The Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) Auxiliary Cadets have a high turnover rate – and that, says Sgt. Michelle Wagner, officer in charge of the program, is exactly how she likes it. "Our ultimate goal is to help cadets move on to another career."
After only two years in operation, the program hasn't just met that informal goal, with many cadets moving on to police careers, it has become such an integral part of the community that people have begun looking for their bright blue uniforms and distinctive white and blue vehicles.
"If you listen to the traffic reports on morning radio in Winnipeg," Wagner notes, "you will now routinely hear reports such as 'traffic accident at such-and-such and cadets are on the scene directing traffic.'"
The public response has been overwhelmingly positive and the city is looking at expanding the program because of its tremendous success. It is through programs such as this that "building relationships" becomes far more than just the slogan on the side of police vehicles.
Winnipeg police had cadets back in the 1970s but their role was strictly administrative. Today's cadets have a high degree of independence and a visual involvement in the community. Unlike other Canadian auxiliary programs, cadets work on their own, in teams of two, to fulfill a very specific mandate and do not require a regular member to be with them at all times.
Cadets are a separate and distinct classification within the WPS and have limited peace officer status as special constables within the city. They enforce certain bylaws, conduct neighbourhood patrols, guard crime scenes, direct traffic, assist in ground searches, guard non-violent mental health patients and refer citizens to assisting agencies.
Cadets drive distinctly marked vehicles outfitted with the same emergency equipment as a regular patrol car but are not allowed to activate emergency equipment while moving.
They receive nine weeks of training at the Winnipeg Police Academy and seven weeks of field training. Starting salary is $13.05 per hour, increasing to $15.23 per hour after two years of service.
An initiative of former chief Keith McCaskill, the cadet program is a staffing arrangement negotiated with the Winnipeg Police Association. They do not replace either WPS staff or police officers on the street. Instead, they enhance the ability of police to respond to tasks more appropriate to their training.
The cadets in action mean regular members spend less time directing traffic or guarding mental health patients while they wait to be seen by a doctor and more time on investigative and responsive core police work.
Cadets are trained in and can carry handcuffs, batons and OC spray but are not equipped with conducted energy weapons or firearms.
The program was launched in 2010, with 29 cadets graduating the initial training program. (Two cadets were hired as police officers before they even graduated.) Further training graduated another 26 cadets, bringing the complement to 50 (with a few more leaving for police services across Canada.)
There are currently 73 cadets working both full-time and part-time shifts on Winnipeg streets.
Aside from the unique mentoring opportunities presented by this program, Supervising Officer Cst. Brett Lockhart describes the operational goals as:
to enhance public safety and be a visual presence on the streets;
to create operational efficiencies; and,
to build relationships with the community.
Lockhart reports that the cadet program has been so successful the WPS is looking at expanding their roles.
"Although always supervised by officers, cadets operate independently without tying up a member," he says. "They are very motivated and do a great job," adding "after all… for them, it is the longest job interview they are ever going to have!"