This past winter, road construction work was taking place on the main thoroughfare I use to travel to work. Due to the volume of traffic and the size of the machinery being used on this stretch of road, a regional police car with an officer in it was parked at one of the busier intersections every day during the morning and afternoon commute.
Each day I drove past it I thought, “Wow, I bet that officer would rather be doing something else.” As a taxpayer, I wish the officer was assisting a victim of a crime or investigating a far more serious matter. What a massive waste of resources.
It resonated especially after reading an article from the Financial Post last October in which Garda CEO Stephan Crétier pointed out that if some public policing tasks were surrendered to private security, it could save taxpayers a lot of money.
Crétier has been pushing for a partnership between municipal governments and the private security industry. It could help municipalities control their spending in the area of paid duty officers and routine tasks that fall under “prevention of crime.”
Patrolling of major streets and parks, event security, surveillance and more can be done by the private sector. Several Canadian cities, such as Edmonton, have private security firms carry out by-law enforcement.
The Commissionaires also have contracts in this area, primarily in the west — notably Kelowna’s parks and city properties.
The hesitation to hand more security work to private firms comes partly from a fear that they aren’t as competent and won’t be as accepted by the public as a police body with power. The public perception is still such that security companies don’t employ people that are trained and paid as well as police officers.
At the end of the day though, dollars tend to prompt people to sit up and take notice to the reality of the situation. In early March, it was revealed that a City of Toronto audit report to be released later this year will show that paid policing is costing taxpayers in that city millions — as much as $2 million a year.
Figures from a draft report of the City of Toronto auditor, published in the Toronto Star, show that in 2009, Toronto police worked 40,919 paid duty assignments, earning $65 an hour — nearly twice the rate of a regular constable. In York Region, officers earn $57 an hour, Ottawa $58, Montreal $42 (time and half their hourly rate), and Peel $64.
Construction companies (19 per cent) and utility companies (18 per cent) were the two largest clients for Toronto in 2009.
According to City rules, the paid duty officers are required. It has been argued that when construction takes place close to a signalized intersection, there are situations where a paid duty officer would be needed to direct traffic. But aren’t there also situations where the use of guards, warning signs and barriers would be sufficient?
There has to be the political will to tackle this issue. Michael White, CPP, told me it reminded him of when he made a presentation to the Niagara Regional Police Services Board five years ago, showing them where they would save millions a year by utilizing security guards for such functions as securing an arson scene, protecting some other crime scenes to prevent tampering as well as attending after the fact reports of theft and other “minor” or very low priority reporting situations.
“They didn’t accept my proposal and unfortunately no reason for not accepting it was ever given,” he told me.
But as municipalities such as Toronto, start to dig deep to find much-needed savings and eliminate the “gravy” in the system, it may well be an area they could be convinced to take a second look at.