Some city departments go begging for cash as police budgets swell and crime rates plummet
An interesting report was released by Statistics Canada this week (the dead of summer) which revealed that crime rates dropped again last year. In fact, it was the fifth consecutive year-in-a-row that crime rates have plummeted. The report got me thinking. With crime rates dropping year-over-year, why are so many Canadian cities still hiring thousands of new police officers at about $100K+ each?
When the cold war ended, we began talking about something called the peace dividend. It was assumed that tax dollars being poured into the construction of nuclear missiles and stealth technology, would now be partially diverted to benefit social programs such as health care and education. In theory, less war and strife resulted in more tax room to fund programs for kids, seniors etc...If that logic is extended, why is it that with plunging crime rates and forecasts that it will continue to drop, are cities on massive hiring sprees for more police?
According to Stats Canada:
Most of Canada's census metropolitan areas (CMAs) reported drops in their Police-reported Crime Severity Index (PRCSI) in 2008. Winnipeg, St. John's, Regina, Saskatoon, Moncton and Saguenay all reported declines of at least 10% in crime severity.
They go on to state:
Crime was least severe in Guelph, followed by Saguenay, Barrie, Québec and Toronto. Toronto's index dropped 6% in 2008 and was about 30% lower than the national index.
It's hard to imagine if the need for services of any other city department drastically declined (see development permits as an example) that the City Manager wouldn't look at making personnel adjustments to reflect this new reality.
Yet in cities like Vancouver and Calgary which are struggling to balance their budgets, only the police department seems to be off-limits to belt tightening.
In Vancouver, Council recently slashed the arts budget by 8%, while at they same time they poured millions more into the police department. This despite the fact that crime rates continue to plummet. I can only imagine it must be difficult for local politicians (who purport so supporting the arts) to explain this rationale to a starving artist.
In addition, after objections from the police union, Vancouver council also cut funding for the street ambassador program in Vancouver which helped to provide additional eyes and ears on the street at a fraction of the cost of a full-time police officer.
It clearly isn't politically correct to question the need for more police in your city. Right-wing politicos claim that doing so is tantamount to encouraging the bad guys to break into your house. What poppycock.
The Stats Can report this week should make everyone (especially our policy makers) take a moment to reflect on the future of police budgeting in our cities over the coming years. There are only so many dollars to go around, and we should ensure they're invested in places where there is greatest need. What do you think?