What’s In a Relationship

The Winnipeg Police Service has replaced its longstanding motto,  Community Commitment with “Building Relationships“.

The following are some comments that I’ve heard about the Winnipeg Police “Building Relationships” motto that add some humour to an otherwise serious subject.

Scenario 1

Upon being arrested and placed in the back of a patrol unit a suspect  was heard to say “I don’t like where this relationship is going“.

Scenario 2

In June of last  year a suspect attempted to end his relationship with police when he escaped from a holding room in the District 6 Police Station.  The relationship was rekindled when police re-arrested the suspect.

Scenario 3

Another suspect  thought his relationship with police was going sour.  Police managed to  spice  up the relationship with a long burst of pepper spray.

Scenario 4

A recently tasered inner city resident described his relationship with the Police Service as  “electrifying“.

Scenario 5

The Professional Standards Unit, formerly known as the Internal Investigation Unit,  could also be called the  Failed Relationships Unit.

Scenario 6

One recently convicted gang member doing time at Stony Mountain Penitentiary described his relationship with police as “rocky“.

Scenario 7

Now that the Winnipeg Police Service has entered the relationship building business, eHarmony, the online dating service, will no doubt respond to this encroachment  by changing its motto to   “To Serve and Protect“.

Scenario 8

One repeat criminal offender described his relationship with police as “ long-term and on going“.

If you think policing business should be strictly ‘business’, lighten up.  There is a lot of humour in policing.  As one former Chief often said ‘you need to get a least one good laugh a day”.

Personal Video Recorders

Several companies such as Taser and Vievu are selling small personal video recording  (PVR) devices designed specifically for police use.  These small cameras are very durable and are capable of recording extended police/citizen interactions.

These cameras serve two main purposes:  they provide video evidence police can use in the prosecution of charged persons, and they assist police managers in monitoring police behaviour.

A few major American police departments such as Cincinnati and Oakland have adopted the use of personal video recorders by its members.

The American experience has shown that police managers and unions don’t see eye to eye on the use of PVR’s.  They are especially appealing to police managers  who are dealing with a high volume of allegations of police misconduct.  Police unions are worried that management will use video footage against officers.

In Seattle where the police department is being investigated by the Justice Department for alleged misconduct,  a City Councilman is lobbying the mayor to include money in the 2012 budget to conduct a PVR pilot project in Seattle.  He hopes that such a pilot project would provide a more complete view of police encounters with the publicand that it would improve police behaviour.

The American experience has shown that the implementation in Winnipeg will in all likelihood require extensive negotiations with the Winnipeg Police Association.

The Winnipeg Police Service has 1 million dollars set aside in the Capital Budget  for PVR’s.  The priority of capital budget items can usually be judged fairly accurately by how often they get pushed back into the last year of the capital budget cycle.   For example, last year the expenditure was slated for 2015 in the final year of the cycle.   In this year’s Capital Budget it has been moved back to 2016.  In Winnipeg this is obviously not considered a priority.  It will be interesting to track the Capital Budget for the next several years to see if this proposed expenditure ever becomes a high priority.  Or will it be moved back year after year?  Or even perhaps eliminated or converted to some other use?

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:


National Standards for Taser Use

Taser Standards on the Way 

Federal Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan has announced that a group of federal officials and law enforcement experts have been tasked with devising national standards for Taser use.  

Van Loan stressed the importance of a standard approach applicable across the country indicating that he favours the guidelines adopted by the RCMP which restrict Taser use to situations where there is a threat to police or a member of the public. At present individual police agencies establish guidelines for Taser use, and those guidelines vary from one jurisdiction to another. 

 This move by the Federal Government is supported by the Canada Safety Council.