We recently gave our newly elected politicians a hand basket and everyone in policing is shy about telling them where we are going. If their lack of curiosity about policing continues, the blame will be ours when we arrive at the inevitable destination.
There haven't been many headlines about police costings for several years. The issue reared its ugly head recently when Ontario lifted its moratorium on municipalities seeking costing competitions with the provincial police.
Today's problems surrounding police really come down to two main issues – the lack of direction from the province and the bottom-line bean counters in municipal governments.
The Ontario Provincial Police took advantage of the downtime during the municipal costing moratorium to review its policies and come up with a better formula to set budgets for policing municipalities.
As soon as the OPP indicated it was again open for business it was flooded by parsimonious politicians wanting to "kick the tires" and look into replacing their old jalopy police service with something cheaper; better is not part of their equation.
The Ontario police costing process has caused much angst, rancour and hostility over the past 25 years, dividing communities and pitting municipal and provincial agencies against each other. This has been aggravated by a weak solicitor general's office which simply looks at numbers and statistics as a basis for killing police agencies.
Given the world we live in today it really should be all about competent policing, not price. The Ontario government must have the courage to tell communities they should worry about whether their policing is competent, not whether someone else can do it cheaper. If money is an issue then the government should step in, conduct a study and offer advice. Only persistent unheeded advice should lead to more serious considerations.
Ensuring a community trusts and has confidence in its local police must be the primary concern of any provincial government.
In times long past, communities would only lose their police service because of gross incompetency; today 150-year-old police services are disbanded because the chief can't balance a cheque book or municipal leaders can't accurately read a contract.
As an aside it's interesting to note that municipalities always look toward reducing police costings but ignore fire and ambulance – two services that remain dormant unless called upon but which pay the same wages and benefits. Neither are active 24 hour-a-day branches like policing. Too many municipalities are fire department heavy and ambulance weak.
I have worked in the law enforcement field in some capacity or another for more than 45 years, either actively policing or analyzing, researching and writing about it. I have made a career out of looking at where policing has been, where it is currently and postulating where it seems to be going – but you don't need my understanding of the industry to know how lucky we are in Canada. Have a look at the number of police officers per 100,000 population around the world:
Canada = 194 Sweden = 208 Australia = 217 Norway = 222 England = 227 Denmark = 245 New Zealand = 247 Germany = 296 South Africa = 317 Scotland = 326 France = 356 United States = 373 Argentina = 558
Looking at these numbers I would suggest Canadians are either fortunate or naive. Somehow I think it is a mix of both but a big part is the quality of police personnel that makes the difference.
Canadian cops are selected through a rigorous process with applicants put through a battery of tests. They are poked, prodded, run ragged, analyzed and background checked for any and all flaws known to human kind. The lucky few who pass are then tested, monitored, tutored and studied to ensure they know their job and can perform to the satisfaction of everyone.
Officers are supervised by their agencies and watched carefully with cameras and hi-tech gadgetry found in their cars, streets and almost every citizen's pocket or purse. If I had to bet on who will do the job better, I would put my money on any street cop over any soccer, hockey or baseball player in the world. After all they only have to produce excellence for 60 minutes over several days. Not only does the public give them a pass but they are paid handsomely for being successful 50 per cent of the time.
Too many politicians and media moguls like to write the exam first then take the lessons after. I have come to the conclusion that for the most part, if the politicians quit meddling, every agency does just fine. Otherwise... welcome to this increasingly hotter hand basket.