Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/1/2013 (1353 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It's the elephant in the civic budget room.
Police and emergency services spending has increasingly become the dominant expenditure at city hall.
While some debate the merits of minor spending increases for councillors' offices and policy advisers, spending on the police and fire-paramedics departments consumes 44 per cent of the city's spending, with the Winnipeg Police Service taking up an ever-increasingly greater share of the budget.
- City spending will increase 3.2 per cent in 2013;
- WPS spending will increase 10.1 per cent;
- Fire-paramedic spending will increase 5.8 per cent.
In 2005, policing accounted for 20 per cent of the total city budget; today, it's 26 per cent.
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.
A year ago, Scott Fielding, who was finance chairman then, compared police spending to health care and this week, Mayor Sam Katz said the large annual increases to the police budget have become unsustainable.
Is there an alternative?
"To even suggest cuts to the police budget wouldn't fly and perhaps is not a good idea," said Frank Cormier, a criminology professor at the University of Manitoba.
Cormier has an extensive background in policing and justice issues, having designed and managed research projects as a private consultant for several federal government departments, the Winnipeg Police Service and Saskatchewan Justice.
Cormier said provincial and civic politicians have poured money into the city police budget over the years -- hiring more officers, civilians and recently, cadets and a helicopter -- to counter the public's concern with Winnipeg's alarming crime rate.
But the spending has had little effect on the crime rate or the ability of Winnipeg police to solve crime: The clearance rate for all Criminal Code offences has remained stable since 2008, hovering around 15 per cent; the murder rate jumps up and down, setting a record of 41 homicides in 2011; and the number of police officers increases every year.
"Unlike what we're used to seeing on television, where a squad of dedicated and highly intelligent detectives can figure things out if they're allowed to put their skills to use, there are very few crimes that work out that way," Cormier said. "Crime (in Winnipeg) is more straightforward.
"Either no one will ever be found for what happened, or it will be really, really simple to figure out who did what."
Taxpayers are paying the steep bill for the political remedy that spending more on police is always a good thing.
"More police is a motherhood issue," Cormier said. "It's hard for anyone to say, 'No, more police is a bad thing.'
"People who have a fear of crime will feel more secure simply hearing there are more police around. Even if it doesn't change anything, their perception is they are more secure."
Cormier said proper scrutiny needs to be placed on police spending, adding he's hopeful the promised independent operational review of the police service will provide evidence on how tax dollars should be spent on policing.
"What are we trying to do, what are we doing, what are we achieving, how can we do it more cost-effectively?" Cormier said of the standard objectives of any proper operational evaluation. "Too often, we take for granted that police keep us safe but what people have to say is, 'How,' and then break it down to its component parts."
A civic spokesman said it is in the final stages of awarding the contract for the operational review, completing security-clearance checks on consultant team members before announcing the award of the contract.