It's time for Canada's greater urban areas to seriously look at amalgamations similar to that which created the former Metropolitan Toronto Police in 1957.
Thirteen Toronto-area cities, townships and villages had become inexorably interwoven by the 1950s. In some sections of the region it was difficult to determine which municipality you were in unless you looked at the colours on the nearest fire hydrant. Interestingly, when the two-tiered municipal system began, each municipality lost its police force but kept its fire department.
Hydrant colours determined who could hook into what and on my old beat, there were several streets with hydrants of different colours beside each other. Now the advantage for me was knowing which municipality to write on the parking ticket by checking the colour of the nearest hydrant. One corner created real confusion as it was famously known for three different coloured hydrants.
Keeping up with, and even ahead of, crime trends, organizations and individuals is an on-going need of police work, yet everything about current grassroots policing in some regions appears counterintuitive to this objective. One of the largest issues to contend with is the far reaching effects of crime and the limited reach of law enforcement in curbing it.
In today's police world problems exist mainly in the greater Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Halifax areas. It would be better if police rather than politicians initiated the change but the police culture is quite often to blame for much that ails it.
The Green Ribbon Task Force report of 1996 clearly pointed out problems that can exist with fragmented jurisdictional police work. "Different forces might as well have been operating in separate countries," the report noted. The report found the solution lay in technological advances alone and in this fashion successfully skirted the concept that good police work comes down to consistency and continuity in grassroots policing.
Today we see several regions of Canada who wish to ignore the elephant in the room. They should be talking about this for the good of everyone – and they know it – but petty jealousies and departmental pride prevent opening up real discussions.
The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is a perfect example of ignoring the lessons of the past. In the mid 50s local police and politicians could see the need for amalgamation and creation of a two-tiered municipal system but one unified police service. Today we see that same burgeoning region with a combined population of around six million people sharing the same geography but policed by four different police services. As was the case in the mid 50s there really is no distinction between the jurisdictions. It is time for a revised metropolitan Toronto Police Service, which would have more than 10,000 officers.
The Greater Vancouver Area (GVA) currently includes six to nine heavily populated cities which appear to be half way toward recognizing the values of an amalgamated police structure. The biggest problem appears to be a schizophrenic makeup which can't help but interfere with good police work. An amalgamation of this region's police services would certainly go a long way toward curbing a crime scene in full bloom.
A single Metropolitan Vancouver Police Service would encompass more than 4,000 officers serving a population of more than 2.5 million. There is no question that a uniform structure of procedures, rules and training would reduce crime.
Halifax Regional Municipality, with a population approaching half a million, appears to have developed everything in half measures and this is certainly reflected in its policing. Recognizing the benefits of a two-tiered municipal structure but not a unified police service is just plain counterintuitive.
Montreal has endured a long legacy of issues involving jurisdictional crossovers and a denial of problems with municipal and police effectiveness both on the island and the south shore. Amalgamating all island police and possibly some south shore agencies would be extremely helpful in reducing crime.
None of this is a surprise to any of the agencies involved. They are all aware of the benefits of working under one umbrella. They also probably know that one day it will happen, if not voluntarily then certainly as a result of public pressure. It is a sad statement when change can only happen after enormous amounts of external pressure or public embarrassment forces it to happen.
It would be far better to have these changes come about from the police themselves, through recognizing what is best for their communities and their agency.