Cops not to blame for high costs of policing

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With few exceptions, policing is invaluable, difficult and extremely demanding work.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/01/2015 (2775 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With few exceptions, policing is invaluable, difficult and extremely demanding work.

Every day and night, cops pick up the slack where the social-safety net has frayed. Police step into domestic situations, deal with the addicted and the mentally ill and play other roles more suited for people with social-work degrees rather than guns, batons and two-way radios.

No matter how many police Winnipeg hires to ride in its patrol cars, the city will never solve what the do-gooders call the “root causes of crime.”

Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files Finance committee chairman Marty Morantz (above) grilled deputy police chief Art Stannard on Thursday.

Nonetheless, this city and province have spent the past decade plowing a Brady Landfill’s worth of cash into the crime-fighting side of the policing equation, partly out of need but largely because of politics. To put it bluntly, elected officials have been using front-line police officers as pawns in a cynical game, where politicians could never be seen to be spending enough money on police officers and their equipment.

Under the leadership of former Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz, former Manitoba premier Gary Doer and current premier-in-limbo Greg Selinger, the city and province hired more and more Winnipeg cops, bought such toys as a police helicopter and engaged in megaprojects such as the Winnipeg police headquarters — all in the name of wringing votes from a public they believed wanted nothing more than more crime-fighting, all the time. Now, some municipal politicians, most recently finance chairman Marty Morantz, are questioning all this spending and wondering out loud whether it’s worth it. He is correct: The cost of policing in Winnipeg has not just risen outright, but increased as a percentage of all the cash the city spends on operations every year.

Given Winnipeg’s extremely tight finances, this examination is entirely justifiable — provided politicians remember they’re the ones who put the city in this situation.

In 2010, the city purchased a police helicopter for $3.5 million without conducting any cost-benefit analysis of whether that cash could be better spent on some other form of policing. Katz and former St. James councillor Scott Fielding cheered along the effort, even as they failed to demonstrate why Winnipeg needed a whirlybird.

Fielding would go on to say policing costs are out of control. Katz would go on to approve an ill-fated police advisory board and an examination of police operational efficiency, all in the name of providing value for money.

Police Chief Devon Clunis, meanwhile, recently hinted the cop copter could be on the chopping block. But Air1 is a tiny capital expense compared to the Winnipeg police headquarters, a $210-million project launched in 2009 without — surprise! — a cost-benefit analysis of whether or not that money needed to be spent.

Today, the police HQ is under RCMP investigation and shrouded in questions about procurement, cost overruns, undiscovered building flaws and severe project mismanagement. The city failed to even appraise the former Canada Post building before it bought the aging downtown structure for nearly $30 million. Council voted in favour of all this idiocy, every step of the way.

But hey, it’s the police’s fault we’re spending so much money on policing, right? Blowing hundreds of millions on a needless renovation from hell couldn’t possibly have anything to do with impulsive politicians or an incompetent civilian administration?

Of course, one-time, capital dollars are easy to find. Operational spending — the money you fork over every year to run stuff — is much harder to support. That’s why it’s beyond amusing anyone at city hall, including the well-intentioned rookie Coun. Morantz, would have the audacity to ask the Winnipeg Police Service what it’s doing to save money on policing when the politicians were the ones hiring more and more cops, election cycle after election cycle.

Modern policing involves not just depressing social work, but standing around in court for endless hours and filling out electronic paperwork. The vast majority of cops would be more efficient if they could be.

There just happens to be way more of them now, because politicians believed their re-election hopes depended on putting more men and women in uniform. Police administrators and unions didn’t object, knowing full well the long-term financial ramifications.

We got here by treating police like pawns and voters like financially illiterate morons. The solution to this impasse must be more respectful to everyone.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Tuesday, January 13, 2015 8:23 AM CST: Replaces photo

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