TORONTO - The plunging crime rate does not mean officers are doing less work, Ontario police groups say.
A Fraser Institute report has found that, while the crime rate has dropped significantly -- for example, by 42% the past decade in Toronto -- the number of police officers has not decreased either.
Municipalities with the highest percentage of police officers could consider reducing their numbers, the study Police and Crime Rates in Canada says.
Ken East, president of the Ontario Association of Police Services Board (OAPSB), said the report “over simplified” the situation because police officers have far greater demands on them than are reflected in the crime statistics.
Many communities identified by the Fraser report as possibly overstaffed have specific concerns such as a major casino or a high population of homelessness that puts particular pressure on policing, East said.
That doesn’t mean the overall rising cost of policing is not a significant issue for municipalities, he said.
Other options for controlling those costs including looking at whether some activities carried out by police (such as crime scene forensics) could be outsourced to civilians, he said.
Jim Christie, Ontario Provincial Police Association president, said the OPP look after 332 municipalities, highways and waterways.
“We still have to have minimum staffing levels even in lower populated areas,” Christie said. “Somebody calls 911 a police officer has to show up.”
Crime has changed from stealing a barbeque off a cottage deck to Internet-related theft, he said.
“We have a large Internet crime squad for child pornography, predatorial-type offences on the internet and we have detectives working 24-7 on them,” he said.
Jason Clemens, executive vice-president of the Fraser Institute, said a public discussion around police staffing is difficult but important because municipalities are constricted by tight budgets and need to use their resources as effectively as possible.
Policing is arguably the most important service provided to municipal residents, Clemens said.
“If you ask Canadians are you willing to pay a little more to keep crime rates low, they’re going to say yes,” Clemens said. “But if you say are you willing to pay a little more to have just more police with almost no effect if any on crime rates, then it’s a very different situation.”
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has expressed concerns about the high cost of policing, particularly rising salaries, benefits and pensions.
The Fraser Institute report, authored by Lakehead University Professor and institute senior fellow Livio Di Matteo, says Ontarians spent more per capita on policing than any other province in 2012 at $272.50, compared to the lowest in PEI at $142.20.
In Toronto, where more than 37% of employees at Toronto Police Services make $100,000 or more a year, the per capita cost for policing has hit $387 even though the overall number of officers and the crime rate has dropped.
According to Statistics Canada, Toronto’s 2013 police-reported crime rate had dropped 42% over the past decade.
Between 2012 and 2013, the city’s crime rate fell 7%.
Similar declines were experienced in other major urban Ontario centres with crime rates falling 25% in London, 42% in Barrie, 41% in Hamilton, 42% in Ottawa, 27% in Kingston, 30% in Peterborough -- all between 2003-13.
Statistics Canada says Toronto had 9,967 police officers in 2013, down 2.2% from 2012, which works out to 169 officers per 100,000 Toronto residents.
Toronto has more officers per capita than most Canadian cities reviewed by Statistics Canada, but fewer than the Ontario average.
In 2013, there were 26,359 police officers in Ontario -- a rate that works out to 195 for every 100,000 Ontarians.
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