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Police services: Subcontracting to private security agencies would check spending growth

Montreal, January 29, 2015 – Despite a drop in the crime rate, policing costs have nearly doubled in Canada over the past 25 years. Faced with this unsustainable cost explosion, several cities throughout the country are considering budget cuts. In December, Montreal asked its police department to reduce the number of police officers on its payroll by around 45 per year for the next five years. In Winnipeg, the chairman of the city’s finance committee declared in early January that policing costs are out of control and that spending must be reduced.

In a new publication, the MEI looks into the question and proposes viable solutions for addressing the problem of growing policing costs in Canada without compromising public security. In certain cases, this new approach can even contribute to a reduction in crime.

Currently, police officers’ time is cannibalized by activities that should not fall within their job description. The study suggests that the work of police officers should be refocused on their essential functions, and that other categories of personnel should take care of auxiliary and administrative tasks. Some efforts have already been made in this direction in certain municipalities, for example by entrusting police cadets with foot patrol or bicycle duties during outdoor events. According to the authors, more can be done by modernizing police departments.

“It’s not a matter of replacing police officers, but of complementing their work. The way our police departments are managed is outdated and inefficient. There’s no need for a police officer, who is paid in part for his elevated social psychological and physical skills, to be immobilized to review photo radar images in order to confirm speed limit infractions. A properly trained civilian could perform this task at lower cost,” explains Mathieu Bédard, coauthor of the publication.

The authors illustrate the potential savings of this approach using the example of a roadblock operation aiming to nab impaired drivers, which would normally require eight police officers. In Montreal, if auxiliary duties were subcontracted to the private sector, and six of the eight participants were security agents, the cost would be reduced from $4,994 to $2,332, a saving of over 50%. In Toronto, the cost would be reduced from $6,140 to $2,330, an even greater saving. In the longer term, these gross savings could be transformed into net savings for taxpayers by limiting the need for new hires.

According to a study carried out in British Columbia, around 40% of patrol officers’ time is devoted to administrative duties, mainly the writing of reports. Canadian cities could draw inspiration from London, England, where for example a police officer is sent to the site of a burglary only if the burglars are still present. Otherwise, a security agent is dispatched to carry out tasks that are not essential police functions.

“These new approaches to the provision of security based on a better division of duties have proven their value both internationally and within Canada. And the subcontracting of certain tasks to the private sector does not just reduce costs for taxpayers. A closer collaboration between police officers and security agents would also increase police productivity, and potentially lead to a reduction in the crime rate. Canadian municipalities have a responsibility to adopt such pragmatic solutions in order to manage taxpayer funds as efficiently as possible,” concludes Jasmin Guénette, coauthor of the study.

The Economic Note entitled “Private Reinforcements for Public Police Forces?” was prepared by Mathieu Bédard and Jasmin Guénette, respectively Associate Researcher and Vice President of the MEI. This publication is available on our website.

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The Montreal Economic Institute is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit research and educational organization. Through its studies and its conferences, the MEI stimulates debate on public policies in Quebec and across Canada by proposing wealth-creating reforms based on market mechanisms.

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Interview requests: Mariam Diaby, Communications Director, Montreal Economic Institute / Tel.: 514-273-0969 ext. 2231 / Cell.: 514-668-3063 / Email: mdiaby@iedm.org

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