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Discussion: Are Canadian police paid too much?

As cash-strapped cities and provinces tackle spending, there’s one area of the public sector they’ve been reluctant to touch: policing. Join our experts to discuss police reform on Friday at 11 a.m. ET.

  • Hi, and welcome to this morning’s chat: How can Canada make policing more affordable?

    Joining us is Alok Mukherjee, president of the Ontario Association of Police Service Boards and chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, and criminology professor Christopher Murphy of Dalhousie University. I’m The Globe’s community editor for news and I’ll moderate the discussion.

    The Globe’s editorial board has written a series on how to control policing costs, as governments everywhere look to cut spending. Read part one: www.theglobeandmail.com Part two: www.theglobeandmail.com And part three: www.theglobeandmail.com

    Please leave a question for our guests below. Only selected ones will appear, as time permits, but all questions will be read.
  • Welcome to both our panelists. We'll start with the big question: Why do we need to reform how we pay for policing?
  • The simple response to this is that we can't afford the model that we have that is municipalities and other are no longer able to raise tax revenues to support the five and 6% increase in police budgets on an annual basis. Unless there's some kind of change the only option is to limit police services or eliminate police services that the public want and expect. That's it for me
  • Any other comments on this or next question ?
  • In the current system, the cost of municipal policing is almost entirely paid for from property tax. In Ontario, these costs have been increasing by 5-7% per year, which translates to almost $200M per year. This is unsustainable, and will have a huge impact on the municipalities' ability to pay for all those other programs that are equally important in creating safe and healthy communities.
  • Professor Murphy, that is all well and good. I understand that a substantial amount of police budgets goes to salaries. A majority in fact. But why is everyone zeroing in on the people that actually perform the duties associated to policing, rather than on the manner in which other savings can be realized?
  • Damien, are you a retired police officer?
  • Damien, that is a very good observation. Policing costs cannot be contained only by zeroing in on salaries. Labour costs - including wages and benefits - are a very significant portion of policing costs. However, there is consensus that police officers should be compensated fairly for the kind of work they do. So, while these costs are looked at, there is an equally important need to examine the very nature of the way we provide for community safety and consider whether there are more efficient ways of doing this.
  • For a simple example, why are two manned patrol vehicles not mandated? This would result in significant savings in many areas, not the least of which would be gas consumption...a double whammy if you put environmental concerns on the map and a triple whammy if you include the fact that many police associations are seeking double patrols. You are quite astute, Professor...yes, I am.
  • Sorry, Mr. Hannay!!!
  • There are quite a few individual proposals for smaller ways that we could bring policing costs down. Readers, you can vote on some here: www.theglobeandmail.com

    Panelists, how about it: are the number of officers in a patrol vehicle something that would help?
  • The 2-officer patrol system is an example that relates to both how labour cost has risen as well as to current method of policing. The system came about in Toronto as a result of an arbitrator's decision imposing this requirement. The police services board of the day took the matter all the way to the Supreme Court and lost. So, it got entrenched in the collective agreement.\
  • Chris, yes certainly. However, in places like Toronto where this exists, the change involves agreement on the part of the police association!
  • Professor Murphy is just running into some technical difficulties. He'll be back online in a few minutes.
  • Will police associations (aka unions) ever permit the introduction of various categories of police personnel with fewer powers, and specific less rigorous operational responsibilities leading to cost savings for taxpayers?
  • In discussions we have had, police associations have indicated their understanding that change is needed and their willingness to engage in discussions. Given that their main function is to represent and protect the best interests of their members, I think this is a hopeful sign.
  • One of the proposals being discussed in some cities is to introduce tiered policing, which would offer a wider range of compensation depending on a police officer's duties.

    Alok, what do you think of tiered policing?
  • Sorry I went off-line temporarily- so could not respond to previous questions. I'm not as optimistic that police associations are ready to radically rethink the different occupational model which would diversify police functions-different pay levels and skill sets-the model would be more like medicine-which they have a variety of people who deliver health services with different skills and occupational and educational requirements-and different pay levels nurses nurse practitioners etc. unless we see some variation in the traditional constables do everything whether they need to word not whether there qualified or overqualified or not there won't be much real change and that 80% of the cost policing
  • This is what our editorial board wrote on tiered policing:

    Canadian municipalities could also consider a new model known as tiered policing. The current model rewards the same pay, based on years of service, to a first-class constable whether he or she works in homicide or traffic or behind a desk. Tiered-policing allows for differing levels of remuneration according to the unit the officer is assigned to, with investigators who respond to street-related crime at the top of the pay scale, and those in less dangerous jobs such as administration below them. The generous pay increases police often receive are based on a flawed assumption that all officers perform high-risk, front-line duties.
  • Chris, it is certainly on the agenda. There are two aspects to tiered policing: one, tiering within the police service and tiering between police services and other organizations involved in public safety. The concept has to be given serious consideration.
    by Alok Mukherjee, President,... edited by Chris Hannay 3/23/2012 3:23:56 PM
  • We're getting many comments from police officers in the chat. Thanks very much for your contributions. Here's one that raises a point about tiered policing.
  • I spent 28 years as a police officer, and still feel that policing is a job for younger people. Shift work is a killer, especially driving a car and taking files. Not everyone in policing wants a desk job, or gets to be a detective, so a great many of the officers will opt to be on the road. What do you suggest, put the older ones in the office, then pay them less? This is where your idea of tiered policing breaks down. Also, the idea of no overtime for court is not appealing. If you lose your day off in court, you should be compensated. Many times you go to court, sit around all day and never get called.
  • Danger or risk is not the only basis upon which to define policing tasks-there are issues such as knowledge requirements, skill requirements educational requirements etc. policing can be in addition to being a risky occupation it is also in many cases many requires a highly specialized and sophisticated talents and skills . We need to start matching the people recruited and trained to a much more refined set of occupational requirements- the generalsit constables who can and should do everything and anything is not a viable model for modern policing.
  • You have raised a good point. Tiered policing should not mean that your salary would change as you move back and forth between assignments. In my mind, tiered policing needs to be applied at an organizational level allowing for the deployment of different types of personnel with particular skills sets for different types of work. This is a separate issue from paying for court attendance.
  • Mr Mukherjee, you say that it is unsustainable but is it not true that the actual portion of the overall municipal budget that the Toronto Police Budget accounts for is relatively exactly the same over the past 20 years? If so, that wouldn't seem to be unsustainable?
  • In terms of this as an issue, our organization, that is, the Ontario Association of Police Services Board, on whose behalf I am participating, it is clear that costs are a huge concern across the province. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario reports that policing costs are one of the largest items in municipal budgets. The Drummond report also points out the need to control policing costs. So, there is a real sense across the province that municipalities are finding the trend unsustainable. As for Toronto, the municipality now wants us to find actual reductions in the police budget as opposed to the previous trend of allowing increases year after year.
    by Alok Mukherjee, President,... edited by Chris Hannay 3/23/2012 3:35:33 PM
  • I have two sons-in-law that are police officers. They - and their families - deserve every red cent they earn. In addition to the risks my sons-in-law take in performing their work, my daughters live every day with the possibility that their husband might not come home from work...how can we compensate the families of police who, every time they hear about the death or serious injury of a policeman, live with that kind of anxiety?
  • Our police officers do put their lives on the line every day. This is about effective service delivery and keeping our communities safe. We need an immediate review to examine policing in the broader context of public safety, take a critical look at the core duties of policing, and consider way to ensure sustainable policing in the years ahead.
  • @just one comment I have great respect for the police in Canada but workers in construction, forestry, manufacturing and mining are much more at risk. Policing is actually quite low on the risk level for job. How do you rationalize this myth that Police work is dangerous?
  • Ian's comment gets to the heart of what a lot of readers have wondered: exactly how dangerous is police work?
  • Obviously there's a lot of nuance to that question - there are many different roles within the police.
  • Hi there - I just wanted to add a quick two cents concerning the G&M articles relating to policing costs. I think it's important to clarify that there is a salary/costing difference between the federal (RCMP) and municipal police forces in Canada. The RCMP is one of the lowest paid police forces out there while municipal forces usually cost a lot more (hence the BC-RCMP debate). The stats used in the article appear to indicate that all police forces in Canada are equally paid which is not true. Secondly, it would appear that many of the stats used in the article are RCMP stats and not whole-of-country ones. Just wanted to share this information.
  • Yes, good point, David. And compensation can change from municipality to municipality.
  • I believe that the element of danger is one criterion that affects compensation. There are dangers associated with several occupations - soldiers, construction workers as well as police officers, for example. A comparison of the compensation for each of these occupation categories would produce some interesting answers. Compensation for each has depended on the ability for each to negotiate what is paid. That said, one positive development is that through excellent training, better protective equipment, stronger safety procedures etc. our officers are safer today than in the past.
  • Som of police work has the potential for danger, is often unpleasant, and is involved in conflict and human crisis- and that is one of the reasons we pay police officers more than we do for other comparable occupations-teachers social workers construction workers etc. however lots of aspects of policing are not described as being characterized by risk danger etc. but require other skills. I don't think the rationale for paying police officers should be based just on danger risk etc. but where its relevant. Another reason to start categorizing policing and police work by the distinctive nature of the work involved- it's much more than just patrol and detective work
  • As to David's point, one difference between RCMP officers and municipl officers is that RCMP officers are not represented by an association that negotiates on their behalf.
  • If you're going to discuss the cost of policing/paying police officers, firefighters should also be considered.
  • All I hear to date in response to the question of the sustainability of the current model are attempts to defend and rationalize the status quo-I think taxpayers are saying to all government services not just police that they want something better something more efficient something more effective in something that doesn't cost quite as much- how can we deliver the level and quality of police services the public want with $100.000 constables as the only basis for service delivery ?
  • If I may, there is one item for consideration in this context and it sort of got subsumed under tiered policing - and that is the presence and role of private security. It is a reality. The Law Reform Commission of Canada devoted its last report to this issue. We do have to recognize that private security is present in our communities and consider how best to integrate it in a new model of policing.
  • Professor Murphy makes an important point. In Ontario, the Drummond report recommends that there be a review of duties to identify core versus non-core responsibilities of police, to eliminate use of uniform police for non-core duties and to examine alternative models of police service. So, to address this issue we need to start by asking ourselves what are those duties that require a well-compensated police officer's presence and what are those that can be performed by other means, including technology, private sector, civilians and other agencies.
  • It looks like our hour is up. Thanks everyone for following along, and thanks for all the great questions. I'm sorry we couldn't get to more of them.

    Thanks, Mr. Mukherjee and Prof. Murphy for joining us today.
  • Thank you for hosting this important discussion, Chris.
  • I feel like we were just getting started- let's hope there are other opportunities to continue this important conversation- as ensuring that public policing is sustainable in Canada is I think important to everybody.
  • We also got quite a few stories from retired officers or family of police. I'm going to share a few now as we end.
  • Great discussion but please tell the whole story. Not all Police Depts are created equal. RCMP members of which I am retired, have one of the poorest pension plans in Canada. City police in most cases exceed RCMP benefits by at least 1/3 in medical and financial benefits.

    I am one of the mounties that worked in the field without backup and tasers and good housing on reserves. At 56 I am now left to deal with shoulder treatments/surgeries, knee injuries, stabbing injury and PTSD all of which are not readily covered by ANY pension I have. For 28 years of service I received $2589 of which $50 pays provincial medical, $250 pays for prescriptions, $230 pays for chiro treatments. Please do not lump us all in with your article, however fair you try to write this the bent of your story is for the new officers who start at a range of pay that I retired at in 2004..... and could use a pension of a Toronto or Montreal officer. If I had it to choose again I would have worked in IT....please be balanced in your story. Thanks
    by been there...done that edited by Chris Hannay 3/23/2012 4:05:22 PM
  • I am a retired police officer. If you want to reduce costs then put policing under one umbrella provincial responsibilty. The officers are in one uniform, one chief, areas are broken into districts with a district commander you reduce your command structer costs and centralize your administrative and operational costs. This was talked about in the 1980's. If politics stay out of it by removing the issue that I am too important to give up my job to restructer then it will work.
  • My father is currently in the RCMP, and I can say that there have been many occasions my heart has been in my throat while he went away with his riot troupe to such places as Burnt Church. Away for weeks at a time, I realize that this is what he signed up for, but I do believe that he deserves every penny he earns. What with the "get up and drop everything" lifestyle most members live today, they're deserving of at least a semi-comfortable life.
  • Mr. Mukherjee, I agree wholeheartedly with you! For too long there has been little, if any concentration on such efficiencies. However, it is too easy to point the finger at salaries. I'll be the first one to admit that the police are paid adequately for their services...one thing I tried never to complain about, for several reasons, was my salary and benefits. They were and remain for those still "on the job" excellent. But they are not undeserved, for many reasons. And to suggest that for us to be able to retire at fifty years old, after having served for thirty years, is unfair...that is simply an insult proffered by those who have never set their seats in a patrol car, or walked a beat with an officer to see what can take place on a daily basis.
  • With respect to tiered policing, I think everyone is being disillusioned by American television. There are certain levels of policing that do require expertise, that is no doubt. But your tiered argument also breaks down when you either a) keep a trained officer in one spot until he/she dies (perhaps becoming bored and complacent along the way) or b) is transferred back to a patrol based function to mentor younger officers with their experience. Do you adjust their salaries, because they have gone back to patrol? You are perpetuating the argument that patrol officers' functions are not as worthy as those of detectives or identification (CSI) officers. Any seasoned detective will tell you that, if the first officer on the scene did not do their job properly, then the investigation is tainted from the get-go. Whose job is more important now?
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