Economics of Policing

Dec 15, 2013

Dr Michael Kempa is an Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa, and a freelance journalist who enjoys diving into the messy reality of the politics and economics of policing and security. Editor Clive Addy talks to him about the current situation of rising costs without the benefit of rising budgets.

Q1: Following the work of Senate and House parliamentary committees, what do you view as key issues in the Economics of Policing, and what role have unions and associations played?

Indeed, the effects of unions and associations on the economics of policing are the ones that come first to most people’s mind and are the most reported in mainstream media. Whenever participants go to negotiation on police contracts, typically, they specify where they are to be considered in the pecking order with respect to other police organizations, so there is something of a ratcheting up effect of salaries and total budgets between police organizations.

This has been covered most substantially and is one element that must be resolved through looking at and amending the Police Services Acts of the provinces, to eliminate those clauses from collective agreements. I do not think that anyone would have a problem with tying salary rates to inflation, or to periodic review every couple of years, but the idea of tying them to one another as police structures only, has proved problematic.

Less covered than this, but a major element that has come up in parliamentary work and last January at the meeting on the Economics of Policing in Ottawa (sponsored by the federal government), is the structural shift in technology and economics that has opened up many new opportunities for crime, and, correspondingly, defined the necessary investigative venues to police and fight crime. However, we have not yet clearly thought through how we would approach these new challenges; we basically just spent more money.

Whenever a new opportunity for human interaction and trade comes up, whether in automobiles, trade, communication, banking or whatever other technology, the law is usually very much out of date because it has not foreseen these new spheres of such activity. The pace of exchange and interaction between people has really exploded in last 10 to 12 years, and therefore the law is quite out of date, so police organizations have had to play “catch-up” with many of the new threats to people’s rights and property – considering ways ­people can be defrauded or victimized in cyberspace, or in other forms of hyper-communications technology. Police organizations have been doing their level best, however, without the law to support them and a plan in place to deal with those new spaces, such efforts will obviously be a ­little disorganized. The Police, their civilian Boards, the Federation of Canadian Muni­cipalities, and the provinces have recognized this and accepted that they must define and allocate police organizations to confront these new challenges more systematically to avoid duplication and to adopt best practices and means. Lots of money is being spent on well-meaning but ineffectively-coordinated initiatives.

There are many opportunities arising, however, for using these same technologies against criminals, and obviously these demand some specialized skills. Governments and Boards therefore challenge the police to “skill-up” and pay for the training and infrastructure needed to go out into those spaces and do coordinated policing. That has been very expensive.

There is also a profound shift in structural economics – and one of the truisms of social science and economics is that shifts in policing shadow shifts in our very economic systems. From farm-based, to industrial, then to technological economies, similar shifts in the focus, means and demands of policing were forced.

Now, in our information-heavy global economy, these shifts and interconnectivity have even greater consequences for public safety. We can imagine the scale of crime arising in an industrial time when major closures of factories led to unemployment and, in turn, to increased crime rates. However, in today’s environment, though similar, it is the scale, reach and acceleration of these criminal effects where an economic downturn on a global scale spreads the disorder and accelerates organized violence and crime. As we see around the world and at home today the police are very much in the middle of that.

There is therefore a need for a new plan, for skilling up police organizations to deal with this global economy and its technological challenges – and the catch-up of the law to support these necessary shifts in enforcement.

Q2: As we look ahead over the next generation do you see changes in the allocation of responsibilities between federal, provincial and municipal policing that might lighten the economic load on the taxpayer? Do you see technology and information sharing as reducing or increasing costs, and what realms of traditional policing might you see relegated to less costly security resources? 

One of the very positive things that we have seen arise in Canada is the integration of policing. They have often included federal, provincial and municipal / local (sometimes the RCMP is contracted to do all three) as well as other federal government players that make a contribution to financial, market and environmental security, or even such other members as the Provincial Financial Securities Regulators, since organized crime crosses (and ignores) our legislative boundaries.

More and more, agencies like the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) are called upon to contribute. Perhaps then, the focus should be for say, the RCMP to create a best policing model for each of these major challenges and include the contribution to be made by each of the players, regardless of level. We have had some good examples of this ‘all level coordination’ (such as the G20), with limited time for planning, but where more could have been done to oversee and coordinate the contributions made by all of the policing players.

The Integrated Border Enforcement Teams (IBETs) and others, such as the Saskatchewan Hub Model with its Partnerships Evaluation, are also successful models. There are many such cooperative efforts which must evolve and become better used.

Innovation may indeed go as far, and may incorporate work being done by less costly non-public means. Take for instance a murder investigation, a very serious crime and definitely in the public interest to see justice is done. Would there be a place, at some point in the long and serious policing process, to bring in a lower paid non-state actor? More obviously, for say a property crime, might not the bulk of the work be done by less costly means? It would most likely entail starting at the legal public police level, but then sent out to capable but less costly agents or consultants.

Again, however, I would like to make the point that all resources must be used and coordinated. In this light, very under-used resources that should be available to policing are often the Police Boards, and the provincial and federal governments themselves. I do believe that it is the “feds” that must stitch-up the laws; develop a National Framework for Policing; perform the coordination to effect these necessary changes; and do so with the cooperation of all levels of government to lessen the costs and prove effective. Canadian public safety demands such efforts to maintain order and increase efficiencies.

The key to all of this is relevant and effective legislation and policing processes, pertinent to these new dynamic challenges – and properly and efficiently enforced.

Q3: What other significant policing issues do you see emerging as we rely more heavily on immigration for our continuing prosperity in the next generations? Are there economic policing issues we should foresee?

There are two parts to that question for me. The first is pure good news. Statistical analyses done by academics and by Statistics Canada, of communities with high levels of immigration in Toronto, Montreal, and academic studies in the U.S. (most especially Chicago), show that immigration is good for crime rates. It matters not where the immigration comes from in the world, but for the first 5 to 10 years of naturalization in Canada or the U.S., the communities with the highest immigration – no matter the source – have the lowest crime rates. That is a most surprising and counter-intuitive fact.

In the first five or so years, the new arrivals have a number of protective factors. Most especially, their families and strong integration into their communities sort of insulate them from crimes or delinquency when the going does get tough, such as socio-economic inability to progress or difficulty finding jobs. At the beginning, the bonds immigrants bring on arrival keep them from criminal activity.

The warning is that these bonds do not reduce crime forever: the crime rates start to rise in those communities if they are not integrated into the broader society and given fair opportunities.

So high immigration may drive policing costs down in those early years – but the more pressing message for police organizations, is that the needs of these communities force the police to adjust their strategies and tactics in the immediate term. The police must go out to these communities and bond with these new citizens and create that basis for working with the police in a proactive fashion to reduce crime in their community. They have come here because they believed they would have a better life in Canada and we must show them that this is a safer and better place to raise a family. This means that a high degree of outreach in these communities must be maintained for all to benefit.

Organized crime and violence can rise in specific locations and groups, it is therefore vital to get the idea of trust and police presence in these communities early on to mitigate and eradicate this. This does indeed say much of what future policing in Canada must be doing as we increase our reliance on immigration to sustain our well-being.

Q4: What areas do you feel need further consideration? 

Given the complexity of current security and order, and the corollary complexity of its policing, there is a definite need to increase the non-police advice at the top of non-policing organizations. What I mean by that is, not taking anything away from operational matters, or managing of policing police tactical matters, I feel we must ramp up the influence and responsibilities of Police Boards. So far, we have not really optimized the contribution of civilian oversight. Investing into this type of oversight, I believe, will result in large dividends down the road. Not all police officers are experts at organizational management – so better links between police command and outside professionals would be good.

The Police Boards have done good work, but they have not been given the responsibility and resources to optimize their full potential. Let us make sure that they have access to legal counsel and the proper complement of people with a business background to make the necessary contribution to the police effort that the police themselves do not have. We are not talking about having a bunch of anti-police cranks or radical professors harassing police management, but rather about good advice on Human Resource practices and administration and having a proper business case in respect of their needs for new technology to be able to face the challenges from those outside the “police parish”. Some up-front investment here would also bring a short term dividend, I am sure.

I would also support linking promotion criteria and remuneration more closely to skills and performance as opposed to seniority and years of experience. This is not easy but once a proper balance of skills and performance is reached in promoting criteria for policing organizations, I would suggest that whomever achieves this be sent immediately to the universities to do the same with their tenure and promotion criteria. Though most public unions – police, university and government – will shy away from this, we can expect that most agencies in the public sector will be shaken up in these ways in the near future. There is money to be saved and improvements in services delivered to be made.

Clive Addy is Executive Editor of FrontLine Security magazine.
© FrontLine Security 2013