Police chief, union see red over massive Whiteout security costs

The end of Winnipeg's Whiteout left Jets fans blue, but the city's police force is swimming in red ink, looking for a life-raft.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/06/2018 (1828 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The end of Winnipeg’s Whiteout left Jets fans blue, but the city’s police force is swimming in red ink, looking for a life-raft.

Unexpected police overtime costs from the nine street parties outside Bell MTS Place during the NHL team’s exciting April 11-May 20 playoff run added $788,000 to the force’s already-strained bottom line, chief Danny Smyth told the Winnipeg Police Board Friday.

And the revelation has sparked questions about whether cash for the hefty security tab should come from somewhere else.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS City police patrol the area surrounding the street party.

“I think a lot of revenues were made by a particular organization within the city and I think it should be a shared endeavour,” Winnipeg Police Association president Maurice Sabourin said. “It’s unfair for it to come completely out of the police budget.”

The WPS was under budget for OT costs for the first three months of the year, but those savings have been wiped out, Smyth told the board.

When the street parties were approved by city officials, the costs were to be shared between city hall, True North Sports & Entertainment and Economic Development Winnipeg. Mayor Brian Bowman also committed up to $120,000 of EDW’s cost from his office funds.

The bill was $394,000 after the Jets’ three home games in the first round of the playoffs, officials said. True North covered $226,000 of it for event planning and production costs, including fencing, licensing, stages, outdoor TV screens and electrical servicing.

The city said it provided $140,000 from existing budgets and EDW paid $28,000 for street closures, barricades and permits.

EDW spokesman Matt Schaubroeck said total costs for the parties are still being tabulated and will be released Monday, the same day True North will announce its overall contribution.

“I feel the mayor and Economic Development Winnipeg misled council on the costs when they didn’t include the cost of policing when they reported earlier,” Coun. Jeff Browaty said.

“I’d like to see a total breakdown of all costs as well as how revenue from concessions, accommodation, taxes, etc., were handled. I would also like to know who authorized these plans and the associated costs and why council wasn’t part of a major budget decision-making process.”

Browaty (North Kildonan) said the city needs to consider options to reduce costs in the future, including possibly using The Forks as the party site.

A spokesman for Bowman said he’ll comment on the WPS financial situation Monday.

Coun. Scott Gillingham, chairman of council’s finance committee, said the street-party costs weren’t anticipated in this year’s budget, adding he believes council should be prepared to make a special accommodation for police.

“Given that the Whiteout parties were not anticipated during the 2018 budget process, additional funding for the WPS, if necessary, may need to be discussed closer to year end,” Gillingham, who is in Halifax attending the Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual general meeting, said in an email exchange with the Free Press.

Gillingham (St. James-Brooklands-Weston) said costs and cost-sharing agreements for future Whiteout parties should be part of the budget process going forward.

A big part of the OT costs were the result of the short time notice provided for planning, Smyth told the police board. The WPS didn’t have time to juggle officer schedules to ensure more regular-duty officers would be available.

Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press Maurice Sabourin President of the Winnipeg Police Association

True North approached the WPS only “four or five days” before the playoffs began with the request to stage the parties, he said.

“I don’t ever want to do that again,” the police chief said. “We certainly put True North on notice of that, if this should ever occur in the future that we can’t be trying to plan this four days before the playoffs.”

Ideally, the WPS needs several weeks or months to plan for an outdoor event on the scale of the Whiteout parties, he said, adding the playoff games drew up to 50,000 people downtown — 15,300 inside the arena, up to 23,000 on the street and several thousand more in bars and restaurants.

“It was a real challenge for us…. We didn’t have a lot of time to put this together.”

At one point during the second-round series against the Nashville Predators, 250 officers — both regular-duty and overtime — were assigned to the event.

Smyth told the police board the WPS is projecting a year-end deficit of $4.37 million, and he doesn’t know how it will pay its party expenses.

“We have some time to try to strategize around that but I don’t have any clear direction on if the city or True North will come to any kind of agreement on that,” he said.

Rob Wozny, True North’s vice-president of communications and community engagement, said the Jets did the best they could with the timeline they were given by the league, but vowed to do better in future.

“As we debrief with our partners in the weeks and months ahead, we’ll be reviewing a number of potential initiatives, including planning further in advance, noting that it’s not always possible based on the short scheduling timelines for the playoffs presented to us by the NHL,” he said in a statement provided to the Free Press.

— With files from Ryan Thorpe

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