Let private sector do low-priority police duties

TORONTO – The Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne is entering into tough salary talks with several public sector groups: Doctors, teachers — and cops.

Having hiked salaries to the stratosphere over the past decade, the government now faces the unenviable task of telling public servants to hold the line.

Police are one of the biggest costs for municipal taxpayers — and the costs keep growing.

The OPP has seen a wage increase of 13.55% over four years, with a huge 8.55% last year. That’s caused grief for taxpayers across the province.

A three-year OPP constable makes $92,000 a year — with a healthy pension.

The 2014 wage increase alone will add $25 million to property taxes.

Costs are mirrored in most cities and municipalities because of a “leapfrog” clause in the OPP contract that says they have to be the highest paid force in the province.

Small municipalities are hardest hit because they don’t have a large commercial and industrial tax base to rely on to pay for policing.

One solution is to contract out non-core police duties to security firms, says Stephan Cretier, CEO of Garda International, a Montreal-based private security firm.

Why do we need cops making $100,000 a year taking routine reports, acting as receptionists at police stations and doing the work of administrative assistants?

“The real question is do we need a $100,000-a-year policeman to give parking tickets?” asks Cretier.

He says lower-paid, but well-trained security staff can perform duties that are not essential policing work. They could respond to low-priority burglar alarms, take fingerprints, analyze photo radar images, do background checks, and so on.

How many times have you seen a police officer directing traffic around a construction site?

“Do we need someone who’s paid $100,000, with a gun, doing that?” Cretier asks.

The difference is a private security worker makes $40,000 a year.

A Fraser Institute report published last September reported Canadian police costs have been increasing at rates above inflation.

In the past four years, the cost of policing in Toronto has increased 14% — to $387 per resident.

In Toronto, as in many other cities in the province, a large proportion of the police officers now make the Sunshine List of public sector workers making more than $100,000 per year.

Out of 8,000 workers in the Toronto Police force, 2,983 — 37% — earned more than $100,000 in 2013.

Fraser reported that between 2001 and 2012, the number of police officers per 100,000 of population in Canada rose 8.7% while the crime rate declined by 26.3%.

Cretier said people in his industry don’t want to replace cops — they just want to do the routine work that doesn’t require police training.

With the renewed threat of terrorism and other serious crime, giving work that isn’t core to policing to the private industry just makes sense, he said.

“Police want to be police,” Cretier said. “They don’t want to be clerks. They don’t want to be administrative assistants.”

Let them handle complex policing and leave routine items to private security firms.

This wouldn’t be reinventing the wheel, says Cretier. In Europe, over the past three decades, countries have reduced their policing costs by using private security companies for nonessential services.

He suggests a pilot project with service-level agreements allowing the government to monitor their performance.

“It’s 100% certain it’s going to cost less,” he said.

If the government is serious about holding the line on the cost of public services, this is the only route left to them. They can’t roll back salaries, but as older officers retire, it makes sense to reassign officers to front-line policing duties and have the private sector pick up low-priority duties.

It will be controversial. It may be a hard sell to the powerful police unions.

One thing’s for sure: Homeowners will heave a sigh of relief when they open their tax bills.

christina.blizzard@sunmedia.ca

http://www.torontosun.com/2015/02/12/let-private-sector-do-low-priority-police-duties