An analysis of the Winnipeg Police Board’s Effectiveness Evaluation. Like the board itself, the document is deeply self-congratulatory in tone, while being critically defensive and self-damning in content and delivery.
Yesterday morning — March 11, 2023 — I gave a presentation made up of questions posed directly to members of the Winnipeg Police board, in the context of their newly released “Effectiveness Evaluation.” As an entity whose sole purpose is to push through WPS messaging and goals, the WPB can only be a harmful presence in our city’s decision making processes.
The Evaluation is rife with circular logic, contradictory information, and conclusions that fly directly in the face of the (partial) data contained within it. None of my questions were answered by a single member of the Board, because according to board Chair Marcus Chambers, the rules of the committee dictate that questions can only be addressed to himself in his role as Chair—this despite endless talk (including within the evaluation itself) of the board’s goals of improving communication with the public, the prioritizing of accountability, and improving community relations.
In fact, the board claims to be successfully reaching these goals, and fulfilling its purpose of oversight and direction over the WPS. Below is the text of my presentation. Some additional analysis and commentary is provided in square brackets. The Winnipeg Police Board’s refusal to answer my questions, and their refusal to engage with community that isn’t pro-policing drives home the point that that they are an illegitimate body that only serves the interests of the WPS and those who defend their unaccountable power.
Text of presentation given at Winnipeg Police Board meeting
Good morning. This board repeatedly emphasizes in your public messaging that one of its major functions is to provide clarification and transparency regarding the Winnipeg Police Service’s function to the public. To Item 8, the Police Board Effectiveness Evaluation, one of the Evaluation questionnaire comment responses is that the “Board should consider strategies to strengthen communications with the community,” and one of the lowest rated questions in the questionnaire is related to the Board’s success in communication with the public. [In recent years the board has faced considerable scrutiny regarding its failures in its stated goals to oversee the WPS.] I will be using my ten minutes to ask questions directly to board members in order to obtain some of that clarification that you [the board] wish to prioritize, which you can answer at the end of my presentation.
Considering the time constraint, I ask that these questions be answered directly and as concisely as possible by each board member addressed, and not redirected to other members unless absolutely necessary, as each of you should be able in your role to answer these questions.
[Here I was interrupted by Councillor Chambers and informed that only the Chair can receive questions. When I pointed out that this goes against the board’s stated goals, he insisted, and I responded that I would proceed even if members of the board refused to answer.]
I ask that answers remain on the topic of the questions, and that unless on needed points of clarification, questions not be posed to myself, as I am not the answerable public official within this space, but am instead a Winnipeg parent, worker, and resident who is seeking answers that many other Winnipeg residents also seek. [The Winnipeg Police Board and many city councillors notoriously love to duck questions through deflection.]
You all are familiar with the term social murder—when people die because of institutional, conscious withholding of crucial resources. The evidence is overwhelming that violence and poverty are resolved through resourcing communities. Violence and poverty are not resolved through policing, and everyone here, whether they admit to this or not, is aware of this truth. Other truths are that inflation is at an astonishing high in this moment, that people cannot afford to live, and that there is a direct correlation between Winnipeggers’ ability to survive, and the massive allocation that is given instead of supporting them, to the WPS when that allocation could be assigned to life-sustaining services. So I ask you up front to reject the proposed 8.3 million dollar proposed increase to the WPS budget.
But I’m aware that the City of Winnipeg as an institution resides within the same structure that is upheld and enforced by capitalist-driven and state-supported policing on all levels; however, the fact remains that we are here, at the municipal level, dealing with a board who, if you individually fail to reject the 8.3m increase to the WPS budget, and council as well, by failing consistently to substantially decrease the WPS budget, will be continuing to engage in social murder. So everyone must be continually reminded of that fact, it must be right up front, as it is what everything here boils down to.
To item 8, this evaluation is framed and labeled, even in the agenda here as “independent.” This survey of the board’s effectiveness, the document explicitly states, is neither an audit, nor even a legal opinion, though performed by the city’s director of legal services. It is also specified that the survey is not meant to scrutinize the legislative framework of the board, this is mentioned specifically in the context of the inclusion of negative comments about the board by “stakeholders” in the questionnaire portion.
This questionnaire is based, this document states, “on a template created by the Canadian Police College,” so right from the start, we have police bias built into its structure. It was developed by “board staff”—and I’m quoting here from the evaluation, the board staff created this questionnaire by applying “criteria set by the Board, “ and then delivered this questionnaire to the city solicitor in order for it to be then administered back to the board. So essentially the questionnaire for the board was created by the board via this tiny circuit, which certainly doesn’t fall within my understanding of what an independent process looks like. Additionally, the list of stakeholders invited to complete the questionnaire was provided by the board. My first question here, to Colleen Mayer, is: why were the people of Winnipeg who have come before this board time and again, representing City of Winnipeg residents who have deep concerns about policing and about the function of this body, why were we not considered key stakeholders and invited to participate in this questionnaire?
Let’s do a bit of math here. And let’s keep in mind that the findings of this document claim that this board is functional, and executing its duties well and coherently. However, only three of seven board members participated at all in the questionnaire. So 5 board members, the majority, did not even participate in this evalutation that you feel is positive and that you deem to be worthy of public dissemination here today. I’d like to ask the board as a whole, who are the three among you did participate in the survey, if you could identify yourselves when I finish speaking.
9 of 20 total participants responded, which means that only 6 out of your 13 stakeholders even saw fit to participate in the questionnaire. Six people. Mayor Gillingham, I’ll address this question to you; I know the anonymity of the 13 stakeholders must be maintained; however that is only 13 individuals outside of the board itself, who were asked to complete, not even the whole questionnaire, but a portion of it. How many people of the 6 out of 13 who actually did participate in the survey are not members of the Winnipeg Police Service, and if they are not members of the Winnipeg Police Service, what role do those six participants hold within the city of Winnipeg that made their participation desirable?
The number of caveats and lengthy explanations in this document are really something, and I think revealing. The evaluation states:
“The procedures for the evaluation were determined by the Board, and the sufficiency of the procedures to meet the intent of the evaluation is the responsibility of the Board. It was the role of the City Solicitor to carry out the directions of the Board. It was not the role of the City Solicitor to assess or comment on the content or sufficiency of the procedures used for the evaluation.” This is frankly breathtaking. The board in truth, functions as a tool of the Winnipeg Police Service, claiming to be an overseer of that institution, and when you then face public scrutiny as you have, for failing that claimed role, you embark upon a so-called “independent” evaluation, over which you alone determine and oversee all of the evaluation terms. How then, Kevin Selch I’ll address this question to you, in light of all of this, can this evaluation be considered “independent”?
We know that Councillor Mayes resigned from this board due to the great amount of conflict and confusion regarding its goals and operations, which is increasingly understood in the public eye, as one of supporting rather than overseeing and holding accountable, the WPS. My next question is to Daphne Penrose. Please specify, one way in which the board is in practice, not on paper but in practice, holding the WPS accountable.
Under 4.7 Financial Management, the topic summary states that the board provides.
1. “financial stewardship through the allocation of funds in a manner that supports the WPS.”
It is certainly true that the board supports the WPS. Those words expose the fact that it is under no board scrutiny, quite the contrary. Again, and this has been repeated ad nauseum and is at the centre of this flawed body, these two elements cannot co-exist. You cannot fill a role of “supporting the WPS” a role which you do fill, while filling the role of overseeing and holding accountable the WPS, which you absolutely do not.
Under Risk Management it reads: “The Board manages risk for the WPS. This includes oversight of both identified and unforeseen risks to WPS operations.”
If you are tasked to manage risk for the WPS, to oversee risks to their operations, with no restriction, no stipulation whatever then to protect them, how is it possible to oversee or hold them accountable? How—Kyle Mason, I’ll address this to you as a new board member—how does this protective role align with the duty to oversee the WPS? Explain how these two duties are not at odds.
Under item 4.11 Strategic Planning, the topic summary states:
“There was also strong agreement that that Board is consulting with the Police Chief when establishing priorities and objectives for the WPS, as well as when the Board believes corrective action is necessary.”
It is notable that you are consulting with the WPS instead of Winnipeg residents in establishing objectives, but my question related to this, which I’ll address to Mayor Gillingham, is: please relay to me a few examples of such corrective action that has been undertaken by the board.
Instead of saying for example, that respondents provided a below-average rating, the evaluation uses language such as, “The scores under this topic were no lower than slightly below agreed.” The evaluation goes so far as to instruct the reader on the conclusions that we should draw: it reads, “The responses to the questionnaire suggest areas the Board may choose to focus on. These should not be viewed as deficiencies in the current operations of the Board”
[This despite the fact that the board has faced, and continues to face, intense public criticism.]
We need the false front of the Winnipeg Police Board dismantled, and we need members of council to act for the benefit of Winnipeg residents and the land we reside on, not for the police as tools of the state for the protection of property, profit, and a racial order that prioritizes one sliver of while dehumanizing the rest of us. Your narrative is that we, Winnipeg residents, simply don’t understand the role of this board. This, when you internally, publicly, at board meetings, in arguments with media and with us, and now, within this one document, clearly cannot agree on what you are. I don’t think we don’t understand, and I have to say, that if it wasn’t coming explicitly at the cost of human life, this document would be one of the more entertaining pieces of bureaucratic contortion that I’ve seen. I want to thank the many Winnipeg residents, who despite what was stated earlier in the meeting today, see police harm and oppose the police budget, and wish you all a good afternoon.
At this point, as he always does, Chambers quickly declared that there appeared to be no questions for the delegation, and rushed the meeting onward. Returning to the evaluation, it is interesting that even with their hand-picked respondents, some of the lowest ratings were for comments such as:
168. The Board provides clear and consistent direction to the Police Chief.
179. If conflict arises between the Board and the Police Chief, it is effectively managed.
106. The Board is provided with complete and open disclosure from the Police Chief on all financial and budget matters.
111. The information in WPS financial reports is helpful and easy to understand.
112. The Board provides good financial stewardship of the WPS: budget oversight, monitoring and evaluation.
138. The Board is recognized and understood by the general public.
113. The Board is fully engaged in the budget process – it is not a rubber stamp.
17: Board members act in the best interests of the WPS and the community, free of partisan political influence.
As the meeting progressed, Chambers went on to call points of order when a subsequent delegation, the excellent Daniel Friesen, voiced that the board had displayed extreme cowardice in their refusal to answer my questions, and again when Friesen described the WPS, very truthfully, as murderers. Councillor Chambers, a devout police supporter, made it as difficult as possible for Friesen to complete their delegation, a presentation that was packed with useful details about harm reduction, and which Chambers absurdly attempted to halt by saying the topic was not on the agenda. This, when we are discussing the City of Winnipeg budget, is not only ridiculous, but transparently petty, fearful, and—it should always be pointed out—part of an ongoing attempt to close down public critique of city officials and their decisions. Later in the meeting, Chambers moved to have a number of agenda items, including the Evaluation, sent to other committees, so in the end there was absolutely no public discussion of the Evaluation.
Insults piled over injustice only inspire us to do to more! And I hope readers are also inspired to create change. I encourage anyone who can, to reach out to the Winnipeg Police Board and City Council in order to demand that they reject the 8.3 million dollar increase to the Winnipeg Police budget, and to demand that they defund the Winnipeg Police Service. While you’re at it, encourage the Police Board to disband, tell them you are aware that their mandate is against their function in practice, and encourage Winnipeg City Council to dissolve the WPB as a body. Sign up to speak at the next WPB meetings! And point out to local media what a terrible job they are doing of covering the dramatic failings of our public officials in relation to the livability and survivability for yourselves and your neighbours here in the City of Winnipeg.