Threats of layoffs in the Winnipeg Police Service are nothing new.
There were times during my career when I heard the same kind of rhetoric coming from City Hall.
What is new this time around is the impact social media is having on the discussion. Social media really wasn’t “a thing” the last time I heard talk of Police layoffs.
Back in the day you didn’t have the Mayor or certain City Councillors using social media to influence minds and shape the opinions of Winnipeg residents.
Mr. Bowman, who I supported in the last election, put out a tweet showing a graph indicating the WPS budget has increased 80% since 2006.
The number undoubtedly alarmed and outraged many tax paying citizens.
Not long after Mr. Bowman’s tweet crossed my feed my smart phone buzzed with a tweet from City Councillor Marty Morantz. (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Whyte Ridge Ward)
The tweet from Mr. Morantz was similar to Mayor Bowman’s save for the bold print stressing the significance of the increase in the Police budget.
How interesting, I thought.
I wondered why the Mayor and Mr. Morantz would be engaging in this kind of anti Police Service rhetoric.
It seems somewhat irresponsible to put out these kind of inflammatory tweets without bothering to put the reality of the demands on the Police Service into context.
I didn’t think it was an outrageous request to ask for some clarification…
Maybe I’d have better luck with the Councillor who was recently elected in my ward. Surely he would be more inclined to answer a query from one of his constituents…
I admit, I was a bit miffed my tweets were ignored.
I was keenly interested to see what kind of insight these men have into the increasing police budget.
Is that not information they should share with us?
I recall the words “openness”, “transparency” and “accountability” being bantered about not all that long ago. I also recall promises regarding the new age of communication and freedom of information.
Nonetheless, as a former police officer in the City of Winnipeg with almost 3 decades of experience I do have some insight to offer the tax paying citizens of our City.
What you didn’t see in any tweets was fact based information describing the evolution of Law Enforcement. You didn’t see tweets illustrating how Policing continues to become more cumbersome and more complex each year.
That evolution comes in many forms and often at great costs in the form of staffing, resources and equipment.
The changes are many and include, but are not limited to;
- Video Taped Interrogation
- Organized Crime
- Street Gangs
- Complex Warrant Applications
- Forensic Imaging
- Mental Health Crisis
- Child Welfare Crisis
- Social Media
- Violent Crime Severity
A few thoughts on these issues…
When I started my career in policing there was no such thing as disclosure.
Police are now required to provide Defence counsel with full and complete disclosure of all relevant evidence secured during a criminal investigation. That disclosure includes police officer notes, all police reports, all written and videotaped statements and many other forms of evidence.
In major cases, the disclosure requirements can be extremely time-consuming and onerous.
Time = $
Video Taped Interrogation
When I started my career police officers recorded suspect interrogations in notebooks. The courts subsequently mandated the use of video recordings for all significant suspect interrogations.
The requirement to videotape suspect interrogations meant considerable expense and the creation of a new position for video monitoring. The video monitor is responsible for creating documents associated to the interrogation and is required to burn four copies of every interrogation.
(1 copy for Crown, 1 copy for Defense, 1 Master Copy and 1 Investigator Copy)
The requirement to videotape suspect interrogations created expense regarding the purchase and maintenance of electronic equipment, compact discs, cataloguing and storage.
The requirement to video record has also evolved to include the recording of witness statements.
Video taped recording of witness or suspect interviews is a time-consuming aspect of Law Enforcement.
Time = $
Organized crime continues to evolve and adapt to law-enforcement investigative techniques.
In order to combat organized crime, police are required to continually advance, adapt and improvise. Organized crime investigations have become incredibly complex and require advanced technical equipment, highly trained personnel and a commitment to work around the clock, often at great costs attributed to overtime.
Police have an obligation and responsibility to fight this type of crime.
Time = $
When I started policing in 1987 Aboriginal and youth street gangs did not exist on the streets of Winnipeg.
In 2013, Winnipeg Sun columnist Tom Brodbeck wrote an article quoting WPS statistics indicating there were 1,400 – 1,500 active street gang members in as many as 35 gangs in Winnipeg. Gang experts will tell you every active gang member may have as many as 10-15 criminal associates doing “business” for the gang.
Gang related crime is extremely difficult and time-consuming to investigate. People who live in the gang-subculture do not cooperate with the efforts of Law Enforcement. A significant number of unsolved homicide cases in Winnipeg are gang related.
Time = $
Complex Warrant Applications
Warrant applications for police have become extremely complex.
What was once accomplished in 45 minutes on a single page document now requires dozens of typewritten pages and many hours of technical research and report writing. Warrant applications have become so complex many Police Units have created “affiant” positions, (specially trained warrant writers), to deal with the complexities.
Complex warrant applications can stop a criminal investigation dead in its tracks.
Time = $
When I started my career in policing there was no such thing as a Forensic Imaging Unit.
The prevalence of video recordings on transit busses, in businesses, in taxis and in residential neighbourhoods has had a significant impact on Law Enforcement.
Crimes are caught more on tape now than ever in our history.
Video recordings have become prevalent in many homicide cases.
In April 2015, WPS Homicide Investigators charged John Paul Ostamas (40) with three (3) unrelated homicides of vulnerable homeless men. One of the killings was recorded on APTN surveillance cameras.
In February 2011, Homicide Investigators scanned hours of car wash video recordings looking for the smoking gun that would seal the fate of the man who killed Elizabeth Lafantaisie (73). Those efforts paid off when investigators found the needle in the haystack – a short video clip of the accused killer driving the victim’s vehicle when evidence indicated her body was in the trunk of the car.
Thomas Anthony Brine was subsequently convicted of 1st degree murder in the killing.
These are but a few cases.
The need to review, process and secure video evidence has become an incredibly taxing, labour intensive aspect of criminal investigation.
The increase in crimes caught on tape forced the Police to create and staff the Forensic Imaging Unit.
Time = $
Mental Health Crisis
It’s difficult to find statistics to quantify the impact people in mental health crisis have on policing.
Suffice it to say, Police Officers spend an inordinate amount of time in hospitals dealing with people who have significant mental health issues.
The problem only seems to get worse.
Time = $
Child Welfare Crisis
Conservative estimates indicate there are 10,000 young people in care in the Province of Manitoba.
The majority of these young people come from Winnipeg.
In 2015, Winnipeg Police reported an all time high of 8,894 people were reported missing in Winnipeg in 2015, a rise of 29% from the previous year.
The problem is clearly getting worse.
Police spend a significant amount of time investigating and looking for missing persons.
Time = $
Social media did not exist when I started my career in policing in 1987.
Police have been forced to evolve and adapt and put significant resources into investigating crimes associated with social media. These investigations are difficult and require highly trained investigators with technically advanced skills.
Investigations into social media can be time-consuming, laborious undertakings.
Time = $
Violent Crime Severity
If you have any social awareness you will know the City of Winnipeg has led or been at the top of the nationwide violent crime index for many years running.
Winnipeg often leads the Country in homicide, robbery, sex assault, gang crime, youth crime and other crime categories.
No one can put lipstick on that pig.
Nonetheless, people will still try to talk about declining crime rates as part of the discussion.
Declining crime rates or not, calls for service steadily increase the demands we place on men and women working the front lines of the Winnipeg Police Service.
On a side note, did you know that at any given time there may be upwards of 30,000 arrest warrants on file in the WPS Bureau of Police Records.
The Evolution Continues
In 2015, the WPS commenced a pilot project for police body cameras.
The requirement to wear body cameras is another example of external pressure and the evolution of Law Enforcement.
The project, if adopted, will require the creation of a specialized unit to administer the body camera program. The Police Service is sure to experience significant costs regarding staffing, resources, equipment, storage and disclosure.
It all equates to $$$.
After working over eighteen (18) years in WPS Investigative Units I can assure you concerns over fiscal responsibility have always been at the forefront.
As a rookie Detective I was often stunned by supervisory decisions to thwart overtime in the face of serious public safety concerns. These are not easy decisions.
Do you continue to run an expensive operation on overtime or do you stop surveilling a serial rapist and hope he doesn’t do this thing after you pull the plug?
As a supervisor, I always erred on the side of public safety, but not everyone did.
From my experience, WPS operations have always been run in a fiscally responsible manner.
In 2011, the Police Service conducted one of the most thorough audits ever completed on WPS Homicide Unit operations.
I participated in the study.
The WPS Homicide Unit solved murders at approximately 50% of the cost of their western comparators. The Unit operated with approximately half the investigators of comparators and had no civilian support staff.
The WPS Homicide Unit has had a 90% solvency rate for over 15 years.
It seems much attention is also being focused on the fact 85% of the Police budget goes to salary and benefits for WPS officers. Well guess what;
Policing is a robust, highly competitive market.
(Fact – police recruiters come to Winnipeg from all over the Country.)
Policing has become an extremely technical profession.
Policing has become an extremely difficult job.
If you want to attract people with integrity, intelligence and sound decision-making ability you have to pay them a competitive salary.
Police Officers need not apologize nor feel guilty when they cash their pay cheques.
That said, Police Agencies should be aware of the rising costs of Policing and must do everything within their power to be fiscally responsible.
I don’t care to make excuses for $1,000,000 expenditures on helicopters or $350,000 back door purchases of armoured personnel vehicles. Police must be held accountable for the bottom line.
Mayors and City Councillors must build bridges with Police Executives and not wage propaganda wars on social media or in the press to score points with tax paying citizens.
Mayors and City Councillors who opt to use social media platforms should be responsive to their constituents when they are engaged with legitimate questions.
This should not be about division.
Lines should not be drawn in the sand.
Leaders find solutions, and do so with minimum noise.
Ultimately, if the City decides to lay off 40 cadets and 20 new police recruits to comply with budget restrictions they may very well end up deeper in the red.
“They may save that 2.5 million on the front end, but I’m telling you on the back-end, they’re going to be paying overtime out the yin-yang,” says WPA president Maurice “Moe” Sabourin. (Winnipeg Free Press)
The costs associated to that overtime come in many forms.