Given the financial pressures on Canadian cities caused by rising police budgets, municipalities and police leaders need to adapt law-enforcement delivery to a new era.
Otherwise, the price of law and order will become unsustainable, as it already has in the United Kingdom and in many major American cities, where police have been forced to dramatically alter the way they do business. Half of all major U.S. police forces had their budgets cut last year. Officers accepted pay cuts and demotions everywhere from Oakland to Austin, Tex. to Kansas City, Mo.
In England and Wales, the profession is being remade. There will be a 20-per-cent funding cut over four years, resulting in 28,000 fewer officers, and cutbacks in overtime as well as the suspension of bonuses for all chief officers. A recent report on policing found that police pay in England and Wales is 10 to 15 per cent higher than that of other emergency workers. The government wants to professionalize police, and use cheaper support officers or even accredited private security for non-core services. A special constabulary of 50,000 volunteer police officers already works in schools, provides security at public events and deals with fights, fires and road accidents.
Canada may not be ready for quite such a dramatic slate of reforms. But citizens here need to get used to the idea that uniformed officers cannot do everything, and that fewer boots on the street don’t necessarily compromise safety. Social workers, bylaw enforcement officers and other civilians can respond to some calls, and take over such matters as school visits, catching loose dogs, answering house alarms and other minor incidents. They could deal with bylaw complaints, some mentally ill people, panhandlers and false house alarms.
Canadian municipalities could also consider a new model known as tiered policing. The current model rewards the same pay, based on years of service, to a first-class constable whether he or she works in homicide or traffic or behind a desk. Tiered-policing allows for differing levels of remuneration according to the unit the officer is assigned to, with investigators who respond to street-related crime at the top of the pay scale, and those in less dangerous jobs such as administration below them. The generous pay increases police often receive are based on a flawed assumption that all officers perform high-risk, front-line duties.
It is difficult to negotiate layoffs and salary cuts to municipal police forces because, in the event of labour disagreement, provincial arbitrators step in and can approve binding agreements without considering a municipality’s ability to pay.
But there are practical ways to improve productivity: the use of more one-officer patrol cars, the elimination of excessive overtime pay for brief court appearances, the expansion of online training. Extra duties and training could be voluntary, and used as selection criteria for promotions.
Alok Mukherjee, chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, believes that if the public knew the intricacies of the police contract, they might take the affordability issue more seriously. “If the spiralling cost of municipal policing is not reversed, local policing will either become unsustainable or severely hinder local government’s ability to pay for all those other community services,” he warns.
Policing can be made more affordable, and still be effective – before Canadian cities have no choice but to act.
Do you agree that Canada’s policing systems are in need of major reform?
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