘officer’s visit’.  An officer’s visit was a visit from the Patrol Sergeant whose job it was to roam the streets (in a car) and check on the well-being of beat officers as well as to ensure they were on their designated beats.  And lastly, and in the eyes of some Patrol Sergeants, the most important thing was that the beat officer was to never leave his or her assigned beat area.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s being assigned to beat patrol put you at the very bottom of the pecking order. Beat patrol was a rite of passage, something you needed to work your way through before you were assigned to a ‘cruiser car’.

Because beat officers lacked mobility and were considered ‘non dispatchable resources’, it does not come as a big surprise that as the volume of calls for service grew, beat officers were removed from the beat and assigned to cars. Once assigned to cars they became dispatchable resources.

The next post will look at the advent of community policing in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and the move to return officers to the beat.

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Dealing with Crime at Election Time

Let me begin by using an analogy:

When the British Petroleum well in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, spewing million of barrels of oil into the water, two simultaneous approaches were implemented to deal with the issue.  First, immediate attempts were made to cap the well to stop the flow of oil, and secondly, remediation efforts  were employed to deal with the effect of the spill in terms of doing clean-up along the coastline of various southern states.  Both the cause and the effects were dealt with.

Now, let’s draw a comparison to crime in Winnipeg:

Traditional reactive policing can be compared to relying on remediation efforts as a means of addressing the issue of crime.  You allow the well (in this case, crime) to spew unabated and spend most if not all of your policing resources on cleaning up the mess created by criminal activity.

The problem is that it never ends.  The well spews out new criminals on a daily basis and the system is caught up in a catch 22.  The police are so busy attending calls for service, making arrests, seizing evidence and testifying in court that they have little time left to perform in a proactive manner.  Nor is there time left to enact preventative measures.  The result: the well never gets capped.

A preventative mindset would see police employ an approach that focuses much greater attention to capping the well;that is, activities designed to reduce criminal activity and to keep young people from becoming involved in criminal activity.  A preventative mindset and a proactive approach are long term strategies.  It involves recognizing the need for some short term pain for long term gain.  It involves investing in the future of our community.

One of the problems in terms of the municipal approach to policing is the definition of ‘long term’.  For municipal politicians, long term means their current term in office.  A 3 or 4 year term is not long enough to enact significant changes and produce results from a policing and crime prevention perspective.  Municipal politicians are more attuned to the`flavour of the day approach’.  Crime prevention is not a sexy political issue.   More uniform officers on the street,  CCTV cameras, a gang unit and a helicopter may not solve our crime problem but they certainly are bound to create attention-grabbing headlines to hang your hat on at election time.

It’s about time the electorate woke up and had a close look at how the current civic administration is spending our money.  Municipal taxes are meant to pay for civic infrastructure and services.  They are not meant to be squandered at election time by politicians seeking to buy our votes with our own money.   The problem of crime is not solved by political expediency.

Although oil wells can be capped completely, stopping the flow of oil, no one is naive enough to believe that all crime can be totally eliminated through preventative measures.   But nor does it take a rocket scientist to comprehend that leaving the well uncapped means crime will keep increasing, the police will continue to be overtaxed with calls for service, and the cost of providing municipal services will keep increasing.

I’m waiting for a mayoralty candidate that is prepared to stand up and say “I’m going to devote resources to capping the well”.

Where Crime is Taking Place

All it takes is a glance at the Winnipeg Police Crimestat website to see that there is no real surprise here in terms of the recent shootings in the City’s West End.  And certainly no need on the part of the police to be shocked as they recently claimed.

When it comes to homicides, shootings, sexual assaults and muggings (the four main crime types being tracked by Crimestat that are classified as  “crimes against persons”), Crimestat tells the public exactly what most police officers working in Divisions 11 and 13 are already aware of.  These four specific types of crime occur with alarming frequency in Districts 1 and 3 and more specifically in rather small geographical areas within those two Districts.  As seen below, the first Crimestat map makes that point:

City wide map showing homicides, shootings, sexual assaults and muggings from June 16th 2009 to June 14th 2010.

Source:  Winnipeg Police Crimestat website

The above map shows two very distinct data clusters, one in District 3 and an even larger one in District 1.  The two maps below show a close up of those two areas and leave no doubt as to the high number of homicides, muggings, shootings and sexual assaults.

Crimestat map showing homicides, shootings, sexual assaults and muggings in a portion of District 1 for the period June 16th 2009 and June 14th 2010.

Source:  Winnipeg Police Crimestat website

Crimestat map for a portion of District 3 depicting the same four offences for the same period:

Source:  Winnipeg Police Service Crimestat website

These two Districts, and primarily the concentrated areas of the two districts shown above,  account for  70% of all homicides,  68% of  muggings, 55% of sexual assaults and 88% of all shootings in the entire city for the period between June 16th 2009 and June 14th 2010.

Still shocked about what happened recently in the West End?

The police response has been predictable.  More officers, more guns, more arrests, more seizures.  In other words, more visible evidence of police activity.   In the next little while we will be seeing reports and statistics outlining those numbers as a testament to the efficiency and effectiveness of the approach being taken by police.

Ask yourself, is it really effective in a long term sense?  Can you arrest your way out of a social problem?

Sir Robert Peel suggested a measurement to test police efficiency that concentrated not on statistics listing police activities but rather a measurement of the level of crime (or lack thereof) in the community.  Peel’s Ninth principle says:

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.

Let’s make sure we don’t get too dazzled by the activity.  Let’s look down the road and measure what is being done in the West End based on outcomes.  In  this case, the absence of crime.

Force Option Decision Based on Politics

San Francisco Police Commission ignores  data during Taser debate.    

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Francisco Police – Making Force Option Decisions Based on Evidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://sf-police.org

Outcomes Based on Evidence

If the  outcome is known in advance don’t fool yourself into thinking you are doing research.  

When police agencies are considering the deployment of new technology, new tools or innovative service delivery approaches, it’s not good enough to cite their use in other jurisdictions as justification to replicate them.  Unfortunately, all too often that is what happens.  Mayors and police chiefs look at what other jurisdictions are doing and fall into the ‘cookie cutter trap’, an approach that assumes that if something works in another jurisdiction it will work here as well.  A review of reports from the jurisdictions that are doing what you might like to do or emulate is substituted for real research.  The conclusions and anecdotal accounts contained in those reports are treated as evidence.    

The fact is, what works in one jurisdiction may not work elsewhere.  Consider the  use of bait cars  to address auto theft.    Some cities that use bait cars claim they are the answer to curbing the auto theft problem.  This may be true if the cars being stolen in a particular jurisdiction are high-end vehicles destined for export.   When the strategy was tried in Winnipeg, it was largely based on recommendations from police agencies in other jurisdictions and the company selling the technology.  Following the expenditure of a significant amount of cash it was determined that based on the unique characteristics of the auto theft problem in Winnipeg, as well as the  climate, bait cars were largely ineffective in Winnipeg and the program was discontinued.    

Another example is the ‘lets recreate Edmonton in Winnipeg’ experiment of the mid-1990’s that saw the proliferation of Service Centers, Community Offices, and Foot Patrol Offices under the guise of community policing, Edmonton style.  At the height of the euphoria (some called it madness), the Winnipeg Police Service was attempting to staff as many as 22 public access locations at a cost of millions of dollars.  These included 6 District Stations and 16 satellite offices.  With the departure of the  Chief (who was from Edmonton) most of those offices were quietly closed down.  The Police Service now operates a total of 7 public access locations, 5 District Stations and 2 satellite offices.  This is another example of a failed and very expensive experiment that can be attributed to the cookie cutter trap. 

Examples abound of failed attempts to superimpose apparently successful approaches and technologies from one jurisdiction to another.  

As argued during the helicopter debate (which was more of an announcement than a debate), evidence based approaches are essential.  In the case of the helicopter, determining  its effectiveness and efficiency from an evidence based perspective involves at a minimum the following steps: 

  • Establish the number of hours the helicopter will be airborne
  • Establish the number of hours that the helicopter will be on stand-by
  • Determine the type of calls for service to which the helicopter will be deployed
  • Call up the historical call for service data
  • Superimpose the deployment template over the historical data
  • Determine the number of instances the helicopter would have been deployed
  • Establish a cost per deployment
  • Establish the benefit or added value that the presence of a helicopter would have provided in the instances where it would have been deployed. 

Take vehicle pursuits as an example.  Police collect data on vehicle pursuits which include the number of pursuits per year, broken down by month, week, day of the week and hour of day.  There is also data about how long pursuits last.  

It would not be difficult or time-consuming to take the historical pursuit data, superimpose the anticipated helicopter flight times and  specify with a reasonable degree of certainty  the number of pursuits that a  helicopter would have been available to deal with in 2008.   

Let’s say for the sake of argument that Winnipeg has 100 vehicular pursuits per year and that the average pursuit lasts about 4 minutes.  This means that unless the helicopter is airborne it will arrive too late to be of use.  Based on an optimistic projection of 1000 hours of flight time, that means the helicopter would be available to aid in perhaps a dozen vehicular pursuits annually.  That’s one a month.  And based on experience in dealing with auto thieves in Winnipeg, I’m not convinced that in those dozen cases the thieves will stop the stolen vehicle, get out and lie on the ground, and wait to be arrested as has been suggested,  just because a helicopter is hovering overhead.  

This means that every time we have a pursuit in the city that ends badly and someone gets up on their soap box and says ‘it would have been different if we had a helicopter’ you need to take a big gulp of reality and say ‘it might have been different perhaps 12 percent of the time’.  The other 88 percent of the time the helicopter would have been sitting on the ground. 

It is research and data that bring reality to the debate.  It is data that elevates it from a political discussion to an evidence based debate and a decision-making process based on evidence 

Anyone who suggests that the recent council decision on the helicopter issue was an example of evidence based decision-making either does not fully understand the concept or has allowed their personal bias on the issue to cloud their judgment.   Anecdotes and rhetoric are not evidence.  

Winnipeg is a city with limited resources.  Our tax dollars need to be spent wisely.  Look at the spending of tax dollars like an investment.  Do we want our tax dollars invested with a money manager who does not do his homework, who does not do research, who simply looks at what other money managers are doing and attempts to mirror their investments and then crosses his fingers and hopes for the best?  

I suppose if you are not a Winnipeg resident and your  municipal tax dollars are going to East St. Paul  this may be less of an issue for you.   For the citizens of Winnipeg, however, it is a real issue.

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?