Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

WPS needs work

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Winnipeg's general patrol officers are off work much longer than their counterparts in other cities, and it's costing taxpayers a bundle in overtime as well as reducing service to the public, according to a consultant's review.

The numbers tell the story: A police officer is paid for 2,080 hours a year (208 10-hour shifts). But after holidays, injuries, sick time, and other types of leave, patrol constables and sergeants only worked 1,644 hours, which adds up to 406 hours of leave on average.

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That's considerably higher than the 250 to 300 hours of annual leave for general patrol officers in other cities, according to the report by Matrix Consulting Group.

When training and administrative time are included, Winnipeg's patrol officers only spend about 69 per cent of their paid time responding to calls for service.

High rates of sick time and other leave are obviously a major financial burden because more officers are required to replace those on leave, but the phenomenon also contributes directly to the demand for more policing.

The Winnipeg Police Service says it wants to reduce leave to 350 hours a year in the short term, but it should ultimately aim to lower the number much further.

A police spokesman said the department is working on a robust wellness program "to drive those numbers down," but clearly there's a problem within the department that has not been widely known until now. Whether it's related to low morale, union grievances or something else was not disclosed.

The consultant identified close to 50 police positions that could be eliminated, but most of the savings would not be felt by civic ratepayers. The report noted the RCMP's plan to take over airport policing will save 25 jobs, but they are all funded by Richardson International Airport.

The police service says it hasn't decided if all 25 jobs will be lost through attrition, or if some will be integrated into other functions. The consultant clearly said the positions should not be replaced. Another three jobs in the stolen auto unit should be eliminated, the report said, although, again, the savings would flow to Manitoba Public Insurance, which provides the funding.

The consultant also recommends the elimination of a unit of 18 senior constables who read reports from officers in the field and transferring the work to patrol sergeants, although four jobs would be handled by civilians. The savings would be worth more than $1 million a year.

The department was also advised to civilianize more jobs in the service, which would create more savings and efficiencies.

The report, however, was not focused on savings alone, even though that's an important consideration as the city looks for ways to reduce the growth of the $250-million service.

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The consultants also found the city has fallen behind the times in using technology to anticipate crimes before they happen.

And while the report said the department is generally efficient and attentive to the community's needs, it also found a degree of internal dissension and disagreement about how resources should be used.

Incredibly, the report found most general patrol constables do not know the boundaries of their patrol area or that they even had one, which seems almost incomprehensible given that it should be basic information.

"Geographic knowledge of the city is basic information every constable should know," the report says. No kidding.

Winnipeg has a large police force by Canadian standards, but statistics and other factors bear out the need. Property crimes occur at a greater level here than in other western cities, while the city also has one of the highest rates of violent crime, as well as a large underclass of disadvantaged and desperate souls.

Chief Devon Clunis acknowledges there are problems that need fixing. A good first step would be cutting the hours officers are on leave and getting them back on the street.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 30, 2013 A10

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