Time to Ween Police From Our Taxes

It’s time for Canadian police forces to hold a press conference and announce that crime rates, after almost a decade of decline, are now so low that we can start reducing our spending on police.

I can imagine it now: “We have spent enough on police,” Chief Jim Chu of the Vancouver Police will say, standing side by side with Commissioner William Elliot of the RCMP. “Let’s have some more parks and better schools and libraries.”

Yesterday, the Vancouver Police Department announced that property crime is down 24% in Vancouver since 2007. Traffic deaths are steadily down from 24 in 2007 to nine in 2010 with injuries down 8%. What about gang shootings? Violent crime is down 8.7% from 2007. Police 911 response times are 8.6% faster. These trends are not unique to Vancouver, but are being enjoyed across Canada.

In the 2010 Stats Canada report “Police Resources in Canada”, despite almost a decade of year over year declines in the crime rate, the nation marked our sixth straight year in a row of increases in the number of police officers per 100,000 Canadians.

Expenditures on police by Canadian cities reached over $12 billion in 2009, representing $365 per Canadian, which, after inflation, was 7.3% higher than in 2008 and the biggest per capita cost increase since 1986 when Stats Can started collecting data. It’s the 14th year of police budget increases in a row in our country, increases that started in 1997, and seem quite recession proof.

22% of Vancouver’s budget goes to policing, making it the largest single municipal expense. Compare this to 4% for libraries, 1% for theatres, 6% for community services and 11% for parks and recreation. The VPD got $218,000,000 from the city in 2009 and the number keeps growing.

And it’s not that police are somehow busier despite the apparent drop in the crime rate. You’d have to go back to 1973 to find a lower number of crimes and alleged crimes per sworn officer. In 2009, there were 32.1 incidents per officer, per year, down from a high of 51.1 incidents per officer in 1991.

When you drill down in B.C., the numbers make even less sense. The RCMP in Surrey have 138 officers per 100,000 residents. In comparison Vancouver has a whopping 223 officers per 100,000 residents. Only the municipal force in Victoria has more police, with 235 officers per 100,000 residents. The remaining forces in cities of 100,000 people or more sit between a low of 112 officers per 100,000 (Coquitlam) and a high of 163 officers per 100,000 (Abbotsford).

It’s time to consider why we continue to expand our police forces and the scope of their control through new laws despite the fact that crime is down so significantly. Perhaps the moment has come to reinvest in what prevents people from being involved with police in the first place – drug treatment and detox, exit programs for sex workers, mental health supports, safe and affordable housing, and youth programs.

– Read more about this post on David Eby’s Blog.