The Winnipeg Police Service is about to install high-tech hand scanners at its downtown headquarters in order to keep better track of officers — in a move the police union is calling a slap in the face.
Over the next few months, 11 biometric hand scanners will be installed at entrances and exits to Winnipeg’s police HQ as part of a $158,000 human-resources upgrade approved by city council in 2018.
The scanners will be connected to attendance-management software and will allow senior staff to know who’s present in the building at any moment.
“There are times when supervisors need to know where employees may be. This system will allow supervisors to understand if employees are still in HQ, or have left for the day,” according to the original request for proposals to supply and install the equipment.
The existing police attendance-management system uses punch cards and is too antiquated to meet the city’s needs, Chief Danny Smyth said.
There are situations when police need to know when police with specialized training — for example, tactical officers or breathalyzer technicians — are in the building and are able to be deployed.
“Right now, we’re using the lists and calling people at home because our scheduling system is pretty old,” Smyth said Monday in a telephone interview.
Coun. Kevin Klein, who chairs the Winnipeg Police Board and represents Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood, said the new system will improve accountability as well.
In a memo to police, Smyth suggested the need for more accountability stems from problems within the city’s property inspections branch, which has been forced to discipline or terminate employees caught conducting personal business on the job.
“Given the scrutiny that the service is subjected to on a regulars basis, and especially in light of the scandal involving planning, property and development, this system will allow management and frontline supervisors [to have] the ability to account for on-duty employees,” Smyth said in a memo dated Nov. 21.
“It also provides an additional layer of building security.”
The new scanners are not sitting well with the Winnipeg Police Association, whose members are already irritated by the prospect of cuts to police resources and potential changes to their pension plan at a time when demands on police are high.
“It’s about priorities,” said Sabourin of the $158,000 human-resources upgrade within the police headquarters, which has suffered from deficiencies since police moved in the former Canada Post building in 2016.
“There are so many problems with that building. It’s very disheartening for those members to come to work on a daily basis and facing all the other difficulties.”
Sabourin said he is unaware of any officer getting disciplined as a result of the deliberate misuse of manual punch cards.
“We have systems in place already that quite accurately track where the members are. We have card access, we have supervisor, we have GPS, we have radios, so the biometrics is a bit of a surprise for us,” he said.
“Other than this being another slap in the member’s face, this is pretty much saying that we don’t trust you to be in the workplace at the right time.”
The police union is also seeking legal advice about the use of the data gathered by the scanners, said Sabourin, adding there are concerns about who will have access to the records.
The scanners are expected to put into use in early 2020. In November, some of the machines were delivered by mistake to the North District police station on Hartford Avenue in West Kildonan.
That led Smyth to apologize to officers in his Nov. 21 memo.
“The timing of introducing a system like that is never great, but in light of everything else that’s going on, it just creates a little bit of angst internally,” the chief said.