The Blue Line or the Bottom Line of Police Services in Canada? Arresting runaway growth in costs

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Despite rapidly rising costs, Canadians are not getting all the police they pay for.

Canada’s police are pricing themselves out of business; police budgets have increased at a rate double that of GDP over the last decade, while calls from the public for service have remained stable. Police associations have been happy to stoke public fears about safety, but the correlation between numbers of officers, crime rates, and response times has long been shown to be spurious. In fact, a great deal of work now done by highly trained, well-paid, and experienced uniformed officers is only tangentially related to law enforcement and could be done as well or better and more cheaply by someone else, freeing police to do their core job.

Consider the fact that almost 40 percent of the Toronto Police Service’s workforce made Ontario’s 2012 “Sunshine List” of employees making more than $100,000, including six parking enforcement officers and a cadet in training.

Consider also that much of uniformed officers’ time is spent waiting to give testimony in court, transcribing interviews, teaching CPR, transporting prisoners, or a hundred other duties that take them off the street. In some jurisdictions outside Canada, civilian investigators even handle burglaries, leaving full officers to take on more demanding cases. We can learn from such examples.

Canada needs a new debate about how we provide police services. That debate would focus on three main areas.

First is the changing natureof policing, public expectations of police, and myriad inefficiencies related
to the role of police in Canada’s justice system. These powerful cost drivers go well beyond the
salaries and benefits police enjoy but do not get the same attention.

Second is the economies of scale to be harnessed from overhead. This report points out many areas where savings can be generated beyond what agencies themselves have already identified. They include:
• having forces share or contract dispatch, tactical teams, forensics, and investigations;
• common provincial standards and processes for hiring, communication, and procurement; and
• using technology, including record management systems to gather evidence and share it with the court and defence, and using lapel cameras, licence plate readers, and more, to make the job easier.

Third, even if we reduce overhead and find economies of scale the benefits are limited, since almost 90 percent of police budgets go to pay salaries. Police work is complex, difficult, and demanding and should be well compensated. The real question is why police who are making upwards of $100,000 a year are performing so many tasks that are not really core policing duties and that other jurisdictions are delivering as or more effectively, efficiently, and productively through alternative service delivery in the form of both civilianization and
outsourcing. Examples include:

• administrative functions, such as finance and human resources;
• burglary investigations, lifting fingerprints, and collecting DNA evidence;
• prisoner transport and court security;
• transcription of interviews;
• professional development and training; and
• background checks.

Finally, general recommendations in this study to curtail the overall growth of police
service costs include:

• re-directing calls and call volume to allow police to spend more time on problem-focused and community-oriented policing;
• rewarding achievement rather than seniority;
• cross-training police, fire, and Emergency Medical Services;
• reforming the leadership and institutional culture (or brace for a crisis);
• spending less time reactively “fighting crime” and more time on proactive intervention, mitigation, and prevention;
• having police colleges spend more time on developing critical thinking and analytical skills so as to counter a paramilitary institutional culture; and
• shifting from command-and-control principles to more participative and dispersed leadership and management.

In the end, the responsibility lies with legislators to provide legislative frameworks that constrain cost escalation on the one hand, and provide greater latitude in service delivery on the other. The balance struck by reform and legislative renewal in Quebec is instructive in this regard.

Order is integral to freedom, but liberal democracy is ultimately premised on limited state intervention, especially when it comes to the long arm of the law. Yet, the scope of policing has expanded by orders of magnitude in recent decades because governments and the public have either intentionally or inadvertently placed under police authority an ever- expanding array of activities, many of which are really social or medical measures, not law enforcement.

Canadian society would be better served by debating “what kind” of police service rather than “how much”.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOntario, Canada
PublisherMacdonald-Laurier Institute
Number of pages40
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


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