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.

The Effect of Adding 18 Positions to General Patrol

Of the additional 58 police positions promised by the mayor as part of his re-election platform, 18  are destined for General Patrol, commonly referred to within the Service as GP.  GP officers are the uniformed officers assigned to work marked patrol units.  When citizens call 986-6222 or 911,  GP officers are the ones who respond to their calls for service.

Media reports have indicated that the 18 positions being added to GP will produce “another shift” .  The implication of that is rather misleading but up to this point I have not heard either politicians or the Police Service saying anything to correct the misconception or explain the actual effect of adding 18 officers.

Here’s how it works:

The Police Service currently fields a minimum of 27 2-officer patrol units at the start of each shift, 365 days a year.  This means that the day shift starts with 27 units, as does evening shift and midnight shift.  The reason the term ‘minimum’ is used relates directly back to the wording in the Collective Agreement between the Winnipeg Police Service and the City. The minimum number of units the Police Service puts out on the street  forms part of the collective agreement.  The Service can field more than 27 units if personnel are available but it cannot field less.   Starting a shift with less than 27 2-officer units would violate the collective agreement.

So, how many police officers does it take to field one additional 2-officer unit?  The answer is 18.

The 18:1 ratio

Prior to the mid-1990’s the Police Service used a rather loose calculation to determine how many officers were required to field one unit 365 days a year.   The commonly used ratio was in the 14:1 range with an allowance for additional personnel in Divisions 11 (downtown) and 13 (north-end), based on workload.  The problem identified by Uniform Division Commanders operating under the 14:1 ratio was that  they could not field the required number of patrol units unless they drew resources from other areas such as Traffic, Community Constables,   plain clothes units  or called out off duty personnel at overtime rates.

Around 1995 a couple  of newly promoted Superintendents decided to have a look at the ratio being used. This review resulted in a report being submitted to the Executive of the day  recommending that the ratio be changed to 18:1, which it was.

That perhaps makes it easier to understand why the Mayor picked the number 18.

Eighteen additional GP officers translates into 1 additional  patrol unit.

That’s 1 additional unit, not “another shift”.

In a future post I will examine why it takes 18 officers to staff one patrol unit.

Province Quashes Warrants

Quite apart from the core issue, which is whether the Province should have quashed old outstanding warrants in the first place, there is another issue.

How many warrants were quashed,  for what types of offences,  and why is the government reluctant to disclose that information?

The province is taking the position they don’t know how many cases this purge involved and  that it would be expensive and time-consuming to make that determination.

I believe the reason is not a time and money issue.  I believe the province does not want to share the information so as to  (hopefully) avoid a political fire storm.

Why do I believe that it’s not a time and money issue?  Because I believe a list already exists.

Outstanding warrants are entered on the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) system so that if police encounter a wanted person they can execute the warrant.  So….at the time that the warrants were quashed, the Province would (or should) have provided  Winnipeg Police and RCMP with lists of the names of accused persons whose warrants were quashed in order that police could remove them from CPIC.  The police would need to do this to ensure persons no longer wanted on warrants are not unnecessarily arrested.  Unnecessary arrests could create a liability issue; if not for police, certainly for the province.

Such lists were provided to police, right?

If not, they should be, and quickly.

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.

The Sam’s Union Dues

In response to “Judy’s Union Dues”

The Sunday, October 17th edition of the Winnipeg Sun ran a piece titled “Judy’s Union Dues”, commenting on CUPE support for Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

It states in part:”It’s business, really. Unions are in the business of getting the most money for their members as possible and the best job security regardless of the taxpayers’ ability to pay”.  It goes on to say, “So obviously they’re going to work for Judy and any other city council candidate that pledges their allegiance to the brotherhood”.

What is conspicuously absent in the article is any reference to two other large civic unions, the Winnipeg Police Association and the United Firefighters of Winnipeg.  Both have come out and endorsed The Sam and are working to see him get re-elected.

Should we assume that their motives are different than those of CUPE?  Should we assume that their mandate is not to get the very best possible compensation package and job security for their members quite apart from the city’s ability to pay?  And should we assume that as they are endorsing and working for The Sam, that The Sam has pledged his allegiance to their ‘brotherhood’?

I think perhaps no to the first and yes to the second assumption would be the correct answer.

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.