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Good Policing Fosters Growth

Mon August 5, 2013

The July 23, 2013 Telegraph-Journal commentary "Let's talk policing costs," attributed to Bill Tufts, is laden with errors. It seriously misrepresents the community's interests in public safety and policing in Saint John. This commentary does a disservice to the community; good decision-making must be based on good data.

Mr. Tufts is a pensions and employee benefits consultant from Hamilton, Ont.

Mr. Tufts begins by comparing Saint John to the City of Detroit. He claims that the financial collapse of Detroit was "a direct result of poor financial management by the city's politicians." He implies that police costs were a key factor. While the decline of Detroit is without doubt the consequence of decades of troublesome decisions and global shifts in production and markets, it is unlikely that the cost of policing was a factor. In fact, while the population of the City of Detroit declined 60 per cent between 1950 and 2011 to 700,000, the greater Detroit Area population increased 42 per cent to 4.3 million during the same period. Given that Detroit has a reputation as "America's most dangerous city" (according to the FBI, cited in Forbes), it is possible that the decline of metro Detroit is a symptom of under-investment in effective policing.

Contrary to Mr. Tuft's sage advice, Detroit's flight of population and investment from the city core to the suburbs is most likely a reflection of public safety concerns. Homeowners and businesses look for security of investment. At its most basic, this means investing where you are safe. Adequate policing is a growth strategy for the community.

Mr. Tufts states that Saint John police costs were over budget by more than $1 million each of the last three years (2010-2012.) In truth, the police force was over-budget $31,094 in 2010, under-budget $8,396 in 2011, and over-budget $8,998 in 2012, for an annual average variance of much less than one per cent - by any standard, a commendable example of fiscal management.

Mr. Tufts states that "protection services ate up 50 per cent of the money collected in property taxes." In truth, policing is only one of a number of municipal services grouped as Protective Services (policing, fire, water cost transfer, emergency measures, and other protection services); and policing in Saint John is less than 15 per cent (and declining) of the city budget - considerably less than the 20 per cent and increasing average demand that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities reports nationally for municipal policing.

Mr. Tufts states that the whole country is struggling with rising policing costs. In truth the whole country is struggling with costs and service demands downloaded from federal and provincial levels of government. The criminal justice system (i.e. the court) increasingly places greater burden on police services through legislation, case law and regulations; disclosure requirements are one example. Provincial services such as mental health, addiction services, and social services are reduced in ways that create greater demand for policing.

The problem is not inefficient policing; the problem is downloading. These are service demands that are not optional for police; in the absence of senior government intervention, police are the last resort. And police will be the first to acknowledge that law enforcement isoften not the most effective way to deal with matters of addiction, mental health, poverty or family breakdown.

Mr. Tufts states that Canada-wide spending on criminal justice "soared 37 per cent" from 2002-2011, and that "Saint John policing costs increased 47.8 per cent from 2002 to 2011." He implies that criminal justice expenditures are a benchmark for reason­able increases in the cost of policing during the same period. In truth criminal justice costs are a related but very different expenditure than policing (see the earlier discussion on downloading). Policing costs in Saint John increased 42.37 per cent from 2000 to 2013, but in each of the past five years, an increasingly smaller portion of the city budget.

Mr. Tufts states that "the per capita [policing] cost for Saint John works out to $324 per person" and "Quispamsis estimates their police at about half the cost." In truth the data is readily available in reports from the New Brunswick Department of Environment and Local Government (no estimates required): the per capita cost of policing in Saint John is $324 per person; in Quispamsis it is $157 per person. What the reports do not reveal is that the two are very different communities and are not a sound basis for comparison.

Both are part of what Statistics Canada calls a CMA (Census Metropolitan Area), defined as areas "consisting of one or more neighbouring municipalities situated around a major urban core." Saint John is the major urban core; Quispamsis is a neighbouring municipality. By definition the costs in CMA neighbouring municipalities will be less by virtue of services provided in the major urban core. Mr. Tufts should be sensitive to such an error in analysis, given his exposure to the world of insurance and pensions actuaries.

Mr. Tufts states that we should benchmark Saint John Police salaries against the average wage of workers in the province ($34,500 in 2011). In truth, compensation benchmarking is done by identifying similar jobs that are offered by competitors and finding out what compensation is offered to the workers filling those jobs. The pool of all workers in New Brunswick are not in jobs similar to policing. Compensation benchmarking does occur as part of the collective bargaining process, whether negotiation or arbitration. Given the experience nation-wide, benchmarking is not a solution for the escalating costs of policing.

Mr. Tufts states that comparing compensation to "another city that does not have the problems of the Canadian system" might be a worthwhile analysis. He suggests Portland, Me, where police salaries are considerably lower. In truth, comparing against cities that are by definition not comparable (the U.S. context offers tax benefits and other opportunities not available in Canada, for example) is a haphazard analysis that offers little insight, and may introduce new problems to our Canadian experience. The Bangor Daily News (May 2012) states that "Law enforcement agencies across the state report they are having difficulty in finding applicants who want to become police officers." The Telegraph-Journal editorial policy for letters and commentary is to "edit for length, libel, taste or non-verifiable information." In the present case, we believe verifiable information presented as fact was not verified, and it is an inaccurate retelling of data from public documents. We believe this commentary does a disservice to the community.

The Saint John Police Force remains committed to providing adequate, effective and efficient service; and to seek opportunities for cooperation and integration that reduce the cost of our service or improve service outcomes.