A team of researchers from Harvard University will put Winnipeg under the microscope in an effort to reduce police service calls by getting front-line agencies to work together more effectively.
The initiative was conceived by Mayor Brian Bowman, through his participation this summer at the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative — a professional development session for municipal leaders from across the world.
"We pitched Bloomberg and Harvard with the idea of working with us and leveraging their resources and expertise on how our community could really mobilize, in a very focused and strategic way, key stakeholders to better collaborate to try to reduce the number of dispatched calls for service by our Winnipeg Police Service for non-core policing activities," Bowman told reporters Thursday.
"This isn’t about dictating or prescribing operational decisions to the Winnipeg Police Service, but how do we work collaboratively as a community before those calls are made to reduce the number of dispatched calls that are needed."
Bowman said invitations were sent out Thursday to representatives of more than 25 front-line agencies.
The first meeting is set for Nov. 18, a day-long event at the administration building on the city hall campus.
While Bowman said the objective is not to reduce costs for the WPS, the invitation to prospective participants contained a one-page outline of the initiative, which stressed the financial burden facing city hall.
"Extensive and expensive policing resources are being used to respond to families in crisis, individuals dealing with mental health, medical, and substance abuse challenges, as well as missing persons and runaways," states the summary.
"These demands put significant pressure on police service resources. This pressure comes at a time when City of Winnipeg financial resources are limited, the crime severity index in Winnipeg is increasing, and follows more than a decade of annual budgetary increases to the police service that exceeded inflationary thresholds to the point the Winnipeg Police Service budget now represents the largest civic operating budget and almost one-third of the City of Winnipeg’s overall expenditures."
The list of invitees includes Shared Health, WPS, Winnipeg Police Board, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and other government agencies, the mayor said.
Bowman said he hopes the front-line agencies would keep an open mind and "work in ways that we haven’t in the past."
"This is one where I think we all agree… If we can reduce the demands of non-core policing dispatched calls, we’re all going to benefit as a community. The question, of course, is how do you do that? That’s where Harvard’s resources are being tapped and leveraged to help us move forward."
Bowman said the Cambridge, Mass.-based university team is being financed largely by Harvard Kennedy School's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, and Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable arm of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg (CEO of Bloomberg LP, whose net worth has been estimated to be US$53 billion), with no cost to the City of Winnipeg.
Bowman said he expects the project will produce results in a matter of months, with measurable outcomes and clear examples of how the agencies can change their operations.
"We’re trying to look at how do we better use the resources in our community in a smart way to get better results. Also, in doing so, reduce the demand of the resources within the Winnipeg Police Service. If there’s a way that we can provide the... service with some additional supports by way of everyone else’s actions in the community and other agencies, that’s what I’m trying to do."
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.
Updated on Thursday, November 7, 2019 at 9:32 PM CST: Updates letter
9:37 PM: Updates letter