Election promises at both the civic and provincial level have become the defining vehicle in terms of determining police staffing.
Announcing proposed increases to police funding at election time is not a new thing. In the mid 1990’s the Filmon government made the first foray into this area by announcing that the Province would provide funding to expand the complement of the Winnipeg Police Service by 24 positions. This was a purely political decision made at the Provincial level without any prior consultation with the Winnipeg Police Service. As a matter of fact the Chief of the day was advised on the morning the announcement was made and asked to attend the announcement to serve as ‘wallpaper’ for the Premier’s announcement. The Chief of course, not wanting to ‘look a gift horse in the mouth’, attended and came away with an additional 2 million dollars for the police budget.
Over the years, announcing police funding increases at election time has become the norm. It has proven to be a sure-fire way to attract votes and win elections.
During the last civic election the Mayor used the same tactic. Mayor Katz pledged increases to both police and civilian staff and was endorsed by the Winnipeg Police Association (WPA). Some argued that the WPA endorsement was contingent on the commitment to increase police and staff positions while others believed the increase in staffing to be contingent on the WPA endorsement. Others insisted that the two issues were unrelated and the fact that the Mayor announced the staffing increase at the same time as the WPA endorsed the mayor was purely a coincidence.
As the current provincial election campaign gains traction it is interesting to see the bidding war that is developing as the two main contenders attempt to outbid each other (using our money) on the policing and law and order issue.
One of the major problems with politically motivated spending on policing is that additional money (positions) are allocated not by the police service but rather by the politicians to coincide with their current political priorities.
But that’s only partially the politicians fault. Blame must also be placed with the police executives.
In the absence of a well laid out policing and crime deduction strategy with specific goals and costs attached, politicians jump into the fray and set the agenda. To a degree they are simply filling a vacuum created by the lack of strategic operational leadership within policing.
As I have said before, what should be happening in terms of policing, crime reduction and police staffing is that politicians should clearly state their goals to police in terms of what they want accomplished, ie a percentage crime reduction across the board or in specific offence categories.
Police executives should devise a plan complete with broad goals, strategies and tactics that would be employed to accomplish the stated goals along with an outline of specific areas of responsibility within the police service. Such a plan would be accompanied with a price tag in terms of additional resources that would be required in terms of increase in personnel and other costs.
Once such a plan was developed politicians could decide if that is was they want and whether they want to fund it or not. If the plan is adopted and funded, accountability then exists between the police and the elected officials.
Until this happens we will continue to see money spent haphazardly, at election time, based on the political priorities of the day.