The numbers behind calls to 'defund the police'
TORONTO -- Calls to defund the police are growing across Canada. Decades of data collected by Statistics Canada shows how much police forces spend, where that money goes and how much officers are paid.
The latest data, collected by Statistics Canada in 2018, shows the average Canadian police officer makes $99,298. Officers with the Ontario Provincial Police earned the most, at $102,821, followed by municipal police officers serving communities of 100,000 or more, at $101,112.
Police officers who earned the least, on average, were from Quebec, making $87,245. That’s still significantly higher than the median Canadian household income of $61,400 for families and unattached individual in the same year.
Kelly Sundberg, a criminologist with Mount Royal University, said general duty police officers have a tough job and they should be compensated for danger pay. But, like many others calling for widespread police reform, he believes a new system of specially trained officers -- some part-time, possibly some volunteer -- could perform many non-emergency duties currently handled by police.
“We’ve been asking the police to do more and more and more. Police are social workers, addictions counsellors, community social workers, public health nurses. It’s an incredibly inefficient, expensive and illogical system,” Sundberg told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Thursday.
“The police, to their credit, have stepped up to the plate and done their best. It’s just that they’re not the best to do these functions.”
Salaries and wages make up more than two-thirds of total operating expenditures for police services across Canada. In 2018, that budget hit $15.1 billion -- a number that’s been steadily rising for decades.
While police spending has increased, the number of police officers per 100,000 people -- a measurement referred to as “police strength” -- has been shrinking. Since 2011, Canada’s level of police strength has declined.
In 2018, Canada’s three territories all had the highest levels of “police strength” at rates much higher than the rest of Canada. The Northwest Territories, where more than half of the population identifies as Indigenous, saw more than double the number of police officers per 100,000 people.
“We are spending more for less,” said Sundberg, who noted that numbers like this reinforce the need to consider a “tiered” police force with some officers hired to handle less urgent matters.
“That would increase the number of officers per 100,000. We could increase the numbers but reduce the cost,” he said.
In an interview with CTV National News Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme on Wednesday, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said she was open to “thoughtful and constructive dialogues” on police reform.
Sundberg said he hopes police forces consider following in the footsteps of nurses, doctors and teachers and become a “self-regulated profession” with clearer oversight. Part of the problem, he said, is that many officers enter into the force with a high school or limited college education and are hired based largely on their physical abilities.
“I think we want to have smart, compassionate, community-focused, intelligent, educated police officers who are problem solvers, critical thinkers. Right now, we’re too focused on the hard skills versus the soft skills,” he said.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, many protesters across the U.S. and Canada have called for police forces to be more representative of the communities they serve.
Nationwide, 22 per cent of Canadians identify as members of a visible minority, but only eight per cent of police officers are members of a visible minority. In Toronto, where half of the city identifies as members of a visible minority, just a quarter of the police force does.
But Erick Laming, PhD candidate at the University of Toronto whose research focuses on police use of force, said trust cannot be restored by simply hiring more people of colour. As part of his research, he asked community members whether seeing more visible minorities in policing would change the way they view police.
Most participants said no.
"It goes back to a mistrust and they’re afraid because they have family members who try to become police officers, and they get pushed out when they get in there because the culture is just that difficult to really change,” he said.
Following a conversation with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Lucki announced Monday that some RCMP officers would be outfitted with body cameras. Trudeau later said that body cameras were one of many measures the government was considering in efforts to address racism in policing.
If Canada wants to get serious about confronting the problem, Laming said, the country will need more than body cameras.
“I think there can be change, but there’s a laundry list of things we have to do to make that change happen,” he said. “Those problems are going to exist if you put body cameras on police officers or if you don’t.”
Sundberg said he hopes the ongoing anti-racism protests and conversations about defunding the police represent “a tipping point” in Canada, but he doesn’t think police should be the ones leading the conversation as to what those next steps look like.
“I think they need to be part of it and have a serious, permanent seat around the table. Do I think that they should be driving this? No. They are in conflict of interest. This has to be done in as objective, unbiased manner as possible.”