Responding to calls from municipalities to help lower the skyrocketing cost of policing in Ontario the Province has announced a broad range of changes. The approach will be to try to integrate policing more fully with existing social agencies to reduce the need for front-line police interventions by creating more opportunities to de-fuse conflicts before they escalate to situations that require police involvement. In a speech to the Ontario Municipal Association last month, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Yasir Naqvi cited the police chief of Windsor who reported that 80 per cent of that city’s police calls do not involve emergencies but involve mental health and other social issues.
The minister is proposing that communities develop Community Safety and Well-Being Plans
based on locally identified priorities. The plan calls for more collaboration with community partners who would share information and work together with police on early intervention. This “will help reduce the demand for what Naqvi called an “intensive mid and late stream enforcement style crisis response,”– a reference to the high cost of police interventions. The Minister cited as examples of the new approach, successful community integration programs that are already in place in communities like Bancroft, North Bay and Brantford.
“We are trying to confront 21st century issues with a policing model designed in the 19th century,” Naqvi said. His plan also calls for strengthening the role of police services boards, which in jurisdictions like Hamilton are perceived in some quarters as rubber stamps for the administration, powerless to control costs or to provide meaningful governance of the police service. The OMA paper quoted the Expert Panel on the Future of Canadian Policing Models as saying “accountability mechanisms that oversee the range of actor and partnerships in the safety and security web are underdeveloped”. Putting it another way the OMA states “The importance of governance bodies remaining autonomous from police chiefs is extremely vital.”
The Minister’s announcement did not address one of the key issues identified by the municipalities—namely the province’s salary arbitration system that is blamed for escalating policing costs. Saying the “wall has been hit,” the OMA, in a recent submission to the Ontario government noted that Ontario’s policing costs are the highest in the country despite a steady decrease in the crime rate. The AMO noted “the average annual growth of police spending between 2002 and 2011 was 6.3%. This compares to the inflation rate over the same period of 2.1%. In other words, for at least a decade, police spending has been growing at three times the rate of inflation. Police salaries increased by 40% between 2000 and 2011 while the average for all Canadians in non-policing occupations increased by only 11% . Hamilton Police Services board chair Lloyd Ferguson says he is disappointed the minister did not deal with the biggest contributor to the cost of policing– the arbitration system. “It appears the government is just not ready to take on the unions on this issue,” he told the Bay Observer. On another contentious issue—suspension of police officers with pay—he is more optimistic. “I still think it will be addressed when the government announces changes to the Police Services Act this fall. Even the police associations favour changing it to allow suspension without pay.” He said suspension without pay would be a strong incentive for officers charged to have their cases heard quickly as opposed to the current practice where officers charged with offenses typically engage in delaying tactics aimed at maximizing their pensions, and often then resign.