I just got back from the annual meeting of the Canadian Association of Police Governance - the annual gathering of what are variously known as police boards or commissions. Last year's meeting was in Saskatoon; this year's meeting was in Halifax.
As with all meetings of this sort, there's time spent on governance issues - association business, executive elections, and similar stuff. But the bulk of the time was spent in educational sessions, where we had the chance to hear about how other cities deal with managing how the police work, and to discuss in smaller groups our various experiences. Various boards are made up of different representatives - some have members appointed by the province, some by the municipality. The Prince Albert Police Commission has seven members - three from council, four appointed by council. I was the only council representative at this meeting, and three of the four public members were also there.
I always find it interesting to hear about how other communities deal with problems that we all face. Probably the most common problem is how to manage the ever-increasing costs of policing, which currently takes up about one-third of our city budget.
Winnipeg has taken an approach to this that I think is worth investigating to see if it could work here. They have adopted a police cadet model, in which cadets, unarmed and working in pairs, deal with such issues as picking up intoxicated people, directing traffic, security at special events, and downtown safety patrols. This frees up police officers for doing actual police work, rather than using them for activities that don't require a high level of training.
Winnipeg pays cadets in the neighbourhood of $20 an hour, far less than a trained officer, so there are real cost savings to be had. They also use the cadet program to identify potential police recruits - a far cheaper alternative than having an officer go through costly training only to find out that they aren't really suited for the job. And not surprisingly, they have found that the response time of police officers to serious crimes has improved, which is another efficiency.
Using such a model here would free up officers from such current duties as working security at the Exhibition, accompanying bylaw enforcement officers on downtown patrols, having an officer posted at the high school, dealing with drunks (which is probably the source of the greatest number of calls that they currently deal with), or guarding the bridge when lanes are closed off, or when there is a weight restriction applied. Currently, we pay police officers quite a bit of overtime to do many of these things, and I think that we need to investigate any option to reduce these costs, and ensure that they can focus their energies on the big issues.
The greatest opposition to the cadet program has come from police unions, who see it as taking away from their jobs. However, when much of this work is currently done by officers on overtime, and when we see the opportunity to improve response times, I can't see us reducing the number of officers - I think that this would allow us to use them more efficiently. There's certainly more than enough work to go around.
I spoke at length with the woman who gave this presentation, and she will be sending me more detailed information. I'm looking forward to sharing this with the rest of the commission, and seeing what we can do to see how such a model could work here.
"Every piece of work needs the right person in the right place at the right time." - Benoit Mandelbrot