Despite a “dramatic” drop in crime rates within the last decade, Canadians are employing a surging number of officers, according to new research released Monday.
Between 2001 and 2012, the number of police officers per 100,000 Canadians increased nearly 9 per cent — amidst a crime rate decline of 26 per cent, according to author Livio Di Matteo, a Lakehead University economist.
Bucking the trend, the number of Toronto police officers per 100,000 declined five per cent over the same period, while crime in the city dropped 41 per cent — making it “an interesting example of how more police doesn’t always mean less crime,” Di Matteo said in an interview.
Published by the Fraser Institute think-tank, the report is just the latest to document the ballooning cost of policing across Canada, raise questions about the sustainability of spending, and suggest that the definition of what constitutes police work has become overly broad.
“At some point you have to look at if you are deploying police, and how many of them do you devote to your core function, which is fighting crime,” Di Matteo told the Star.
But while criminologists say the research will generate much-needed discussion about police spending, some say the numbers perpetuate the inaccurate belief that crime rates and police staffing are directly linked, when the relationship is far more complex.
The report sets out to measure the efficiency of police forces in Canadian cities by examining and comparing the number of officers employed per 100,000 citizens.
Using Statistics Canada figures, including Police-Reported Crime Statistics, Di Matteo found that between 2001 and 2012, the number of police officers in Canada grew 21.8 per cent (from 57,076 to 69,505) while the Canadian population increased only 12.2 per cent.
When calculated per 100,000 people, the number of officers increased from 184 in 2001 to 200 by 2012.
Among Canadian cities, Di Matteo found “substantial” variation in the number of police officers employed per 100,000 population — even when local crime rate, population density, family incomes, unemployment rate and other factors were calculated.
Di Matteo also attempted to calculate how many officers each Canadian city should ideally have, based on crime rates and other socio-economic factors. He then compared that figure to their actual number of officers. Forces in Kelowna, Moncton and Ottawa-Gatineau came out on top, while St. John, Winnipeg and Windsor were found to be the most inefficient.
Toronto placed in the middle, 11th of nearly three dozen cities. Di Matteo’s study put Toronto’s ideal number of officers at 182 per 100,000 people. In 2013, the Toronto force employed fewer officer than that — 169 officers per 100,000 — and was one of few cities that saw a decrease in officer numbers, down five per cent from 178 per 100,000 citizens in 2001.
The crime rate, meanwhile, dropped 41 per cent during that period, showing a decrease in officers does not necessarily result in an increase in crime.
However, Di Matteo did raise concerns about the fact that, per capita, policing costs in Ontario are the highest in the country. “The salary costs seem to be quite high in Ontario in general.”
According to a March 2014 report on Canadian policing costs, almost 40 per cent of the Toronto Police Service’s workforce made Ontario’s 2012 Sunshine List of public employees making more than $100,000.
Di Matteo’s report is careful to point out that it does not consider all factors unique to each city, such as the types of policing employed. For instance, community-based policing — a resource-heavy activity that typically sees an injection of officers into an area — may be one reason a municipal force may have more officers.
Generally speaking, however, Di Matteo said his research shows there is room improvement when it comes to making police services in Canada more efficient.
Anticipating the response that the greater number of police officers is responsible for the reduction in crime, the report cites prior research showing social factors — such as an aging population and a stronger economy — help explain the crime decline phenomenon, which has been occurring in Canada and other Western countries since the early 1990s. Indeed, Di Matteo points out that police resources per 100,000 are today where they were in the early 1990s, while crime rates have declined 46 per cent since 1991.
A significant part of rising officer numbers, Di Matteo writes, could be the fact that policing has evolved to include wider range of problem social behaviours, such as public drunkenness and mental illness.
“Police are doing a lot of other things, they are often called upon to almost do social work rather than policing in the traditional sense,” Di Matteo said in an interview. “Can some of that be, in a sense, delegated to people that don’t make as much, to put it bluntly? These are the things you would want to explore.”
The report comes as Toronto begins its search for a chief of police, following the Toronto Police Services Board’s decision this summer not grant Bill Blair’s the contract extension he sought.
Shortly after that decision, board chair Alok Mukherjee told the Star that traditional model of policing has “outlived its utility and relevance,” and that 80 per cent of police work done today isn’t fighting crime but dealing with domestic violence, youth safety and people with mental illness.
Mukherjee suggested an organizational shift was necessary, one that could involve hiring domestic violence workers and social workers.
Reactions from the Toronto Police Association suggest such changes would not be easily accepted. Following Mukherjee’s comments, the TPA quickly shot back, its board of directors circulating a statement, entitled “Just the Facts,” throughout police divisions throughout the city.
The statement took issue with the suggestion 80 per cent of policing work isn’t crime fighting, saying “it does not reflect the multi-dimensional nature of police work.”
Christian Leuprecht, a Royal Military College of Canada associate professor who studies the cost of policing, said using crime rates to gauge the effectiveness of policing does not provide the full picture.
What is becoming increasingly important to understanding how best to fight crime, he said, is how well police are working with outside agencies — such as social workers or addictions counsellors. That kind of work, however, is difficult to quantify, and we end up measuring the success of police forces by available data — crime rates.
“In part I think we have these very expensive police services because we kind of attribute crime to policing, and police are very happy to work with that because it justifies their budgets and expenditures,” he said.
“That’s I think what’s at the heart of this discussion, is that we haven’t had a very good discussion about what actually does matter, and how do we get data on what matters.”