Mayor, chief turn down heat

But questions on police-force staffing remain

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Senior city officials are dialing down the rhetoric following a dispute last week between a rookie councillor and deputy police chief.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/01/2015 (2816 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

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Senior city officials are dialing down the rhetoric following a dispute last week between a rookie councillor and deputy police chief.

But the threat of layoffs or forced retirements continues to hang over the the Winnipeg Police Service as council crafts a 2015 budget.

Mayor Brian Bowman and police Chief Devon Clunis held a joint news conference Monday, prompted by last week’s confrontation between finance chairman Marty Morantz and deputy chief Art Stannard.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Mayor Brian Bowman (right) and police Chief Devon Clunis appear to be happy campers as they arrive at a news conference at city hall on Monday.

There were no apologies given by either man, but the comments from Bowman clearly indicated he hasn’t placed a target on the Winnipeg police.

“I want to reaffirm my support and council’s support for the invaluable work the members of the Winnipeg Police Service do each and every day,” Bowman said as he kicked off the impromptu news conference.

Monday’s news conference was the result of Morantz’s questioning of Stannard over the WPS’s 2015 budget and Stannard’s comments to the police board the following day that Morantz’s actions were disrespectful and it had left WPS members fearful for their jobs.

Clunis said he was away on vacation last week but called Bowman after he read the news reports.

Clunis defended Stannard, but said he knows elected officials have a job to do.

“I recognize our role to work co-operatively in the best interests of our citizens,” Clunis told reporters as Bowman stood alongside him.

“What the city needs to see is that as (police) administration, we serve the elected officials they have elected to lead.

“Our elected officials certainly have the right to ask their respective questions. We simply want to ensure everything we do is done in a mutually respectful and co-operative environment.”

Clunis said he had no objection to how Stannard had behaved last week.

“I support fully what our deputy chief (Stannard) said, and from the comments I’ve read, I would have taken the same actions.”

Morantz (Charleswood-Tuxedo) was seen entering the mayor’s office before the news conference, but he did not come out with Bowman and Clunis and did not come out to answer questions later.

‘I want to reaffirm my support and council’s support for the invaluable work the members of the Winnipeg Police Service do each and every day’

— Mayor Brian Bowman

Bowman said councillors are elected to ask tough questions and he did not make any public apologies for Morantz’s grilling of Stannard.

“Those elected officials who are charged with the difficult task of asking the difficult questions are going to ask those questions, especially when we’re in a very difficult budget process,” Bowman said.

While Bowman said he was committed to the members of the WPS, he also refused to answer whether the 2015 budget would lead to layoffs or forced retirements from within the service, adding he would leave that determination to the budget process.

“The budget cycle is underway right now,” Bowman said when asked whether he would guarantee the size of the WPS would remain unchanged. “We’ll have more to say on the decisions made in the budget once we’ve heard from the police board and once council has had their say on specific matters.

“Right now, we’ve got a budget process that needs to roll out, and I’m committed to following that process.”

The previous council approved a three per cent property-tax increase in 2014, with two-thirds of the increase dedicated for street repairs. But during the election campaign, Bowman committed to a property tax increase in 2015 of no more than that of the Consumer Price Index, which is 2.3 per cent, and insisted civic departments would have to find savings without impacting the delivery of front-line services.

Bowman and his new executive committee have been meeting regularly to craft a budget and maintain his campaign commitments.

The police budget has been growing twice as fast as the city’s overall budget since 2010. Previous finance chairmen have questioned the rising police budget, which is the single largest department budget at city hall.

The size of the WPS has been criticized in the past, most recently by the right-wing think-tank, the Fraser Institute, which issued a report in September that said the service was overstaffed when considering the drop in crime rates and new policing strategies.

The Fraser Institute said Winnipeg has 187 police officers for every 100,000 residents, but that figure should be closer to 145 officers per 100,000 residents.

Morantz said last week he was concerned that while there are likely to be 200 police officers eligible to retire from the WPS this year, the service is expecting only 30 to 50 to do so.

Morantz suggested the WPS has too many officers “standing around” with no work while the police executive is doing nothing to control its costs or to encourage more officers to retire as a cost-saving measure.

Clunis said many municipalities are dealing with escalating police costs, adding it isn’t a situation unique to Winnipeg. He refused to say whether he thinks the WPS is overstaffed, adding the situation faced by police in every municipality is different. He said financial concerns will be addressed through the budget process with the police board.

“We’re looking at many initiatives to reduce costs,” Clunis said.

Stannard attended last week’s finance committee meeting to answer questions about the WPS’s 2014 third-quarter report, but Morantz demanded Stannard give him a report on what efforts were being made to encourage police to retire and what other efforts the WPS brass were making to reduce costs for the 2015 budget.

Stannard replied he didn’t oppose the questions, but said since the creation of the police board, the WPS reports to the board and Morantz’s request should go to the police board first. Morantz insisted Stannard elaborate on efforts being made on the 2015 budget and to commit to deliver the report as he requested.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Tuesday, January 13, 2015 8:22 AM CST: Replaces photo, adds video

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