Apr 01 2014
Your home has been burglarized and you call police. But instead of an armed officer, a specially trained civilian investigator shows up at your door.
That’s one of many proposals in a new report by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute aimed at controlling skyrocketing policing costs in Canada.
The report says police need to return to their “core” functions and consider turning over certain duties — such as responding to break-ins, fingerprint and DNA collection, conducting background checks, enforcing parking rules, transporting inmates, transcribing interviews and others — to non-sworn members, special constables, community safety officers or private security companies.
“A great deal of work now done by highly trained, well-paid and experienced uniformed officers is only tangentially related to law enforcement and could be done as well or better and more cheaply by someone else, freeing police to do their core job,” the report says.
It cites Ontario’s annual Sunshine List of public employees who make more than $100,000. Several parking-enforcement officers with the Toronto police are on it.
“Police work is complex, difficult, and demanding and should be well-compensated. The real question is why police who are making upwards of $100,000 a year are performing so many tasks that are not really core policing duties.”
Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association, said Monday that police chiefs across the country are working to find ways to be more efficient, but cautioned against overly “simplistic” solutions. Hiring civilians to perform forensic identification work or to be analysts can still cost an agency more money, he said.
Stamatakis said he suspects most citizens who report a burglary still want a sworn officer to respond. Further, the only way police can gather intelligence and prevent community crimes is by interacting with the public.
The report also doesn’t take into account geographical differences, he said. In some remote Canadian communities, it might not be uncommon for an officer to help a citizen change their light bulb. That’s not a “core” policing function but could go a long way to establishing relationships and maintaining order.
The cost of policing in Canada climbed to $12 billion in 2012. Even though calls for service have remained stable over the past decade, police budgets have gone up at an average annual rate that is almost double GDP growth, the report said.
Part of what’s driving those costs is the changing nature and growing complexity of certain crimes, such as cybercrime and organized crime, as well as increasing demands for transparency and accountability.
“There’s a reasonable agreement that the current model is simply not workable. The risk we run if it becomes more unsustainable (is that) politicians will start to meddle in the affairs of police. That’s the last thing security organizations want,” said the report’s author, Christian Leuprecht, a political-science professor at Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University.
“Civilianization” has already occurred in some areas. Bylaw enforcement, emergency dispatch calls and complaints against police are often handled now by trained civilians.
In the U.S., some police agencies have taken it a step further. In Mesa, Ariz., civilian investigators now handle calls related to residential and commercial break-ins, stolen vehicles, fraud, forgeries and ID thefts.
Civilian investigators can respond more quickly to calls and can take the time to process the crime scene. They are trained to take photographs, look for fingerprints and collect evidence, Mesa police spokesman Lt. Dana McBride said.
“It improves timeliness and quality of service,” he said.
There is no reason, the report said, that sworn officers need to spend time on human resources tasks such as recruiting, carrying out routine background checks, performing media relations functions, and providing much of the instruction at police academies.
It also questions the need for sworn officers to appear at ceremonial functions, such as “red serge duty” in the RCMP, “when any number of retired members would do just as good a job” in return for being paid mileage and per diems.