Where’s a cop when you need one? Probably filling out reports. Police services need to reduce costs or risk drastic cuts, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told a national summit in Ottawa this week. The conference was attended by police chiefs, government officials and academics concerned about the rising costs of policing.
Toews said the current system is unsustainable and police services need to find ways to reform. He said the public is becoming wary of rising police costs, especially when crime rates are declining in Canada.
But the problem is not so much fat police budgets — departments have been under pressure to economize for years — as it is growing demand on police resources from government-mandated changes, court-ordered requirements and public expectations.
Deputy Chief John Ducker of the Victoria Police Department says reporting requirements are one of the things that stretch the service thin. Almost everything police do is recorded in PRIME (Police Records Information Management Environment), the provincewide police information system implemented in 2003.
“That has really cut into [officers’] available time,” Ducker said. “A lot of time is spent filling out templates and meeting requirements. It has had the effect of taking officers away from random patrols.”
Other pressures come from such incidents as the Robert Dziekanski case. Dziekanski died in October 2007 after being Tasered by four RCMP officers. As a result of the subsequent inquiry, officers are now required to fill out several pages of forms in the PRIME system if a Taser is used. Any use of force, other than handcuffing or guiding a person into a car, requires additional reporting.
New minimum-sentencing requirements from the federal government have also increased the load for police, as suspects facing a minimum of three years in prison are less likely to plead guilty. That means prosecutors demand more work from the police to ensure cases are successful.
Disclosure — making all the evidence in a case available to the defence — places a major burden on police departments. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1991 that Crown prosecutors have a duty to provide to the defence all evidence that could possibly be relevant.
“The cost of disclosure to the justice system is staggering,” said Ducker. “Our detectives spend 60 per cent of their time doing disclosure, 40 per cent doing investigation work.”
When cuts are made to services from government and non-profit agencies, problems are downloaded onto the police. People with drug addictions and mental illness are released onto the street, theoretically for what’s called community care, but resources in that area are scarce or non-existent.
Police become the government agency of last resort and are left to handle the problems, especially when people cross the line into criminal behaviour.
Because they can’t respond to every call, police are increasingly called on to perform triage — to assess the complaints for seriousness and decide on priority.
Investigation of traffic accidents is becoming increasingly complex, partly because police are expected to supply the evidence for not only criminal proceedings, but possible civil cases, as well.
Technology plays an increasingly important role in police work. That can result in more efficiency and effectiveness, but it also adds to the training load.
These and a plethora of other demands take officers away from core police work: preventing crime, pursuing offenders and ensuring public safety.
No one wants to see a decline in standards of reporting and accountability on the part of police, least of all the police themselves, but in demanding those standards, we should also provide the resources to meet them.
© Copyright 2013