The Winnipeg Police Service proudly released information yesterday indicating they recorded a total of eight hundred and fifty (850) beat patrol hours in downtown Winnipeg for August.
This total exceeded their goal of 500 hours.
In my estimation eight hundred and fifty (850) beat patrol hours equates to exactly zilch, nada, zippo, nothing.
In fact, it is a very strange way to measure success.
That fact was not lost on Inner City analyst Brian Kelcey who was quoted in the Winnipeg Sun as stating “You don’t measure success based on how many more hours you’re working, or numbers you’ve deployed.”
Sad that a member of the public makes that connection and our Police Service doesn’t.
More evidence to me that the people with decision making authority in our Police Service just don’t get what crime and real public safety is all about.
When I started with the Police Service in 1987 I walked the Main Street beat for the first six months of my career.
I returned to the Main Street Beat again in 1994 working with rookie partner Constable Curtis Penner, a short, stocky, hungry young cop who could never seem to work enough hours in a day.
Together, we took complete control and ownership of the Main Street Beat recording a total of one hundred & sixty (160) arrests during our nine (9) month assignment.
(When you factor in shift schedule and holidays, these numbers translate to a minimum of 1 – 4 arrests every working day.)
Although these arrest numbers were significant, they meant little in isolation. What was important was to measure the impact that those arrests had. Many of these arrests were habitual criminals we targeted because they were “shitting” in our back yard.
When it comes to beat patrol and crime reduction, several principles and conditions must exist for Policing efforts to be successful.
It starts with the Police personnel assigned to the task. It is essential that they are highly motivated, dedicated and committed individuals who are prepared to take ownership of an area and do the work.
(From my experience, finding Police Officers with these attributes has never been a problem.)
It also requires computer skills, organizational ability and crime analysis. Police have to do their homework and identify what problems the criminal element present in a given area.
Police management has to support the efforts and keep hard working productive officers in the assignment for longer periods of time so that they can retain valuable criminal history and corporate knowledge. Lengthy assignments also facilitate the building of strong, trusting relationships with people or business entities in the affected area who can offer vital support, information and problem solving assistance.
Once you have an understanding of the problem you can develop strategies to deal with the issues whether they are Strong Arm Robberies, Thefts, Assaults or simple public intoxication or pan handling.
This is called pro-active policing and it works.
Criminals have a tendency to become habitual and territorial. They become skilled at certain crimes and can plague an area much like an insect infestation.
Experience tells us that a very small percentage of individuals are responsible for the vast majority of crime in any given area.
The challenge is to identify the habitual criminals and get them dirty.
As a member of the Police Bike Patrol Unit in 1998 & 1999 we became aware of a significant bike theft problem in the area of Portage Place. To deal with the issue we conducted short term projects where we would plant a decoy bike and take a wait and see approach.
We were never disappointed with the results. Time after time habitual criminals took the bait and found themselves in handcuffs. Not surprising to any of us, the offenders often had lengthy records, arrest warrants, were on bail, probation or some other form of Court Order.
The Courts continue to exacerbate the problem with soft justice, release, sentencing, bail and the catch and release program.
Prior to retiring this year I had an interesting conversation with Cst Miguel Carvalho*, a dedicated soldier working the mean streets of Winnipeg.
Carvalho drew a parallel between Downtown Winnipeg and Times Square in NYC. We both agreed the vibes in these locales could not be more different. I’ve been to Times Square in NYC and enjoyed a tremendous sense of safety. Beat cops everywhere, no scum bags, gang bangers, criminals or pan handlers in sight.
I’ve recently walked through Portage Place with my wife and children and had the exact opposite feeling. Scum bags, gang bangers, criminals all around us, feeling naked without my firearm, relieved when we made it back safely to our vehicle and found all four windows in tact.
Carvalho, a rabid Jets fan, wants to see downtown safety become a major priority so that Winnipeg can truly showcase our new NHL franchise by providing a “truly” safe environment for the throngs of visitors and fans the team attracts.
Increased Police presence is a start but lets not measure success by something as innocuous as beat patrol hours.
We should all have much higher expectations!
*Carvalho promoted to Patrol Sergeant post retirement.