‘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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Required reading

I don’t often — if ever — do this.

But this blog post from L.L. over at I’m on my way — destination hell, deserves a good, close read in the wake of @tombrodbeck’s great, great story about Air Canada and the perception of crime downtown.

Most interesting to me in LL’s blog is the condemnation of the liquor regime currently in place:

I drive past the drinking spots like the Garrick Hotel and the one that used to be Bleachers (it’s called something else now, I believe) and watch streams of people outside, smoking and fighting and screaming. I have no idea how these businesses are allowed to operate when all they do with their liquor license is create a dangerous, violent atmosphere for the people of downtown, but it happens. It’s because of places like these hotels, plus the St. Regis, and the earlier mentioned Manitoba Housing complex that I can’t actually walk around those streets to get anywhere. If I want to go to my bank in Winnipeg Square, I have to do it during the week, when I have a co-worker with me. I can’t go on my own time because I am not safe when those are the establishments I have to walk near to get to my destination.

Second most interesting is how the post relays an actual account of life lived downtown outside (and sometimes in) office hours by regular folk, their perceptions and observations.

You know when CTV national news leads with the story in a newscast, it’s a big deal. We should all be mindful of that as the spin doctors get to work trying to clean up the fallout.

I’d also like to point out, in reference, a story I did in early 2009 that echoes many of the credible points LL makes. I’d also reference a recent post here that graphically shows what DT is up against, crime-wise.

That was nearly three years ago.

Has anything changed? I’d say yes, but only to a limited degree.

Houston, we have a (social) problem on our hands.

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The BIZ boundaries

Yesterday, I questioned the Downtown BIZ’s contention that only 5.7 per cent of the city’s crime happened within their boundaries. Those boundaries are [map provided courtesy of the DT BIZ]

Downtown BIZ boundaries

North is Higgins Avenue to just east of Main Street

West is just west of Hargrave but also Spence Street just past Ellice Avenue.

South is the Assiniboine River along Assiniboine Avenue.

East is the Red River and includes The Forks.

They also kindly provided this statistical chart:

Crime stats from the DT BIZ

And as much as I can see that the problem has to do with outlying areas outsize the zones contributing to a skewed total number of crime incidents that the BIZ folk must pare down to reflect their zone of operations, I’m still not buying it.

Here’s what the BIZ had to say, and it’s totally fair and understandable.

“Downtown is in District 1, however, District 1 comprises a much larger area than the actual downtown boundaries.

(There is definitely a lot of crime in that district, but it’s not happening in the BIZ zone boundaries. Because we are only responsible for those boundaries, that’s what we report as crime in downtown.)

Because of this, we actually take the time to add up all of the 11 neighbourhoods that make up downtown each month and report the resulting crime stats up that way. That’s where the numbers came from in the Trends report and the ones we continue to talk about.”

The above chart says that between July 10, 09 to July 10, 2010, there was one homicide within the BIZ zone. And technically, that’s true.

Get just outside the reporting period, however, and one learns that there were three there in 2009:

CBC.ca/manitoba interactive homicide map

So far this year, however, there have been none.

I should add that technically, homicides are a poor indicator of crime and safety in an area given that the crimes usually don’t involve the public at large but are rather crimes of passion committed in the heat of the moment.

But, as the BIZ spokesperson said, it’s the perception that downtown is crime-ridden that’s an issue.

“One of the messages we are always trying to get across to people is that crime in downtown is more about perception than actual safety. Many people feel their personal safety is threatened when they are panhandled, whether they are in any danger or not.”

Well if that’s the case, a recent CBC story indicates that people’s negative perceptions of crime in the area are hardening, not becoming more positive.

The perception of safety in Winnipeg’s downtown during the day is on the decline, a public opinion survey commissioned by the Winnipeg Police Service suggests.      -edit-

“It seems that confidence in daytime safety downtown has eroded across all neighbourhoods,” wrote the unidentified police official who summarized the poll findings in a report.

In a poll done in 2008, more than half the 400 Winnipeggers surveyed agreed with this statement: “During the daytime, downtown Winnipeg is safe.”

The number dropped to about 40 per cent in the most recent poll, conducted by Dataprobe Research of Winnipeg.

Most troubling is that even people living downtown feel less safe during the day, the findings suggest.

In 2008, 85 per cent of the people surveyed agreed the downtown was safe. In the latest poll, the percentage dropped to 42 per cent, although only 4.75 per cent of those surveyed identified themselves as downtown residents.

Readmore: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/manitoba/story/2010/02/22/man-police-downtown-safety-cctv.html#ixzz0tZUCmtAS

This was from February, 2010. I remember writing it based on the work done by Sean Kavanagh.

Now, I sympathize with the BIZ folk. Their job is not an easy one. As I clearly stated yesterday, I admire them in a lot of ways. But when you’re confronted by pictures like this:

Portage and Garry Assault July 13, 2010 ---Shaun McLeod photo

You begin to question the stats.

I’m not saying they’re wrong or fudged. They just feel that way to a guy who’s spent the last few years of his life looking at crime and justice in the city fairly closely.

But then again, I’m in the reality business. So I like to think.

Dear Downtown BIZ:

As much as I admire many things you do — and I’m being sincere — I’d like to point out something.

You can’t use your own survey data to prove that everything’s rosy without being up front about it.

(Downtown BIZ trends PDF – read the fine print).

Sorry to be a stickler, but you don’t explain how the data was collected and from how many people.

5.7 per cent, eh? What?

The Winnipeg Police Cadet program has yet to see any street action [but it looks as if they have recruit class #1 in the can] … so phrasing the sentence as if it’s happened is misleading.

What are “smaller incidents” of crime, exactly?

Same as above for the cops moving their HQ to the Canada Post plant. Hasn’t happened yet, can’t tell what the impact will be. I’d guess it won’t do much as most police officers hate foot patrolling. At the current PSB, other than cops crossing the street to hit up Tim Hortons at the College, there wasn’t much of a presence, beat-cop wise.

Downtown crime — a comparison in pictures:

Crimestat map of occurrences from Jan 1 - July 10, 2010

This represents the number of robberies, sexual assaults, muggings, shootings, car thefts, homicides etc in the downtown and outlying areas for the last 6.5 months. [Lots of muggings, I note.]

But here’s the map of the entire city’s crime incidents in the same period:

Entire city, crime incidents Jan 1-July 10, 2010

As one can see, the North and West ends of the city are particularly crime-addled, which is nothing new. But this police CrimeStat map seems to show a slightly more than 5.7 per cent incidence of crime in the downtown and outlying areas.

Here’s last years, as a comparison:

[Actually, I can’t do this, because CrimeStat won’t let me go back to Jan. 1, 2009. Hmmmm.]

So, this is just the last 30 days:

”]So, how is it even possible that only 5.7 per cent of the city’s crime happened downtown?

I note the BIZ doesn’t attribute the claim nor give a date range when the stats were generated:

“Downtown crime represents only 5.7 % of all crimes that happen in our city”

(April 1, 2009 11:30 p.m. to April 2, 2009 2:30 a.m.)

Or, maybe they pulled it from one of their own surveys.

A side note:

Don’t know how proudly I’d be displaying this —

Most people know what a den of misery Zellers is. Hardly a downtown selling point. 80,000 sq. ft of hell. I’d rather shop at Giant Tiger.

UPDATE: According to a BIZ staffer (and fellow former The Projector editor), the Zellers revamp includes an overhaul of the famed basement grocery store. That’s good news.

She’s also sending along the stats that allowed the BIZ to arrive at the 5.7 per cent crime statistic. More discussion of that to come.