Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Not much to get excited about

Matrix report offers too little, too late

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Everyone expected a mighty bang at city hall Tuesday when a long-awaited operational review of the Winnipeg Police Service was finally made public.

This was to be the report that would prescribe the austerity measures needed to bring the quarter-billion-dollar police budget under control.

Unfortunately, the bang turned out to be more of a thud. And a soft thud at that.

The $174,000 report, written by a consulting firm from Texas, came up with 175 recommendations for merging, shrinking, expanding, redefining and otherwise reconfiguring the WPS. All of the staff reductions identified were to be done by attrition. In some places, the report recommended adding staff and technology to improve operations.

It was, for the most part, pretty inconsequential. Looking at the chronology of how the contract was awarded for this review, it's not hard to see why.

The review was originally proposed by executive policy committee in March 2012 as part of budget deliberations. However, for unknown reasons, no steps were taken immediately to hire a consultant to carry out the work.

In the fall, a request for proposals was finally issued and a consultant was hired. Unfortunately, events had started to overtake the review.

The same month EPC proposed the review, then WPS chief Keith McCaskill announced he was leaving. He would officially step down in December 2012.

If the operational review was to be of any value -- and it remains unclear whether it ever had value based on the results released this week -- then it should have been done prior to McCaskill's departure, to help his successor. Instead, the snapshot taken by the consultant is horribly out of date.

It was hardly surprising then that Chief Devon Clunis, the man who replaced McCaskill, was thoroughly unimpressed by the consultant's work.

Clunis dutifully attended a news conference at city hall Tuesday with Coun. Scott Fielding, chairman of the Winnipeg Police Board. When asked about the results of the review, Clunis was polite but clear it was of little consequence. Asked if this report would aid any of his ongoing changes or improvements within the service, Clunis responded frankly.

"No, it doesn't add anything to what I'm doing," Clunis said. "There isn't anything here that is a revelation to me. (The recommendations) are all things that I've planned to do or am doing right now."

It would be easy to accuse Clunis of making up excuses to defuse the results of the review. However, others who have viewed the report, including most of city council, responded with the same indifference. It seems both inside and outside the WPS, this report is seen as a non-event.

We can only wonder what the reaction would have been if the consultant had started work immediately in the spring of 2012. As a snapshot of the dying days of the McCaskill administration, it is not flattering. The report said the WPS "lacks a strong management orientation" and "there has been a lack of accountability with the management team, not only in the implementation of agreed-upon changes, but in the oversight of day-to-day operations."

Having waited until McCaskill had one foot out of the door, the report loses both context and details of the initiatives brought in by the new chief.

The report does not, for example, recognize a Clunis-led initiative to better integrate police, health and social services. The co-ordinated community health strategy is designed to free police from duties better performed by health-care or social-service professionals. This allows police to focus on police work, Clunis has said.

This single initiative has the potential to eliminate hundreds of hours of wasted time for police forced to wait at hospitals minding mental-health patients who have been picked up on the street. It is a practical, sensible idea and, remarkably, was identified without the services of a consultant.

Delivered now, the better part of a year after Clunis took over and after he has started his own sweeping changes, the report is of virtually no value.

No one will take credit for misfiring on this report. In fact, given the deafening, collective yawn at city hall Tuesday, it may never be heard of again.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 30, 2013 A5

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