The Biggest News From The Winnipeg Police Service Review Is What Was Excluded

Commentary, Municipal Government, Steve Lafleur

The Winnipeg Police Service operational review is making a lot of noise, but the biggest news is what’s not in the report. While the report did get into issues such as the WPS not taking full advantage of its CrimeStat software for tracking and predicting where crime occurs, it specifically excluded most of the biggest human resources issues due to the fact that collective negotiations are currently underway with the police union. Like most operational reviews commissioned by cities, the scope is limited to “efficiencies” that won’t lead to significant operational changes. In other words, it fails to provide recommendations that would lead to substantial cost savings – by design.

The authors (see page 55 and 56) state that they have performed detailed analyses of human resources issues (including the use of one versus two officer patrols, use of civilian labour and cadets, and scheduling practices) that they can’t reveal for confidentiality reasons. They note that they will issue these analyses to the city separately in time. However, the report states that “the WPS should seek modifications through the collective bargaining agreement to address the identified agreement language that imposes limitations on organizational and operational issues.”

In other words, the authors believe the union has too much sway over policy decisions. Whether or not they believe that change is warranted in the noted areas, there is reason to believe that some related policy tweaks would be beneficial.

Rather than delving into all of the above areas, let’s focus on the deployment of one officer versus two officer patrol cars, as this policy shift is most likely to see the greatest increase in operational efficiency.

The City of Winnipeg requires all police cruisers to be staffed with two officers between the hours of 7pm and 7am. The rationale is to maintain officer safety. However, the Australian Institute of Criminology published a literature review in 2012 on single officer patrols, in which they found that officer safety is similar in one and two officer patrol situations. The authors also pointed out that moving to single office patrols allow officers to police more territory, which can help increase response times.  As an example, the City of Buffalo found that police response times were drastically reduced after they moved from two officer to one officer patrols in 2003. The City of Ottawa exclusively relies on one officer patrols (and is the safest major Canadian city).

A report prepared for the Vancouver Police Department, the optimal percentage of cruisers containing two officers over the course of a day in the city is 60%. The highest percentage of VPD cruisers containing two officers at any given time is 75%. Were the WPS to follow that model, they would be able to redeploy 12.5% of officers in two officer cruisers even at peak times. That would free up a significant number of officers for foot patrols in troubled neighbourhoods.

Lest anyone claim that Winnipeg  faces “special” challenges, it should be noted that Vancouver has its share of distressed neighbourhoods, and Buffalo has historically had vastly worse crime problems than any Canadian city. Yet their police departments are able to utilize one officer patrols effectively.

The reality is that in most cases, there isn’t a lot of “gravy” to be found in governments. The real savings are to be found in more efficient processes, which in this case, means covering more ground with the same number of officers. While the review provides some useful recommendations, the city will have to make some tough choices if they want to provide police services as efficiently as other cities.