Last year, council watchers learned that even if the board isn’t given the police budget to consider, as long as they vote to approve it, that is apparently enough to “ensure that the budget prepared” is in line with community values and best practices. Not putting a motion on the agenda, however, will require an additional meeting so city lawyers can check all the procedural boxes before the board recommends council waste an additional $1.1 million dollars a year. Welcome to accountability theatre.
This motion coming back to the board for consideration did give the RCMP the chance to present more information to the board about why they believe more police officers are needed. The RCMP are using a metric called “cop-to-pop” to demonstrate the need behind the request. But fundamentally, the cops-per-population ratio is not actually an indication of police need. Because, again, as a society we don’t actually know what we want police officers to be doing. And as anyone who works in government knows, a file with no well-defined purpose is a money sink.
RCMP chief superintendent Jeff Christie told the board the RCMP needs more cops because our population is expanding, and so calls for service are also increasing. The Mounties’ standard, like the fire department, is to show up fast. Unlike the fire department, what they do when they get there varies. Sometimes they do paperwork for insurance companies while a human body is scraped off some pavement. Sometimes they tell people to turn their music down. Sometimes they shoot up a firehall where people are hiding. Sometimes they make drug busts. Sometimes they shoot a drunk guy on his porch. Sometimes they arrest impaired drivers. Sometimes they tase a teenage girl. No matter what, the RCMP aim to get there and do it quickly. But the RCMP can’t respond as quickly as they want anymore, and that’s why Christie says his police force needs more cops.
Christie has the same issue with his police force that his city cop counterparts do with theirs: They have constantly been asked to do more and more. Last year the RCMP submitted a study called A 30 Year analysis of police service deliver and costing: “E” Division which outlines how fiscally unsustainable the current model of policing is. On top of that, Christie also has a scheduling problem because his cops already have too much to do. Hence, Christie’s ask for more cops. Even if he can’t prove they reduce crime.
Now that the city’s started to implement its new evidence-based approach to public safety, at some point in the next few years our police commissioners will have to figure out what they want our municipal police forces to do. But so far this budget season, the board seems more interested in deferring to the requests of police. Which is why on Jan. 8, 2024, we can expect the board to recommend council spend $1.1 million on RCMP officers they don’t know the city will need in the future. Even though the current model of policing isn’t really working, and the city says it wants to change what we’re doing, that change is being led by our elected officials. And for those officials, a lot of people want to hear that we are making change, but a lot of people also don’t want a change in the status quo. For most councillors on the board of police commissioners, the political incentives line up for them to appear to be agents of change, while simultaneously re-enforcing the status quo. That’s why the board, in spite of years of research saying we need to change policing, is going to recommend further mistakes in police spending in January.
Maybe, at some point, the city can usher in the police reform promised by council that is constantly stymied by the BOPC. Just don’t count on it this year.
Even in the city’s budget process, police spending will be approved a whole month before public safety spending is even considered. Police reform is not something our city is taking seriously. For anyone interested in watching this flop of a show you can catch the next performance in the Board of Police Commissioners’ theatrical run of shows on municipal accountability on January 8, 2024, when they will recommend increased police spending to council for the RCMP with no evidence to support its efficacy in achieving the city’s public safety goals. Admission to the performance is free, and if you are interested in being disappointed by poor performance in person, you can attend the show at 1pm on Monday, Jan 8, 2024 at the Alderney Landing meeting room.