‘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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WPS to declare crime-reduction targets

‘Public has a right to know’ how WPS will tackle violence, chief says

Winnipeg’s police chief made a declaration today that truly matters in terms of police accountability.

At some point in the next few weeks, Keith McCaskill will come forward and state reduction targets for violent crime in the city.

(Winnipeg police Chief Keith McCaskill)

“We haven’t in the past, but we have a strategic plan being developed right now and part of that will be targets,” the chief told a roundtable of media reporters today.

“And that will be released in the very near future,” he said. “I think it’s important.”

“The whole idea of the strategic plan over the last couple of months … we look at different venues across the country, what works and what’s good thing to do. And that’s a good thing to do,” he said.

“So I’ve directed our officers (doing the strategic plan) and part of it will be that: Look at what our targets will be and how we’re going to accomplish that,” McCaskill said.

That portion of the plan will be made public, he said.

“We’re going to talk about what kind of numbers we’re going to get to — whatever the percentage is going to be. We’re talking specifically about violent crime. And that’s a big thing. I’ve asked the strategic [planners] to come up with a plan on how we’re going to reduce violent crime, and what our targets are going to be.”

It should be ready “fairly shortly … in the next few weeks for sure,” he said.

“I’m not sure what those targets are going to be … [but] there’s no sense in putting a target together if you’re not going to tell anybody,” McCaskill said.

“Historically, we haven’t done it. The public has a right to know what we’re trying to achieve.”

North End shootings (Project Guardian): ‘We’re not there yet’

Much of Wednesday’s roundtable revolved around the three unsolved shootings that took place across the North End in late October (but not the Nov. 1 Danny Kachkan shooting). There’s no doubt the events rocked the city in terms of perceptions of security.

McCaskill said the homicide unit remains actively involved in investigating what happened, but at the root, provided no new information for the public. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. If you’re trying to solve the most serious crimes, it helps nobody — especially the relatives of grieving victims — to go blabbing about things before a suspect is arrested and charged.

McCaskill reiterated his belief the two killings — and the shooting of a teen girl — will get solved. What leads to that momentous day, however, remains to be seen.

“It’s gonna come from somebody calling in, it’s gonna come from an arrest and someone’s gonna provide information — ‘Guess what, I know more information.’ It’s gonna come from one of the informants, because we have informants across the city. And we haven’t got that yet, but it’s gonna come,” he said, later adding the police need the community’s support in order to move forward.

“As a rule, people don’t commit violent offences like that without someone knowing,” he said.

I guess the flip side of this is that six months after the unresolved shootings, there’s an undercurrent of belief suggesting because police don’t say anything about it, they don’t know anything about it, or don’t view the killings as a priority.

That’s not so, the top cop told reporters.

“You guys don’t like this, but we’ll always err on keeping things back if in any way it’s gonna help us solve it.” “We release information to the public, certainly if it’s a public safety issue … but often — more than not — we will hold some things back.”

“We’ve got some forensic evidence … we’re not saying it’s one shooter. We are saying we have evidence … that it’s pointing in that direction.”

“The homicide investigation is the most important and concerning,” he said. “We want to solve those. You want to get people before the courts.”

There was one nugget in the discussion, thanks to Gabrielle Giroday of the WFP who asked, simply:

Do police believe that all three of these shootings were random?

McCaskill paused, and then:

“Do I believe they’re random? No — like I told you — we believe it’s based on … oh – you mean whether a person just walked around? Um… [another pause] … that’s a difficult thing to say. We believe there’s the … information the homicide unit has would cause us to have, uh, belief there is the certain possibility of randomness, but there’s also the possibility that individual places were targeted — and I’m not saying the individuals in the places were targeted.”

Still, he cautioned against ‘tunnel vision’ and stressed the importance of investigators keeping their minds open. We’re always further ahead, he said, because each day, information police have about the crimes that doesn’t ring true gets tossed out.

When does a case become a ‘cold case?’

There are no specific rules, McCaskill said. Generally, they are the files where no tips come in for a long period of time.

“We don’t have any specific timeframe on it. There’s no rule in that regard.” “It’s ones that … they stay active. they’re always active. If a homicide is not solved, it’s active, always active. But are there investigators running out and beating the bushes after a period of time? Not unless new information comes forward.”

Insp. Jim McIssac:

“Say years. if nothing’s happened on that file for a couple years, then it moves over to the cold case area. But the homicide unit maintains cases on an ongoing basis and review tips as they come in.”

“When it actually goes over to the cold case unit, it’s years. For their files. And they’ve got all the files that over the years that haven’t been solved.”

McCaskill:

“But there’s no definitive timeframe on it. It’s interesting. The investigators — not only the cold case ones, but the other investigators … they want to solve these things. It’s active in their minds. They’ve investigated these crimes and they have a good knowledge of them. And they want to solve them.”

He pointed to suspect remorse and advances in forensic investigations as possible reasons old cases get solved as the cold case cops go back over the files.

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Major Crimes: A week in review III

Confession: When I sit down on Saturdays to construct these link-based posts, I take a couple of minutes to think about what comes immediately to mind — to me — over the last seven days in Winnipeg. They’re by no means comprehensive or complete. As well, although I work for CBC Manitoba, and many of the outbound links refer back to CBC stories, I do take it as a matter of fairness and balance on this, my personal blog, to reference the good work done by other media outlets.

That being said,

The nearly four million-dollar police whirlybird versus the $2 laser pointer drew, I’d say, the most number of hits and comments of all the crime-related stories in Winnipeg this week [sadly]. Looks like Sheldon Friesen of Toronto Street got more than he bargained for with his eBay purchase. However, while former dep. chief Menno Zacharias makes a point in his blog about how police responded with a heavy hand to the incident, there’s an argument to be made that the WPS had no choice but to throw the book at the accused in hopes of getting its point across. Put another way. If I walked up to a cop on the street and shined a laser pointer in his or her eyes, how would I expect to be dealt with? Common sense tells me I wouldn’t be treated like a silly prankster.

Quoth Menno:

When police over react, the media will over react, which is what we are seeing.  One news outlet actually featured a rambling interview with the suspect marvelling at how by simply  using a two-bit laser pen, he was almost able to bring down a 3 million dollar helicopter.   This only serves to sensationalize what is a serious issue.  The suspect was nabbed quickly and efficiently by the police.  No fanfare was needed.

I think what fuelled what he perceives as fanfare is the fact Chief McCaskill was already slated to appear on a radio show the morning that the event took place. There was no question that he needed to be asked about his views on what happened, and it went from there.

(TVB)

Interesting article here on the rising number of laser pointer “attacks” on aircraft in the States.

2] Moving on: The Winnipeg Free Press is to be commended for purchasing and publishing the complete transcript of the Justice Dewar decision that landed him in hot water with the public and the Canadian Judicial Council. While the flames of outrage abated somewhat this week, Gordon Sinclair’s apologia today appears to have reignited them. But let’s face it: Unless you read or hear the whole thing, it’s really impossible — not to mention morally murky — to pass judgment on the judge.

The whole affair reminds me of one of my favorite moments from the acclaimed HBO show, The Wire: anti-hero Omar in one episode fends off a poorly-planned and executed revenge plot:

3] The Winnipeg Police Association made some noise this week about the Downtown BIZ requesting $100,000 to ensure their downtown watch program keeps a’running and dragging vagrants and drunks to the tank. The WPA told The Sun’s Tom Brodbeck (twitter @tombrodbeck) that tasks like this are a major reason the newish Winnipeg Police Cadets are around and that the cadets are better trained to deal with the drunks than the downtown watch folk. In a statement to Brodbeck, WPA president Mike Sutherland makes an interesting observation:

The reality is that the Downtown Biz is seeking its own private police force to be paid for by the taxpayers of Manitoba. Putting aside the legality of such a request (which is, as you probably know, the subject of ongoing legal proceedings), I share the concerns of his members as they relate to public safety in the downtown area. I just disagree with the best and most cost efficient way to deal with that concern. I remain steadfast in my view that if the real concern is to provide the most effective and cost effective service to his members, Mr. Grande would embrace the concept of diverting the funds that exist to the Cadet Program. Unfortunately, the perception left is that Mr. Grande is more interested in feathering his nest than addressing the real concern.

But Chief McCaskill appears to be on the side of maintaining the BIZ patrol, saying if the Cadets were to absorb it, it would negate the officer-assistance role the light-blues do for officers.

It’s hard to fathom that this dispute couldn’t have been forseen prior to the Cadets coming online late last year, but here we are.

Personally, I’m with Sutherland on this issue. The city can hire up to 200 Cadets [who also raise the potential rate of viable recruits for future police officer classes]. Hire another 50, try and grandfather in and train as many Downtown Watch patrollers as possible and assemble a 24-7 Winnipeg Police Service Cadet downtown patrol program.

They’re already based on Graham Mall. Just from an optics perspective, it would look like a no-brainer for the WPS.

As an aside, my colleague Katie Nicholson put forward a great story on Friday regarding the rising costs and effort going into dealing with drunks downtown.

4] The federal department of justice has its hands full with extraditions lately, with the latest arrest on behalf of the U.S. government coming this week. It appears one part of this particular drug-conspiracy case has been covered by crack Vancouver Sun reporter Kim Bolan (twitter: @kbolan her blog — The Real Scoop — is here). I note with interest a passage from her February feature story on a sentencing hearing for businessman Silvano Cicuto:

According to U.S. prosecutors, Cicuto is a member “of a drug trafficking organization based in part in British Columbia,” who, with co-conspirators, arranged for large quantities of ecstasy and a similar synthetic drug called BZP to be delivered to New York.According to court documents, the DEA first got wind of the drug ring when a confidential informant told agents in June 2009 that “he had met and spoken with a Canada-based individual named Shaun Sunduk who distributed large quantities of ecstasy pills.” The informant passed along Sunduk’s number and the DEA called for some sample pills.

They arrived on July 1, 2009 in a small package from New Westminster, where Cicuto was living.

Through Sunduk, the DEA’s agent ordered 100,000 more pills from the B.C. drug gang. Sunduk referred to Cicuto as his “boss” in texts to the agent. Cicuto called the DEA plant directly several times, complaining in one call that his driver had been robbed of 100,000 pills.

Court documents say Cicuto, who the DEA agent called “the old man,” used sophisticated drug trafficking jargon to describe the potential of his ecstasy and relayed messages as to when his couriers would be crossing the border.

After one driver was arrested in Minnesota, Cicuto complained to the undercover agent that “Sunduk’s people had lost the shipment of 100,000 pills and that he was no longer working with Sunduk.”

Given Sunduk’s impending (and now executed arrest at his home in Grande Pointe just south of Winnipeg), prosecutors quickly moved to seal the criminal complaints in the Cicuto case and not prejudice his right to a fair trial.

But given the prosecution’s assertion that a drug mule is willing to testify against Sunduk — it proves again the U.S. system of massive penalties for drug offenders often provide a huge boost to law enforcement to go ‘up the ladder’ in an effort to try and hit larger targets.

It brings me back years to the work I did for the Winnipeg Free Press who allowed me to head to Montana to cover my first-ever trial (seriously) — that of Tim Morneau, a Winnipegger who was ultimately convicted of smuggling massive amounts of ecstasy across the border and is serving a 20-year sentence.

In a post trial interview, the State’s District Attorney, William Mercer, explained why the ‘up the ladder’ strategy is one employed so often (From my WFP blog called, ironically, The Crime Scene in April 2009):

But for all our obvious efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate criminals, there’s one thing the U.S. in their stiff sentencing laws that I’m sure criminal investigators in our country salivate over.

That is: a workable and successful method of getting low-to-mid level criminals to roll over on the “big man” (as Morneau called his ecstacy connection) because doing 30 or 40 to life just can’t seem worth it after the jail cell slams shut – or is just about to.

At least this is what Mercer claims is really behind the high sentences many criminals – including drug traffickers – receive in the U.S. for the large part.

“Drug cases are built on co-operation,” Mercer said. Only slightly tongue-in-cheek, he added that the stiff prison time can be seen as “tremendous incentives” for inmates to co-operate with investigators so they can go after the top-guns in the drug world.

“Our goal is to root out entire organizations,” Mercer said.

5] I note that CTV Winnipeg has a story coming Tuesday on MPI compensation for car thieves injured in crashes, an issue that I’m sure will enrage a few out there, because nobody likes car thieves, better yet ones who get ratepayer money to help in their healing.

At the end of the day, I suspect there’s only one thing to blame, and that’s MPI’s no-fault insurance policy. Besides, MPI isn’t shy about suing car thieves for the damage they cause. Whether they ever recoup the money, however, is another story.

6] Underplayed this week was the tale of Fred Skelton, an old man who was caught with a massive collection of sick child porn years ago. Crown and defence say they could live without him going to jail, but the judge could still order it.

(Robert Tapper)

7] As expected, an appeal has been filed in the case of two police officers accused of perjury and other offences. Lawyer Robert Tapper told me this week that he’ll point to a section of the trial transcript from its first day that he believes shows identity was not a live issue in the case [click picture to enlarge]. What Tapper will point to is a comment by Const. Peter O’Kane’s defence lawyer Sheldon Pinx on the exhibits that jurors were given [Lines 18-22].

I have very little left over from my notes this week: other than a former drug addict filing for restraining orders against her former dealers [that’s about as interesting as it gets] and a hint for my loyal readers that a major crime story could break this week or next, but it’s not related to any person or criminal incident. That being said, it could have an overwhelming impact on crime perceptions — and what you’re told about what’s happening ‘out there’ — in Winnipeg.

To be honest, I’m surprised no one has reported it yet. If no MSM gets to it by Monday, I will here.

As well, I’m contemplating a post on the following topic: ‘what is a crime reporter’ in the wake of certain comments made by a local blogger regarding the media coverage of the recent killing of Elizabeth LaFantaisie. Consider this a request: If you have a thought on that topic, please drop me a comment.

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It’s before the courts

(cbc)

The Winnipeg Police Service, and its chief, Keith McCaskill, are to be congratulated for their handling of Evan Maud’s ‘Starlight Tour’ [or is it ‘drive?’] debacle on Friday.

As a member of the local media, I echo another reporter’s sentiment about the whole affair:

Truth be told, I blame us for fanning flames where there is no fire. We should all be ashamed.

The criminal mischief case against Maud can now proceed. Judging from his family’s comments, there may be more presented at trial about what happened and why.

But — and I understand totally why it had to happen — I wanted to point out that the WPS did something truly exceptional in explaining why Maud was being charged; why they believe his story is bogus.

They showed the public — or at least told them from the force’s most credible source — the evidence they had uncovered.

I believe Mike Sutherland of the WPA called McCaskill’s Friday afternoon explanation of what investigators found “unprecedented.”

There was no obfuscation or lack of clarity — police investigated ‘X’ and this is what they found after looking into it.

A refreshing change indeed from simply saying — as they do in so many other cases:

“It’s before the courts and we will have no comment.”

Menno Zacharias writes in a blog post that popped up Saturday:

During my many years as a police officer I found that when police explain what they are doing and why they are doing it, all but a few members of the public (and the media) ‘get it’. They may not always agree but they recognize and understand the rationale.

What is required from police is a willingness to be open and transparent. Police departments have been and continue to be secretive about almost everything they are involved in. Unless, of course, they are looking for media coverage of positive stories or they need media assistance in getting out a message about a particular case where they need information from the public to solve the case.

Greater openness and transparency on the part of police departments would go a long way to improve the police image in the eyes of the public. It would also provide a greater measure of accountability.

It strikes me that the problem with this, in Winnipeg especially, is that policing and crime are so politicized and over-publicized that there’s often zero incentive to share or “explain” why things happened the way they did.

Unfortunately what that leads to over time is a sense of mistrust in the process and how police operate.

Menno writes:

There are several approaches that can be taken to address  issues like this in a proactive way. One is to create greater transparency in terms of police policies and procedures. If, for example, both the public and the media are fully aware of the police department’s use of force policy, and the policy is a public document, a lot of speculation and misinformation could be avoided.

This I can agree with. Show the public the framework by which the local PD gets things done and it would lead to more accuracy in what gets in the media, less speculation. This is an area where the WPS sometimes falls short, in my view.

The former deputy chief also writes that other cities have begun releasing their operations manuals to the public, a show of openness that will — unless you’re a geeky law-enforcement nut, a cop reporter or really lonely — bore people to tears.

But it’s a step in the right direction.

Menno also writes that other cities hold information sessions for the public and media on various policing topics such as the use of force.

He wasn’t around at the time, but the WPS held a use of force seminar for the media in 2008. A full day of many officers’ time was devoted to sharing  with reporters the rules behind what many consider to be the ugly side of policing.

It was fascinating — and, for me personally, somewhat embarrassing.

A few months after that they held a similar seminar on organized crime, equally as interesting. Thankfully, it was less interactive.

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