‘THE ROADMAP’ — notes on the WPS strategic plan, part 1

(Winnipeg Police Service)Preface: It must be said from the get-go. You can’t drop a 44-page report filled with charts stats, graphs and policy goals on (most, not all) people and expect them to be able to ask meaningful questions about it without having had a chance to read and absorb it. Full stop. 

An embargo period of an hour or two would have been a welcome gesture. 

Just saying.

Am I exposing myself as not-too-bright by saying so? So be it. 

To my knowledge, at the time the WPS held the press conference to announce and discuss their ‘Roadmap’ strategic plan yesterday, (link below) not one of the roughly 10-12 reporters (including camera ops) in the room had seen nor read its contents. 

ED’s Note: I started this post out in hopes of pulling apart pieces of the plan, but after articles here and here, I’m just gonna say my own IMO bit and get it over with.

(Those who criticized the reporters for not asking tough questions, see preface to this post.)

 

First off: Kudos to the chief for keeping his promise, despite the delays since the crime-reduction targets subject came up in April/May.

While many, and probably rightly so, can and will lament the modesty of the stated reduction goals, they’re bare minimums. The hope is they’ll come down even more.

Downtown needs work. The perception of downtown even more so. That’s abundantly clear.

There’s some interesting features in the sections of the report not related to public-safety goals that will have a huge impact on the force.

1] Major Case Management: Next year, the WPS aims to test out a new computer reporting and filing process that will likely bring the major crimes, OCU and homicide squad fully into the 21st Century from a technology POV. More on this to come. Better tracking of reports and files for complex cases. A good thing. This may dovetail with the ongoing effort to provide electronic disclosure for court purposes.

2] A Crime-free multi housing program. We’re going to hear much, much more about this in coming months. Currently, high-level meetings are taking place between police, justice and public health officials (and likely MLCC peeps) to talk issues relating to MUD’s — multi unit dwellings. My sense of it is that housing complexes (y’know, where people ‘socialize’) have been identified as a key area to target in hopes of reducing the violent crime rate.

3] Social media: The WPS tacitly acknowledges that Twitter and Facebook can be leveraged to great gain. However, the service plans to spend 2012 determining “our current and future opportunities” and not move towards integration of social media into their PIO strategy until 2013 at least. IMO: Way too late. Wayyy too late. Next year, policy guidelines for use of social media by officers and civilians in the WPS will be drawn up.

4] New internal discipline procedure (implemented in 2013): “Employ education-based discipline.” Hmm. I’ll reserve comment for now. Since the public knows so little about the current internal discipline regime, It’s hard to be fair in evaluating what ‘education-based’ discipline means.

5] Civilianizing positions currently held by officers. This could be huge, and save the city a bunch of bucks in the long run. My understanding is that there’s a hiring freeze on civilian police positions currently in place that — if the plan goes forward as, er, planned, will end as of 2013 as the goal of moving more uniformed officers off of desks takes shape.

Those are things that strike me as noteworthy on the surface. )

Now: For people getting on the case of police brass for the substance of the plan and how long it’s taken to get such a document out to the public, I’d remind them of a few things:

1] Since McCaskill took the chief’s job, there’s been a number of new and positive things happening on his watch: Number one, police cadets. Number two, community support units in the districts to tackle area-specific crime investigations. Number 3: Report cars to tackle non-emergency calls and free up cars for service. Four: the hiring of Crime Analysts to drill down into data and reports and make connections about crime trends that aren’t always immediately apparent. This list isn’t comprehensive, but just what pops to mind.

There’s been some setbacks too: Problems in the 911 call centre, a lack of focus on traffic enforcement and initiatives to make city streets safer, criticism for allegedly blowing off downtown safety issues, technology glitches. Lack of a defined strategic plan and process for the last 15 years.

And, perhaps most importantly: A high violent crime rate that the cops didn’t create in the first place but are tasked with cleaning up.

At the end of the day, no booklet of bureaucratic plans is going to fix everything the city ails from, crime-wise. I commend the department for releasing the document, regardless if it’s a little lacking on substantive details.

It’s unfair to expect the WPS to have all the answers.

However, it’s equally unfair for the department to ever seem puzzled that the public would ever question police priorities, plans, motives and operations. In this day and age, “trust us” just isn’t a valid response.

Hopefully the Roadmap will help allay fears and criticism that the WPS is too reactive and too secretive.

Got a question over the Twitter yesterday about a comment McCaskill made about a “crime czar” position in the city. He was responding to a Stacey Ashley question about innovation.

Here’s what he said, FTR:

“And this is something I believe Edmonton is doing a little bit of something about, and that term is mine, basically.

But — an administrator that can look at different types of thins that are happening in the community where police and other departments can feed that information and be more concentrated in a certain direction. Edmonton’s doing some of it, apparently.

There’s other documentation on how do you, how do you focus resources in a more effective way by utilizing not only city departments but other NGO’s and so on to be able to have a concentrated effort on fighting crime in other areas. That’s really … that’s something we’re looking at.”

When Stats Can released its latest Juristat numbers declaring Manitoba as the Crime Cap, Rick Linden made some interesting comments in an interview I did with him:

University of Manitoba criminologist Rick Linden said if Winnipeg is to truly make a dent in reducing crime, the city and province should consider setting up what he calls a “responsibility centre” to tackle the problem.

A key feature would be the appointment of a city crime czar with a crime-reduction mandate.

“We need to take a long-term perspective, put somebody in charge of that job and give them resources. We don’t do that now,” Linden said.

It’s pretty clear that if we’re going to dig ourselves out of the crime mess we’re seemingly always in, we need to innovate.

I, for one, would be very interested to see Linden’s idea take shape — and it looks as if the WPS may be too.

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Homicide: best practices

[Note: For those looking for how to commit the perfect crime as the headline could suggest, this post is not for you.]

There’s been a lot of debate lately over the Winnipeg Police Service homicide unit’s operations, largely driven by a former supervising sergeant’s labour board complaint about how he was treated and how he believes the Winnipeg Police Service’s transfer policy hampers the effectiveness of the unit.

As previously stated, I won’t go into much greater detail about the Labour Board hearing so far, as it’s really Mike McIntyre and the Free Press’ baby (Links hereherehere and here).

But there’s a question I’ve been asking myself and finally dug into a but yesterday.

What, from an operational/internal POV makes for a (quote-unquote) good/effective homicide unit? The rate at which crimes are solved? Convictions? Response times?

Turns out a retired homicide commander in the U.S. wondered the same thing in 2007-08. A rising national homicide rate was worrying him and he began formally asking around among his peers.

Timothy Keel’s study, published by the FBI, is available here.

He sets out the issues as follows:

Nationally, the number of homicides reported by police departments to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program is on the rise.1 Equally disturbing, the clearance rate for those crimes continues to decline.Law enforcement officials are increasingly concerned about the reasons for these statistics and what they can do about them. Although most homicide unit supervisors are confident in their detectives’ abilities to solve cases, they might be asking themselves if, from a management perspective, their current practices and procedures allow for the highest possible clearance rate.

To explore these issues, the author conducted a study of homicide units across the country. He developed a questionnaire that pertained to a variety of operational and management issues and focused on how the well-performing units investigate homicides.3 Departments chosen for this study met two criteria: 1) they have more than 25 HPY (homicides per year) over a 5-year average, and 2) they submit crime data for the UCR Program.4 Eighty-one departments received questionnaires, and 55 completed and returned them.responses.

The finer points of the article break down trends and arrive at some kind of consensus about what ‘best practices’ are for murder police and their bosses. The summary goes as follows, bolded bullet emphasis mine.

Keys to a Successful Homicide Unit

  • No more than five cases per year as a primary for each detective
  • Minimum of two, two-person units responding initially to the crime scene
  • Case review by all involved personnel within the first 24 to 72 hours
  • Computerized case management system with relational capacity
  • Standardized and computerized car-stop and neighborhood-canvass forms
  • Compstat-style format
  • Effective working relationships with medical examiners and prosecutors
  • No rotation policy for homicide detectives
  • Accessibility to work overtime when needed
  • Cold case squads
  • Investigative tools, such as polygraph, bloodstain pattern analysis, criminal investigative analysis, and statement analysis
  • Homicide unit and other personnel work as a team
Personnel Rotation

The issue of rotating detectives out of the homicide unit after a set period of time, regardless of their effectiveness as an investigator, is a relatively new phenomenon plaguing many supervisors. While the concept of a rotation policy may have benefits from a management perspective, this study suggested that chiefs considering implementing such a policy for homicide detectives should proceed cautiously. For example, only 3 of the 55 departments had a rotation policy of any type within their detective division. No department with an average of over 80 HPY (ed: homicides per year) reported having a rotation policy for homicide detectives. Even agencies that currently have a rotation policy extend the period of time that a detective can remain in the unit.

[Aside: interestingly, Keel’s ‘study’ also reports a rise in clearance rates [clearance meaning a suspect was arrested/charged] when a prosecutor visits the homicide scene. But the involvement of prosecutors can also take away from clearing a homicide, likely because the lawyer demands more evidence be gathered prior to officers charging someone.]
Departments that typically involved a prosecutor in the early stages of an investigation had a higher clearance rate on average. The average clearance rate became progressively lower when prosecutors became involved during the later stages of an investigation. Conversely, departments that require detectives to consult prosecutors before issuing an arrest warrant had a 6.6 percent lower clearance rate than those that did not have such a requirement. Perhaps, departments that allow detectives to use their judgment pertaining to prosecutor notification and prosecutors comfortable enough to allow detectives that discretion have a better working relationship.
Typically, the Winnipeg Police Service’s homicide clearance rate has been very good, with — by my counting — roughly four out of five homicides being cleared by charging a suspect.
Annual reports from the WPS say 81 per cent of homicides cleared in 09-10 and 08-09. 
Seventy-seven per cent were cleared in 07-08, up 23 per cent from the year prior. 
Time will only tell how 10-11 and 11-12 pan out.
But no matter what police do in terms of the HR structuring of the unit, the investigators placed there, and the vagaries of their working conditions, Keel’s report is blunt when it comes to the number one thing cops need to solve killings — an aspect desperately lacking in the city when one considers the most recent unsolved murders in Winnipeg.
When questioned about the biggest barrier to achieving higher homicide clearance rates, one common theme occurred among all ranks: the lack of public/witness cooperation.
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