Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Police report lands with a thud

Long-awaited assessment disappoints

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A consultant's report that was expected to pave a path toward saving millions of dollars in the Winnipeg Police Service budget has proven disappointing to some and offers few recommendations for cost-cutting.

The 345-page report by the U.S.-based Matrix Consulting Group offered 175 recommendations for operational improvements, but councillors described it as disappointing and even a wasted effort.

While police Chief Devon Clunis said he agrees with 90 per cent of the findings, he said the recommendations echo what he believed needed to be done to the WPS when he became chief a year ago.

"They're saying we should be more proactive, which is something I started from Day 1 as I took over this role," Clunis told reporters.

Coun. Scott Fielding, who chairs the Winnipeg Police Board, said the recommendations will be reviewed to determine which are suitable for implementation.

"We will not jeopardize public safety," Fielding (St. James-Brooklands) said of the more controversial recommendations of cuts to police operations.

While the review concludes the police service operates mostly in an efficient manner, it offers some harsh criticisms of management. It found a lack of accountability within the WPS management team in the oversight of day-to-day operations and found a lack of performance data that hinders managers' ability to monitor operations.

Mayor Sam Katz said there is nothing in the Matrix review to be feared.

"In general, they made recommendations how we can be proactive and make the city a safer place," Katz said, adding the stated goal of the review was to find ways to make the WPS more efficient and any cost-savings would be a bonus.

'We will not jeopardize public safety'

-- Coun. Scott Fielding, chairman of the Winnipeg Police Board

Katz and the six other members of his executive policy committee had the document for several days but the other nine members of council only saw it for the first time Tuesday morning.

 

Rationale

The review was ordered because there is a consensus on council that spending on emergency services, and particularly police, is out of control. Fielding, when he was finance chairman, likened police spending to health care. The police budget is growing at twice the rate of the city's overall budget. Councillors have said that in a matter of a few years, the complement of the police service has ballooned to almost 1,500 officers from 1,100, with an additional 400 civilians.

Fielding said there was probably tens of millions of dollars in savings to be found within the police service without sacrificing service or putting officers' lives in jeopardy. Other fiscal hardliners on council were eagerly awaiting the findings.

Matrix Consulting was hired because it has established a track record of reviewing police departments, often finding methods of streamlining operations and generating budget savings.

However, its hiring was opposed by the Winnipeg Police Association, which said the company lacked experience of policing in a Canadian setting and had a reputation for putting forward unrealistic program cuts to find savings.

 

Reaction

The Winnipeg Police Association said the report's findings were predictable.

"We said there wouldn't be tens of millions of dollars to be saved, and if you read it, there's no money to be saved," said George Van Mackelbergh, vice-president of the WPA. "There's nothing here that Chief (Devon) Clunis couldn't have told them."

'I would have liked to have seen some savings'

--Coun. Brian Mayes

Van Mackelbergh said the review re-affirmed what the union said all along: the WPS is a well-trained, efficient police force.

Some members of council were harsh in their assessment of the review.

"There's nothing significant in this report that leaves me concerned, one way or the other," Coun. Harvey Smith (McIntyre) said as he left the morning briefing for councillors. "It was a waste of time for me even being here."

"I would have liked to have seen some savings," said Coun. Brian Mayes, a member of EPC. "That's what we expected, and they didn't come back with any."

"It shows the police service is doing quite a good job," Coun. Dan Vandal, another member of EPC said.

"I'm quite happy the report says the Winnipeg Police Service runs very efficiently as a police service," Fielding said.

Frank Cormier, a criminologist who teaches at the University of Manitoba, said the report was "underwhelming."

Cormier, who used to work as an independent justice consultant, said the report was badly written and presented in a way almost designed to discourage people from reading the document.

"Overall, I'm not impressed with the quality," Cormier said. "It's a mess. I've been trying to read it. It's painful."

Cormier said Matrix found little in cost-savings and he believes the ones identified are "wild estimates."

 

Next steps

Fielding said the review is the responsibilty of the fledgling Winnipeg Police Board, whose members will review the document and decide which recommendations will be implemented.

Clunis said the findings and recommendations may have been written by experts, but he said he would only accept changes to WPS operations that will result in a demonstrated improvement in service.

However, once the report is digested by councillors and WPS executive, it could likely end up sitting on a shelf collecting dust.

On a humorous note -- and much to the chagrin of fiscal conservatives, to be sure -- Clunis said if all the review's recommendations were implemented, the WPS would end up hiring more officers and its budget climb even higher.

Clunis has been chief for a year and has been busy making over the police service, blending units and finding efficiencies. He will likely refer to it to justify his plans.

But Cormier pointed out Matrix recycled portions of the document from reviews it had done on police departments in the United States dating back several years. That will undermine most, if not all, of its findings.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 30, 2013 A4

History

Updated on Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 9:20 AM CDT: adds video

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