Police are pricing themselves out of business
TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – There is no evidence that greater expenditure on policing has made the country safer or improved the quality of service.
Apr 06 2014. By: Christian Leuprecht
Have you ever opened your property tax bill and wondered what is driving the bulk of the rate increase? A prime culprit is the wage bill for first responders, notably police and fire services. It, in turn, is driven by an arbitration system that habitually awards first responders with salary increases around or in excess of 3 per cent annually — right through the recent recession, while much of the province’s public sector saw its salaries frozen.
As a result of arbitration, the number of Toronto firefighters on Ontario’s recently released “Sunshine List” grew to 2,587 employees in 2013. That’s more than 80 per cent of the service’s 3,100 employees, some of whom work as few as seven days a month.
In Toronto and Ottawa, arbitration has resulted in almost 40 per cent of the police services’ workforce making the list. To put this in perspective: Torontonians spend the equivalent of about two cancelled gas plants on their police service every year.
Even some of those who benefit from the system find their compensation excessive. A system in which the salary awards for a few employees are wholly unrelated to efficiency, effectiveness or productivity, yet trigger property tax increases that persistently outstrip the rate of economic growth, is unsustainable.
Stable call volume notwithstanding, between 2002 and 2012 provincial expenditures on security grew almost twice as fast as GDP. Yet, there is no evidence that greater expenditure has either made the country any safer or improved the quality of service.
In fact, the correlation between complement of officers and crime on the one hand and quality of service on the other hand has long been shown to be spurious. Not only that, but shorter response times do not measurably increase community safety, there are many more dangerous jobs than policing (garbage collector and hydro worker among them) and pay for those jobs seems unrelated to workplace stress and responsibilities.
Police associations capitalize on a popular culture that associates police with law enforcement. Yet, the bulk of calls for service have nothing to do with crime. At a base salary approaching $100,000 a year (before accumulated overtime), that is an exceedingly expensive service model. Salaries comprise almost 90 per cent of most police budgets. What kinds of work do we expect highly trained, well-compensated, experienced uniformed officers to perform?
The scope of policing has expanded by orders of magnitude in recent decades, in large part because governments and the public have either explicitly or inadvertently securitarized an ever-expanding array of activities, many of which are really social or medical ills. Order is integral to freedom. But in a liberal democracy that is premised on limited state intervention, we should be debating “what kind” of policing instead of “how much.”
Alternative service delivery in other jurisdictions has a proven track record of performing many of the same tasks as well or better at lower cost. For example, some jurisdictions have civilians conducting burglary investigations, prisoner escort, lifting fingerprints, collecting DNA evidence, court security, administrative functions such as finance and human resources, transcription of interviews, professional development and training, and background checks.
The justice system, for instance, is riddled with inefficiencies that needlessly impose undue costs on police. And calls for police need to be redirected to contain call volume and allow police to spend more time on problem-focused and community-oriented policing.
We should also be rewarding achievement instead of 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; and having police colleges spend more time on developing critical thinking and analytical skills so as to counter a paramilitary institutional culture.
Ultimately, this is a matter of democratic debate: many jurisdictions seem perfectly well prepared to pay a premium of up to 100 per cent to retain their own police service and have it perform discretionary activities. This seems especially true for rural and smaller municipalities, even though their residents tend to be less affluent and they do not have the property-tax base to afford this luxury.
Politicians must be prepared to ask hard questions and change the legislative constraints to generate greater efficiencies in policing while, at the same time, affording municipalities and counties the latitude necessary to carry out policing functions by different means.
Christian Leuprecht is associate professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada and cross-appointed to Queen’s University. He is the author of a new paper published by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute titled “The Blue Line or the Bottom Line of Policing in Canada? Arresting runaway growth in costs.”
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