Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/9/2010 (2511 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Mayor Sam Katz is promising to hire another 58 police officers in an effort to end the city's reputation as one of the most crime-plagued centres in Canada. He acknowledged that police alone cannot make a community safer, but the emphasis in his first campaign announcement was clearly about boosting police numbers to make the city safer.
This stands in stark contrast to his main rival, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, who has promised to take steps to empower community groups to defend their neighbourhoods. Ms. Wasylycia-Leis is hoping that the success experienced in Point Douglas, which has seen a drop in crime and an increase in comfort levels, can be replicated elsewhere.
Her overall platform on crime, however, was vague and she did not address the question of police numbers. The mayor, on the other hand, seems to be putting too much confidence in the ability of police forces to solve complex problems.
With nearly 1,400 officers, the city already is one of the most policed cities in Canada -- our exact ranking is a source of endless debate -- but the mayor thinks we still don't have enough.
Everyone agrees that police are vital in deterring crime and arresting criminals -- otherwise we wouldn't need them -- but what is the right number? Would another 5,000 officers make the city five times safer, or is there a law of diminishing returns with respect to law enforcement?
A few years ago, the mayor actually promised to answer the question. He was going to hold the police service accountable to ensure taxpayers were getting value for their money and that "crime-reduction targets are being met."
Unfortunately, as the mayor has since learned, it's not that easy. Sometimes crime rises or falls for reasons that have little to do with the ratio of police to citizens.
Even so-called objective criteria for measuring performance aren't necessarily neutral. The Winnipeg Police Service, for example, has one of the lowest clearance rates in Canada. Our statistics for clearing crimes, or making arrests, are poorer than both Regina and Saskatoon, high crime cities with fewer officers per capita than Winnipeg.
But maybe Winnipeg is different. Violent street crime and mayhem, for example -- the kind we see a lot of in the city -- can result in serious offences that are difficult to clear because there are endless possible suspects, or none at all.
The argument could be made that Winnipeg needs more police officers because of our large inner city, high rates of poverty and sprawling suburbs, combined with priorities such as downtown renewal and unique social issues, such as homelessness, public drunkenness and so on.
Unfortunately, Mr. Katz offered no insight as to why he wants to hire 58 new officers, as opposed to 28 or 68, at a cost of $4 million, which sounds a little on the light side, given that a rule of thumb is that it costs $100,000 for every new police officer, once benefits, equipment and overtime are factored. Nor did he promise accountability and benchmarks for determining success.
As the campaign moves ahead, both candidates need to expand on their policies for dealing with crime, and on how they would measure success. A serious discussion, as opposed to sloganeering, might help identify where the efforts should be made.