Jack Knox: StatCanada wrong(ish) about cops

Jack Knox mugshot genericStatistics Canada says Victoria has the highest concentration of cops in Canada. Statistics Canada is wrong(ish).

The agency can be forgiven, though. It’s used to dealing in clear numbers, not in what passes for logic here in Dysfunction-By-The-Sea, where comparisons with cities in the rest of the country are not so much apples-to-apples as apples-to-Shouldn’t Have Done the Brown Acid at Woodstock.

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At issue is a new report showing Victoria has 236 police officers for every 100,000 people, which StatCan says makes the capital the most heavily policed biggish city in Canada, ahead of the likes of Edmonton (183 per 100,000) and Ottawa (130).

Here’s where the numbers are misleading: In the rest of Canada, an area the size of Greater Victoria would be served by a single police force.

Were this anywhere but the capital region, where every neighbourhood from Southwest Saanich to tent city gets to incorporate as its own municipality, complete with its own police force, fire department and novel/experimental/delightfully iconoclastic approach to bike lanes/pot shops/speed limits, the numbers would be different.

When StatCan calculates the figures for Victoria, it’s actually just talking about the city proper and Esquimalt and their combined population of 103,000, served by the 243 officers of the VicPD.

The more appropriate computation would involve a larger footprint. There are 566 cops in the four municipal departments and three RCMP detachments from Sooke to Sidney. They serve a combined population of 367,770.

That works out to 154 officers per 100,000 residents, which puts Greater Victoria in the same territory as other medium-sized Canadian cities.

The single police force serving the 450,000 people of Ontario’s Niagara region has 157 officers per 100,000 people. In London, Ont., population 392,000, it’s 148. In Saskatoon, pop. 258,000, it’s 176. In Hamilton, pop. 556,000, it’s 151.

What the StatCan numbers really do is reinforce the contention that Victoria and Esquimalt taxpayers do more than their share of the region’s heavy lifting.

As is true in many cities, the bulk of Greater Victoria’s police resources are concentrated downtown. It’s where the action is, where people from the entire region go to work, play, get drunk and punch one another in the nose. Most of the region’s liquor-licensed seats are there. Ditto for its street problems.

But unlike in other cities, the burden of paying for this isn’t spread equally across the community. According to the provincial government, policing cost Victoria residents $454 per capita in 2015. Esquimalt was close behind at $439. That’s more than any other jurisdiction in the province, including Vancouver, where the figure was $406.

That compares to $326 in Saanich, $266 in Central Saanich and $260 in Oak Bay, the other communities with municipal forces.

Those who live in municipalities covered by the RCMP pay less. In 2015, Sidney residents paid $211 per capita, Colwood $193, Langford $156, North Saanich $145, Sooke $125 and View Royal $115.

Their numbers are relatively low in part because Ottawa subsidizes such communities based on their population, and in part because the RCMP staffs detachments more thinly than municipal departments do. (On the other hand, those detachments can draw on the regional and specialized services based out of the RCMP’s Island District building on Nanaimo Street, where more than 140 officers work.)

None of this is particularly new. Nor is it likely to change, not without the intervention of the provincial government, which has embraced the funding-disparity issue with all the enthusiasm of a man scraping something off his shoe.

(The province wasn’t always this uninterested: In 2003, when the Liberals forced the shotgun marriage of the Victoria and Esquimalt police departments, the merger was thought to be the first step toward wider amalgamation. That effort stalled due to opposition from local MLAs.)

Bottom line: Victoria and Esquimalt can complain all they want, but the other municipalities will never volunteer to increase their share of the tax load. Why would they?

The other bottom line: VicPD’s calls for service have been rising 12 per cent a year, the cost of investigations is going through the roof and the force has just two more cops than it did in 2009.

At some point, something has to give.

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