Front-line Winnipeg police officers are the real targets of an operational review, which is designed to slash millions of dollars from the police budget, the Winnipeg Police Association says.
WPA president Mike Sutherland said Monday the American firm hired to conduct the review of the Winnipeg Police Service has a reputation for recommending job and service cuts following a series of similar reviews it did for American cities.
Sutherland said Matrix Consulting Groups Ltd. recently recommended the dispatch centre of a Connecticut police department be replaced by a call centre and 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, which would make it easier for budget 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.
Escalating police and emergency services costs have become a preoccupation for some on council, particularly former finance chairman Coun. Scott Fielding, who is now chairman of protection and community services. Last year, Fielding likened the police budget to health-care spending.
The police budget accounts for 26 per cent of Winnipeg's 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.
Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told a summit on the economics of policing in Ottawa Jan. 16 Canada's steadily increasing spending on policing now exceeds $12 billion annually, and that "Over the last decade, the volume and severity of reported crime have both been on the decline."
With several reviews already underway across the country to find efficiencies leading to more effective policing, Toews said, "Most Canadian police services, if they act soon, have the opportunity to get ahead of the curve and respond with well-considered strategies."
In Winnipeg, however, there appears to be no correlation between crime rates and the size of the police service and its budget. Crime rates fluctuate up and down annually, while both the WPS budget and the complement of officers increase every year.
Members of the WPS have never been subjected to layoffs.
Councillors approved the operational review in the 2012 budget and awarded it in mid-December to Matrix 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 the police association endorsed Mayor Sam Katz's re-election bid two years ago, but he's surprised the mayor would be part of a group the WPA believes will be attacking the police service.
Sutherland said he's not opposed to subjecting the police service to an outside review, but it should be done by a Canadian firm.
Sutherland said Fielding had openly speculated at a recent committee meeting 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, which would mean a crippled police service that would leave the public vulnerable to dangerous and violent criminals.
However, Fielding (St. James-Brooklands) said he does not support laying off police officers. He said the city decided to launch a review during the 2012 budget process as police services account for roughly a quarter of Winnipeg's entire operating budget.
Fielding said it makes sense for the city to examine whether the police service is as efficient as it can be or whether there are ways to save money. The city is also reviewing its public works department to see whether there are places to find cost savings, he said.
"The City of Winnipeg has invested more in police services than any other jurisdiction in Canada, bar none," Fielding said.
Coun. Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) said it doesn't make sense to do a review at a time when Winnipeg has a new police chief and new police board.
Last week, Havixbeck said the head of the civilian board that governs the Peel Regional Police told members of Winnipeg council an operational review is not necessary, and is "redundant" due to the new police board oversight.
Havixbeck urged council's executive policy committee to scrap the operational review, but the committee shot down the idea
"He deserves an opportunity to show some leadership at this point," Havixbeck said of Winnipeg police Chief Devon Clunis. "Why wouldn't we give him that opportunity?"
-- with files from Jen Skerritt
In 2005, policing ($146.7 million) accounted for 20 per cent of the total city budget; today, it's 26 per cent ($242.5 million).
Between 2005 and 2013, the city's budget increased 29.5 per cent; the WPS budget increased more than double that rate, at 65.5 per cent.