Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Police help on way... in 77 minutes

City police too slow to respond to calls: review

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Police chief Devon Clunis disputes the findings of a police union-initiated review that found the service gives lower priority to incidents of domestic assaults.

Police respond immediately to all life-threatening situations, regardless of the caller, Clunis said this morning.

"If there is a threat to someone, we’re there," Clunis said. "That’s a high-priority call."

A review initiated by the national police union found Winnipeg police officers take on average 77 minutes to respond to calls involving domestic assault and assaults with a weapon.

CPA president Tom Stamatakis said the WPS is the only police force in the country that treats calls for assaults with a weapon and domestic assaults as minor incidents.

"What's even more shocking is the average response time to calls like that in Winnipeg is 77 minutes," Stamatakis said. "That's nowhere near a best practice when it comes to policing.

"If I phone 911 and say there's someone on my property with a knife and he's threatening to stab me... the average response time is 77 minutes."

Clunis insisted that the union review is flawed, but he did confirm that domestic assault calls to 911 are automatically recognized at a lower priority – but priority is raised if the situation warrants it.

"If there’s no threat, if there’s been an assault but the abuser is gone, we evaluate all that," Clunis. "Domestics for us are a high-priority call and we make sure we get to them in a very timely manner."

Stamatakis and local police union president Mike Sutherland presented the 480-page operational review to the Winnipeg Police board during a closed-door meeting this morning.

Stamatakis will answer questions about the review at noon.

Union-financed review follows city hall-financed review

The review consisted of several months' work earlier this spring and summer by a research team headed by Simon Fraser University criminologist Curt Griffiths, who interviewed community leaders and WPS officials, and reviewed all aspects of WPS operations.

The CPA, which paid for the review, said it has only recently given a copy of the document to the Winnipeg Police Service, adding it will be made public after the WPS has had a chance to review and comment on its findings and recommendations.

The union financed the review after city hall hired an American firm, Matrix Consulting, for $174,000 to conduct a similar exercise. The national police union shared concerns of the local police union the Matrix review would be a blueprint for massive cutbacks at the WPS.

However, when the now-discredited Matrix review was released two weeks ago, it was panned by councillors, the police union and an academic.

The councillors said its findings and recommendations were insignificant; the police union said the document was predictable.

U of M professor Frank Cormier described the review as poorly written and organized. Most damning of all, he found key portions of the report, including a section entitled Strengths of the WPS, had been copied word for word from a similar review Matrix had carried out in 2010 for the San Antonio, Texas, police department.

Contrary to the police union review, Matrix concluded the WPS had excellent response times for its most serious crimes. Stamatakis said that revealed Matrix failed to see the WPS omitted two serious crime categories -- assaults with a weapon and domestic assaults -- from its priority 1 and 2 calls.

Stamatakis said only WPS treats such calls as a priority 3, whereas in all other police departments they are a priority 1.

"These are calls -- a woman says her husband is beating her up, the assault with a weapon calls -- where there is risk to life, risk to injury," Stamatakis said. "It's taking 77 minutes to respond and people should be concerned about that."

Priority 3 calls in other communities involve property calls, he said, where the suspect has fled or the incident happened the day before and everyone is safe.

Winnipeg Police Association president Mike Sutherland said the review shows the WPS has more work to do, especially when it comes to response times compared with other jurisdictions.

"The review illustrates the unique challenges (the WPS) face in terms of the significant number of violent and domestic incidents that are unique to Winnipeg compared to other jurisdictions," Sutherland said.

Stamatakis said the slow response times led to another revelation: WPS officers aren't being deployed properly or there aren't enough of them.

Little capacity for crime analysis

One area in which the union review concurred with Matrix was that the WPS has little capacity for crime analysis -- a situation Chief Devon Clunis has admitted and wants addressed.

"If you want to be strategic in how you respond to crime, you need to have capacity to analyze data," Stamatakis said, adding the WPS has very little of that. "The Winnipeg Police Service right now is engaged solely involved in reactive policing, they're not doing any proactive policing at all.

"Unless there is a shift, Winnipeg is never going to get ahead of some of these crime issues that the whole community is struggling with."

The Matrix review did find a few million dollars in potential savings, but Clunis admitted the WPS budget would be increased if all of its recommendation were implemented.

Stamatakis said the union review is essentially revenue-neutral, designed solely to make the WPS a better police force and Winnipeg a safer community.

"Our report will give the Winnipeg Police Service concrete recommendations around real changes they can make that will lead to a more efficient service and an enhanced public safety in the community," Stamatakis said.

"Our recommendations are around being more strategic about deploying police officers... and then looking at other options for activities that a police officer might be engaged in that you could get somebody else to perform."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Have you or anyone you know ever had to wait a long time for police to respond? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 8, 2013 A3

History

Updated on Friday, November 8, 2013 at 11:45 AM CST: Adds response from chief.

12:05 PM: Adds video.

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