Blue Line

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CRAZY CANNUCK COPS


December 4, 2013
By Robert Lunney

603 words – MR

Crazy Cannuck Cops

by Robert Lunney

After years of competition with infrequent success, a team of five Canadian downhill skiers competing internationally in the late 1970s and early 80s achieved a spectacular breakthrough using daring tactics executed with courage and skill.

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Dave Irwin, Dave Murray, Steve Podborski, Jim Hunter and Ken Read captured medals and earned high rankings in World Cup competition. Enthusiastic European fans dubbed them “The Crazy Canucks.”

Decades later, challenged by a stalled economy and badgered by governments and policing authorities to reduce or contain costs, Canadian police are facing their own challenge to come up with a winning strategy in a race for survival. Should they falter, they face the uncertain consequence of having governments and oversight bodies impose reform.

“Police services face two options,” observed former public safety minister Vic Toews at the Economics of Policing Summit in January 2013. “They can do nothing and eventually be forced to cut drastically, as we have seen in some countries; or they can be proactive, get ahead of the curve and have greater flexibility in designing and implementing both incremental and meaningful structural reforms.

“It is critical that all levels of government and the entire policing community be engaged in innovation and reform efforts, so that we can turn a fiscal challenge into an opportunity to sustain our police services and better serve Canadians.”

Canadian police have endured economic downturns many times in the past and dealt with them through a formula of temporarily freezing hiring, postponing equipment purchases and organizational adjustments. Recessions were short lived and the return of economic growth reinstated business as usual. This time is different.

The economy of the developed world is not rebounding in the familiar way since the financial collapse of 2008 and economists are predicting an extended period of slow growth. Government revenues are fixed or lagging and the temporary adjustments that worked in the past will not be sufficient. The challenge today calls for a new spirit of creativity, innovation and risk-taking.

Riffing off the winning formula of our fabled downhill ski team: Can Canadian Cops Get Crazy?

Getting crazy means applying creative approaches to the standard methodology of policing and challenging practices previously considered untouchable. Tempering this new spirit of innovation, getting crazy also calls for credible methods to measure outcomes, not just outputs. Outcomes ask the question, “So what happened?” as it affects the target clientele.

Measuring both outputs and outcomes requires the discipline of SMART performance indicators, for success in the new economy means proving definitively that new approaches reduce or contain costs. Anecdotal tales and subjective assurances no longer cut it. Like it or not, cost control is the new imperative.

A word of caution: This is not a return to the mantra of “operating like a business,” that delusionary notion pressed upon policing during the recession of the 1990s. Canadian policing has long been guided by Peels’ Principles. While change with an eye to the bottom line must guide innovation for the foreseeable future, the foundation of democratic policing must be protected and preserved. Establishing methods for measuring the outcomes of reassurance policing and crime prevention will be critical to preserving the role of police as protectors and enablers of a civil society.

Canadian police leaders, front line officers and police staff are today better equipped to contend with rapid change than at any time in the past. Getting crazy means cutting loose from orthodoxy, thinking creatively and designing a new policing model for the future. Picture your service poised as a skier at the top of the run – and go for it!