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News Room – Inside the Winnipeg Police Service


All That and a Bag of Chips Police in the Global Marketplace

Supt. Bill Fogg, Winnipeg Police Service

Bill Fogg,
Superintendent, Uniform Operations

Last week the Chief of Police was invited to speak at the Economics of Policing and Community Safety conference in Ottawa.  Participants also heard from keynote speakers and expert panels; received information from other police leaders on what they are doing in their jurisdictions; and concluded with a town hall session.  Participants were all trying to understand what the economics of policing and community safety really means, and what the future of this looks like.

Indeed a great deal of attention has been focused on the economics of policing in the past few years, and for good reason.  Public money is scarce and we all have the expectation that our hard earned tax dollars should be spent wisely.  As a senior police manager, I believe it is my responsibility to improve the service we deliver and that we do it in the most effective and efficient manner possible.  We owe that to the citizens of Winnipeg.  The current debate about police numbers and police salaries is an important one and we need to make sure that we get it right.  However, much of the public debate has been one-sided and devoid of legitimate marketplace analysis.  Without a doubt, binding arbitration has been an effective tool for police unions nation-wide, but don’t forget that the legitimate alternative to binding arbitration is strike action and that is not in the public interest.  Police have also been accused of fear mongering to improve their bargaining position.  I won’t dignify that accusation with any response, other than to say that the news you see each day speaks for itself. 

What we haven’t been talking about though is the legitimate market value of a police officer in today’s society.  Traditionally, police officers have been viewed as blue collar workers who combined some brawn with some brain to keep our streets safe.  However the market pressures of the justice system, the medical system, the social work system, the political system and public expectations have created a metamorphosis; transforming coal into diamonds.  To be successful today, police officers must be quasi-lawyers, quasi-social workers and quasi-health care professionals.  They must be able to work in a high-conflict environment, but execute their duties in a low-conflict manner.  They require the ability to react quickly, decisively and responsibly in a high stress environment, yet be grounded enough to reset their mental and physical barometers to the normal range before taking the next call.  If not, they risk over reacting or under reacting to the new circumstances that they face. 

It doesn’t matter whether they have just watched someone die or be horribly injured; whether they have just suffered the loss of a parent or a child; whether they are dealing with their own chronic illness, or someone else’s;  whether they have just watched a child autopsy or examined thousands of child abuse images for evidentiary value.  All that matters to you is that they come through your door without any baggage, so that they can help you with your problem.  And they need to do this every day for 25 – 35 years.  Oh by the way, they need to maintain exceptional physical fitness for that same time period, or they lose the potential for pay increases or promotional advancement.  They must work all hours of the day and night, knowing that they will miss major family milestones and may shorten their lifespan by 10 years.  They must have high ethical values in order to manage the authority and responsibility they are given, yet accept the fact their integrity will be maligned in public.  They must have the ability to work independently, yet be a strong team player because that’s what the job demands. They must be prepared to risk their life and their family’s stability each and every day, because death, serious bodily injury and allegations of professional misconduct are genuine risks, even if they aren’t statistical probabilities.  And they must be prepared to do all of this while living in a fishbowl, because they believe that honesty, transparency and accountability are truly hallmarks of our chosen profession.  How many people do you know who would be both qualified and willing to perform that job well?    

I say all of this to get your attention, not your sympathy.  I am simply asking you to take an objective look at where police officers fit in the global marketplace.  Other professions have more rigorous academic or practical requirements and it is not surprising that some of them are paid more than police officers.  The policing profession has experienced economic growth because its members have adapted well to the ever-growing demands of their profession.  They represent a unique combination of qualities and skills that make them a marketable commodity and as such they are able to draw higher salaries. 

Crime rates and per capita policing costs should not be ignored as they are long-standing measures of police effectiveness and efficiency.  However, it is important to understand that they are simply gross measures.  Policing has evolved over the course of my 33 year career and crime statistics may correlate to as little as 20% of our present workload.  Per capita comparisons speak to the ratio between police and the general public in a given community but they don’t take into consideration the challenges that community faces or the level or quality of policing that it demands. 

Since 1982, my experience in the Winnipeg Police Service has been one of repressed budgets and cost cutting measures for the sake of cost control.   In the 1980s I worked in a division where paper reports were locked in a vault on weekends so they weren’t wasted.  I had to steal reports from other divisions so that my shift could keep working on weekends.  We used manual typewriters when other City departments moved to electrical typewriters and we used electrical typewriters when other city departments moved to computers.  In the 1990s, I bought a computer for the Training Division at my own expense; so that we could do our jobs better.  In many areas of the Service we still use furniture that is circa 1965.  I could provide example after example of both reasonable and unreasonable cost saving measures but the point is that the Winnipeg Police Service is not and has never been an extravagant employer.        

I have often compared policing to the medical system; it is expensive but we need it.  And like the medical system, we need to find a way to shift our funding from treatment to prevention, because that is a healthier and more sustainable solution.  To do that, there are only 3 real choices.  The first and most effective is to invest new money into prevention programs, while maintaining present treatment levels, and gradually transitioning the change.  The second is to free up money for prevention by cutting spending in some area of treatment.  The third is to try and leverage change without additional revenue streams, knowing that the transition will occur at a glacial pace.

Canadians want a safe place to live and police services that are extensions of their community, not extensions of the state.  Can we afford to maintain that quality of life?  Canadians have to decide.  Those things are achieved through informed public consultations and careful government planning, not finger pointing and wishful thinking. Who are the real fear mongers in this equation?  We will never have trouble filling seats in a cruiser car, but filling them with the right people takes knowledge, commitment and money.

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