Police Staffing Through Election Promises

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.

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Sam Katz’s Latest Revenue Generating Plan

As a preface, if there is evidence that shows a traffic safety issue involving child safety in or near schools exits, it should be addressed.

When proposals on issues such as speed limits in school zones are brought forward by police the motivation is usually safety.  The same cannot necessarily be said when such proposals originate with politicians.  When politicians make such proposals, safety may be used as a facade to deflect the attention from the real objective which is often increased revenue.

Such may be the case with Sam Katz’s latest foray into “child safety”.

If this was a police initiative it would no doubt be backed by  statistics about speeding in school zones, accidents in school zones, and injuries to children caused by speeding.  If police suggested  a change to the speed limits in school zones,  politicians would demand such data to back up that position.

Sam’s proposal contains none of that.  No facts, no data.  Operational decisions are based on data, political decisions are based on politics.

At this point we don’t know if speeding in school zones is a major issue that requires a change in legislation.  The data (if it exists) has not been shared. What we do know is that the proposed change in legislation requires action by the province.  What better time to bring up what is on the surface  a ‘motherhood and apple pie’  issue than during an election campaign.  What provincial politician would want to be painted as being against protecting children?  None that I know of in Manitoba.

At this point we don’t know whether safety in school zones is a bona fide issue, but what we do know is that Sam’s timing is strategically impeccable.

As well, photo radar revenue which has been static or perhaps even declining after the construction zone cash cow was milked dry over the past several years, would receive a huge, if short-term boost as drivers adjust to the new speed limits.

If the speed limit in school zones is reduced I predict a lot of “flashes” at 7:00 AM and 9:00 PM on weekends and during weekends and summer holidays as the mobile photo radar units are deployed close to  elementary schools in residential communities.   There is potential for revenue even if there are no kids around (the safety issues it is supposedly designed to address).

Even if there are no kids around the schools during the early morning or late evening hours on weekends or during the holidays, the photo radar cameras don’t know that (although presumably the operators do).  The city’s ‘money printing machines’ ( photo radar units) will be on overtime if this proposed change becomes reality – and all in the name of protecting children.

I think we are about to be “Sammed” again.

The “Reactive” Councillor Steeves

Politicians see themselves as leaders not followers.  They tend to portray themselves as proactive not reactive.

Yet at times during periods of extreme political euphoria such as the recent political spin fest centered around the unveiling of the Winnipeg Police Helicopter,  politicians at times develop loose lip syndrome.

Loose lip syndrome usually occurs  when politicians stray from their prepared script and say what they actually think or believe.

At the recent Winnipeg Police helicopter unveiling where politicians attempted to out gush each other and  convince themselves, each other and the unwashed masses who pay the bills that  they are spending tax dollars wisely, Councillor Steeves made a fatal slip of the lip displaying his true colours when he said:

“The announcement today is going to give the Winnipeg Police Service an increased ability to react.

Yes, React!

If the best we can expect from a 3.5 million dollar capital expenditure coupled with 1.3 million dollars annually is a better reaction perhaps it might have been beneficial to examine the expenditure more closely and consider other options that  had a realistic chance of preventing crime.

Stadiums, Marijuana and Photo radar.

Putting the power in the hands of the people who live with the consequences and pay the bills.

Americans are different from Canadians – we all know that.

Their system of government and governance is different as well.  Americans are more likely to demand a direct say in what their governments do at all levels but especially at the local and state levels.

Canada has a different form of democracy, less direct, less hands on. We have a parliamentary system of government; America is a republic.  Under both systems the representatives of the people, once elected, make decisions on our behalf; decisions that may or may not reflect the views and values of their constituents.

Referendums allow the people to have a direct say in what the law should be and which projects should be funded. What a novel idea.

In Canada referendums are rare.  In the United States, referendums are  common and used as tools to guide politicians in terms of what the people want.

The recent mid-term elections in the United States featured many local and State referendums.  The following are of some interest.

In California, Proposition 19, if it had passed, would have seen the elimination of all criminal penalties for adult Californians (21 years of age) who planted marijuana plots up to 25 square feet or possessed up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use.  The proposition did not pass (54 % opposed) but organizers are already planning to put the issue back on the ballot for 2012.

In South Dakota, Measure 13 would have allowed for the medical use of marijuana .  It was defeated with 60% of voters rejecting the measure.

In San Diego, Proposition D, which would have increased sales tax by one half a percent to fund municipal spending, was soundly defeated.  In a bid to gain support for the measure, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders had been threatening dramatic cuts to public safety spending if Proposition D failed.  It seems the people in San Diego voted against the measure because they did not trust officials to spend the money wisely.

And lastly, an issue that resonates in Winnipeg:  In Houston, where 800,000 offence notices had been issued since 2006, just over 53 per cent of the votes rejected the continued use of photo radar.  The revenue collected since its inception in Houston amounted to 44 million dollars.

Some Winnipegers might appreciate having a direct say on the issue of stadium funding. Again, what a novel idea, actually asking the people who will have to pay back the loan if they wish to borrow the money.  This, as opposed to allowing millionaire developers and city and provincial politicians (who seem to have difficulty recognizing the difference between an “estimate” and a “wild guess”) making decisions and sending us the bill once all the back room dealing is done.

I sometimes get the feeling we are in a high stakes card game with a number of card sharks.  The problem is the card sharks are playing with our money and we, the public, barely have a seat at the table .  In such a scenario we need to know when, in the words from a popular song, we should “hold’em,  fold’em, when to walk away and when to run”.

With the stadium funding issue, running might be a good option.  Clear the deck, get new players to the table and deal a new hand. Never mind that a hole has already been dug.  It would not be the first time governments have hired people to dig holes and then fill them in.

Perhaps politicians might be surprised with the results if they engaged in open and meaningful consultations with the public.  Given the right time, right location, and most importantly the right players, Winnipegers might just support a major investment of public money to build an appropriate stadium.

The Sam’s Plan and a Few Things The Sam Did Not Mention

Fighting Crime The Sam’s Way

In his full-page ad in the October 16th issue of the Winnipeg Free Press, the self-proclaimed “Tough on Crime”  Sam outlined his accomplishments during his six-year tenure as Winnipeg’s Mayor.  At least two (and perhaps more) of Sam’s accomplishments were not mentioned.

The first: Closed Circuit Television in the downtown area.  The Sam fails to mention this $450,000.00 vanity project.  Why not?  Normally when cities institute this type of program they flood the media with details about arrests that resulted from the project.  They outline how the initiative has reduced crime and made the area safer.  We have heard none of that which leads one to conclude that perhaps it has not had the positive impact it was meant to have in terms of preventing crime. Perhaps if you had just spent close to half a million dollars (enough money to put 5 police officers on Winnipeg streets for a year) on a failed project you would not mention it either.

The second accomplishment which has turned into an ‘unmentionable’ is truly puzzling as it was indeed a bona fide accomplishment.  The introduction of Crimestat in 2007 held great promise in terms of identifying crime trends and hot spots and more importantly, directing and guiding police action.  Crimestat is a tool that has proven successful in reducing crime in virtually every North American jurisdiction it has been used and yet seems to have lost favour within the Winnipeg Police Service.  As mentioned in a previous post on this topic, the Executive of the Winnipeg Police Service has turned its back on the one tool with a proven track record of producing results when it comes to crime reduction.  Is The Sam turning his back on it?  What other explanation for avoiding mention of it when he originally introduced it with such fanfare?

The really sad thing is that Crimestat, if used in conjunction with a true commitment to community policing and a problem solving approach, could be an immense asset to the Police Service and the community in terms of crime reduction and community revitalization.  However, not only does The Sam avoid mentioning it, the Police Service is not using it as it was originally intended: to reduce crime in crime-ridden communities.  Instead residents are told to stay in their houses until it is safe to come out.  That could be a long stay.

Now, on to what The Sam did mention.  The Sam, backed by the endorsement of the Winnipeg Police association, has pledged to increase the number of police officers by 58 officers.

There are several problems with this approach.  First, increasing the number of police officers has been The Sam’s perennial answer to crime.  It has become as predictable as the mayor saying either ‘I’ve done that; am doing that; or will be doing that’ anytime a valid suggestion is made to improve the delivery of police service in Winnipeg or any other civic issue for that matter.  The Sam keeps doing the same thing and expecting a different result.  In a recent interview I made the observation that repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result is one definition of insanity.  Perhaps what requires closer examination is not only the number of officers but rather the direction that officers are currently receiving from their executive in terms of goals, objectives, strategies and tactics.

Continually alternating between flooding the north end and the west end with large numbers of police officers every time a flare-up occurs is not the answer to long-term crime reduction and the creation of safe neighbourhoods.  That approach is a lot like flooding a combat zone with troops without an exit strategy and then just picking up and leaving without having put in place the needed infrastructure to ensure long-term stability in the neighbourhood.

On to The Sam’s actual promises:

Twenty new positions for a dedicated Gang Unit.  This could be positive if the unit can be convinced that its function is something else than gathering intelligence. Dedicated units with narrow mandates tend to fixate on intelligence gathering as opposed to operations.  A twenty persons unit could help make a difference if its mandate is clearly defined in terms of goals and strategies to achieve those goals.

Eighteen additional officers of staff one 2-officer unit 24 hours a day.  The Winnipeg Police Service has enough personnel assigned to uniform patrol to staff 27 two-officer units 24 hours a day 365 days a year.  Actually,  some Division Commanders question that.  It seems in some divisions the staffing ratio of 18 officers per unit is not quite there, but on paper it is.  The real question is where will this unit be assigned.  Will it simply be swallowed up in the vortex of calls for service?  If it is,  the addition of one unit will make little difference.  This could have been an opportunity to perhaps introduce additional 1-officer units with a very specific mandate centered on crime reduction activities.

Twenty new officers dedicated to foot patrol. The biggest question that has been left unanswered as it relates to this campaign promise is the establishment of beats in terms of location, and the mandate of the officers assigned.  Simply walking in circles in the downtown area will do little to create safer communities in the north end and west end of the city.  Simply assigning beat officers with a law enforcement mandate will do little to bring about community revitalization and the creation of safer communities.

The larger problem with specific political assignment of police personnel at election time is this:  it demonstrates that the police service itself has failed to address its failures.  If police fail to recognize the severity of the issues facing them and fail to develop a comprehensive strategic plan complete with goals, strategies to achieve those goals, and performance measures to gauge success (or failure) and personnel requirements to implement the plan,  then politicians step in at election time and make promises that are politically motivated and tie the hands of police in terms of deployment of personnel.  And the police cannot blame anyone but themselves.  If their inactivity or inability to develop a cohesive plan of action, or to use the tools at their disposal (such as Crimestat), creates a vacuum in terms of leadership and direction, the situation is ripe for political opportunism.  The Sam sensed the opportunity and ran with it.

Winnipeg Police Association Endorses Sam

Buying the Union Vote

I’m sure Sam is grinning from ear to ear – now that he (the conservative candidate and not Judy WL) has the endorsement of the Winnipeg Police Association (WPA) the union that represents Winnipeg police officers and staff members.  Unions traditionally support candidates with a labour background – but not the WPA.

The Winnipeg Police Association is a different sort of union.  With the vast majority of its members being police officers (the WPA also represents the staff sector), there is nothing left leaning or labour oriented about its membership.  Police officers tend to be conservative in their values and political orientation.  It comes with the job.  The WPA is largely a union in the same sense that the NHL Players Association is a union.  The ‘union’ is a vehicle that allows them to bargain collectively – no more and no less and that is where their unionism ends.

So how did Sam ‘buy’ the support of the union that isn’t really a union?  Largely by promising to increase their membership.   Do the math: unions are funded through union dues.  More members mean more money in union coffers.  In this case the addition of 77 members represents additional cash flow into the WPA coffers in the amount of approximately 30 to 40 thousand dollars a year.

The WPA is apparently prepared to enter into this unseemly arrangement in return for more money and more power.

Sounds cynical?

The fact is, Sam has got this one figured out at least in the short-term and right now I don’t think Sam is thinking much past October 27th 2010.   In the long-term, the more powerful a union becomes, the more potent  an adversary it will be  when it’s time for collective bargaining.

In the event Sam is re-elected the time will come when WPA will call in its chips and remind the mayor “We endorsed you”.   When that happens, the old adage of ‘pay me now or pay me later’ may well change to ‘pay me now and pay me later’.

At this point it is not known whether the mayor sought the political endorsement of the WPA and the union agreed, or whether the union proposed the endorsement and the mayor accepted it.   But it really doesn’t matter who courted whom because in an ethical sense, both sides in this questionable arrangement are on the precipice, if not the downside, of the proverbial slippery slope.

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”.