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Union fears review will lead to police cutbacks

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Front-line Winnipeg police officers are the real targets of an operational review designed to slash millions of dollars from the police budget, says the union representing police officers.

Winnipeg Police Association president Mike Sutherland said the American firm hired to conduct the review – Matrix Consulting Groups Ltd. – has a reputation for recommending job and service cuts in a series of similar reviews it did for American cities.

Sutherland said Matrix recently recommended the dispatch centre of a Connecticut police department be replaced by a call centre, adding he’s fearful Matrix will call for Winnipeg police officers to be laid off.

Sutherland said he believes Matrix was hired because of its reputation, adding it would be easier for hawks on council to push police layoffs.

"This is a scenario that seems the script is already written and the outcome’s already determined," Sutherland said during a news conference from the WPA offices this afternoon.

Escalating police and emergency services costs have come to pre-occupy some on council, particularly former finance chair Coun. Scott Fielding, who is now chair of protection and community services. Fielding last year likened the police budget to health-care spending.

The police budget accounts for 26 per cent of the City of Winnipeg tax-supported 2012 budget. Wage increases to police officers – either through negotiations or imposed through binding arbitration – have outstripped those received by all other civic employee groups. The police budget has increased at a rate twice as fast as the city’s overall budget.

Members of the WPS have never been subjected to layoffs.

The operational review was approved in the 2012 budget and awarded mid-December to Matrix Consulting at a cost of $174,000. The identity of the firm was released only recently while Matrix employees were subject to a security check.

Sutherland said he’s not opposed to subjecting the police service to an outside review, but added it should be done in an honest fashion by a Canadian firm.

However, Sutherland said Fielding had openly speculated at a recent executive policy committee meeting that there were "multiple millions of dollars" to be trimmed from the police budget.

Sutherland said cuts of that scale can only result in job layoffs, adding it would mean a crippled police service would leave the public vulnerable to dangerous and violent criminals.

Sutherland said a Canadian police expert was brought to Winnipeg recently to speak to councillors and senior bureaucrats, adding that expert concluded an outside review isn’t necessary at this time.

Sutherland said the Canadian expert told councillors and bureaucrats that an outside review isn’t warranted at this time because the WPS has a new police chief and a police board is about to assume control of the service, adding operational savings should be left to them.

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