Fear is a very good motivator and this is what our country’s police forces wallets depend on: Fear of guns. Fear of gangs. Fear of drugs. Fear of violence. Fear to justify seemingly ever-increasing police budgets.
The reality is that fear of increasing violent crime is completely irrational. Canadians have never been safer. The most recent crime statistics continue a two-decade trend of decreasing violent crime. Violent-crime rates were 24-per-cent lower in 2016 than they were a decade earlier and are lower than they have been in the last half-century.
But while crime rates are going down, police budgets are not. Police budgets never do. A 2014 study conducted by the Fraser Institute found, that between 1986 and 2012, police expenditures rose by more than 45 per cent while crime rates plunged by 37 per cent. And there has yet to be a credible argument proving a causal relationship.
Each year, Canadian communities hand over billions of dollars to our police forces — fear pays these bills. Canadians wildly overestimate the risk of violent crime. A recent EKOS survey, commissioned by the Department of Justice, found that half of Canadians surveyed actually think crime rates are on the rise. So, perhaps it should be no surprise that we seem content to write the police a blank cheque.
We should, however, be much more critical of policing costs. At the very least we should not be so blind to transparent and cynical cash grabs by the boys in blue.
The soon-to-be legalization of marijuana offers a perfect illustration into the absurdities of the budget demands by forces. You would think it would be cheaper to investigate and arrest people for conducting legal activities — in that they don’t need to do either. But it turns out that, according to police, legal marijuana will actually be more expensive to enforce than illegal marijuana. The Edmonton police say they will need an extra $7 million per year, the Montreal police are also asking for millions more and the Ottawa police claim legal pot will cost add more than $6 million to their bottom line. When the Ottawa police came to the police services board with their hands out, they were able to provide little information on why they needed the extra money. Laughably, they claimed that they want to build a greenhouse to keep confiscated pot plants alive.
It is an absurd position that reflects a culture of greed and entitlement. But our politicians can’t seem to say no. Ontario has vowed to give municipalities an extra $40 million to enforce legal weed.
It is time to say no to the police.
Police want millions of dollars to equip more officers with Tasers. Police want more money to purchase and maintain their fleets of military tanks. Police want more money to hire more officers — the already bloated Ottawa police force asked for and received more money to add 90 additional officers to its small army.
This is all made possible because of unjustified and irrational fears — a public’s unfounded fear of increasing crime and an irrational political fear of standing up to the thick blue line.
Even the federal government has pushed more money on to the table. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale proudly announced that the federal budget would hand police forces $327.6 million up front and then $100 million a year to fight gun and gang violence. There is some evidence that despite the overall trends that gun violence is on the rise, but this evidence is based on small sample sizes and contrary to the longer-term trends. But no politician wants to say no to funding illusory public safety measures.
The police don’t need more resources. They deserve fewer. Perhaps there is indeed a need to allocate more resources to localized and short-term spikes in gun violence. That’s fine — police have those resources. We do, after all, provide Canadian police forces more than $14 billion per year in funding. Police just need to reallocate funds — perhaps away from the thousands of marijuana arrest they make every year. If shootings are a problem, maybe the police can cut down on their over-enforcement of nuisance offences that disproportionately target the poor. Perhaps they can save money by stopping their practice of conducting traffic stops on visible minorities who have committed no offences — as they have a tendency to do in Ottawa.
It is time for the police to make choices about how they spend our money and then be prepared to justify those choices.
At the very least, police should be asked to be honest and transparent about their actions in exchange for funding — no more malarkey about building weed greenhouses. The next time police come with their hands out looking for a blank cheque, we should insist that in return they promise not to lie about using invasive cellphone snooping devices or maybe we should insist that they commit to continuing formal charter training to avoid violating civil rights.
But it appears that policing is a money pit. Crime rates go down and costs go up. Marijuana is legalized and costs go up. Streets are safer than they have been in 50 years and more officers are hired.
This is a problem with an easy cure — and it starts by simply having the courage to say no.