09/22/2014 06:28 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:04 EDT

Policing costs continue to climb despite falling crime: study

Policing costs and the number of police officers relative to the population in many areas across Canada continue to increase despite a steady decline in crime rates, according to a new study published Monday.

The report, Police and Crime Rates in Canada: A Comparison of Resources and Outcomes, found that between 2001 and 2012, the average number of police officers per 100,000 Canadians rose 8.2 per cent while the crime rate during the same period dropped by 26.3 per cent.

- INFOGRAPHIC | Police costs: How Canada stacks up

- ANALYSIS | The exploding cost of policing in Canada

Similarly, the cost of policing rose 45.5 per cent between 1986 and 2012 while the average number of “criminal code incidents” handled by each officer plummeted by 36.8 per cent in the same time frame. In other words, while forces are dealing with fewer crimes, it’s costing the public more than ever to cover the costs.

The rising financial burden of policing in Canada has come under scrutiny in recent years. In January 2013, representatives from all levels of government, police chiefs, academics and civilian police watchdogs convened in Ottawa to discuss how to reduce costs, while many cities country-wide are trying to rein in ballooning municipal police budgets.

Monday’s report, published by the Fraser Institute, a centre-right Canadian policy think-tank whose work focuses largely on government policies affecting taxpayers, seems to reinforce the position of some critics that increased costs cannot be justified in light of reduced criminal activity.

Staffing efficiency

The study’s author, Livio Di Matteo, is a professor of economics at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont. He based his results on Statistics Canada data for police resources, costs, and crime rates for a select set of census areas rather than specific police forces. 

Di Matteo found that in 2012 (the year for which the most recent data on per capita costs was available) Ontarians paid the highest policing costs at $272.50 per person, while taxpayers in P.E.I. paid the least at $148.20.

Di Matteo also created a formula to predict the total number of police officers individual census areas should theoretically have, and then compared those numbers to the actual size of police forces providing a rough estimate of police staffing efficiency in those areas.

Based on the formula — which the author concedes attempts to account for a very complex set of socio-economic factors and crime rate considerations — Kelowna, B.C., Moncton, N.B., and Ottawa-Gatineau, Ont./Que., were the most efficiently staffed census areas in terms of the number of officers for every 100,000 people.

Among the least efficiently staffed census areas were Saint John, Winnipeg and Windsor, Ont.

The study concluded that there is “substantial scope” for police forces across Canada to reduce costs, but also acknowledged the potential costs associated with the "growing complexity and diversity of police work."

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