08/20/2012 05:11 EDT | Updated 10/20/2012 05:12 EDT

It's Quality Over Quantity When It Comes To Cops


What size should our police force be to ensure law, order, safety and confidence?

The answer most would probably give: "As many as it takes to do the job."

That's a bit of a cop-out (no pun intended) because "numbers" aren't the essential thing in guaranteeing an effective and competent police force.

Training, discipline, equipment and a tradition of serving are vital.

One hopes these qualities exist in Toronto's police force, regardless of their numbers. It's a bit like the army -- a small unit of trained soldiers will usually handle a horde, witness the colonial wars when Britain ruled the world.

Last week, the Sun compared police and crime statistics in Toronto and Chicago -- two cities of similar size, but vastly different cultures and tradition.

Toronto's 5,600 police have coped with 33 murders so far this year and 141 shootings. Chicago's 12,000 cops have had to deal with 313 murders and 1,453 shootings -- both almost 10 times greater than the numbers in Toronto, with double the numbers of police on the job.

More police doesn't necessarily translate into fewer murders, nor does fewer police result in more murders as Toronto and Chicago indicate.

Of course, Chicago's history is different than Toronto's, and in the U.S. guns are more available than here. We don't have the same culture of violence that exists in parts of the U.S. (not to mention less civilized parts of the world). But the evidence is enough to indicate that sheer numbers of police are not the formula for effective police.

Leadership is important and, as we all know, leadership starts at the top.

For all the problems that exist for Toronto and rhetoric about "the year of the gun," we've always been blessed with police that have had the confidence of the public, and who live up to the "serve and protect" motto.

If the police budget is cut, and police numbers reduced, the cops won't be happy but their tradition is such (one hopes) that they'll continue to perform with high standards. Again, the army comparison is valid: our soldiers starved of equipment, invariably punch above their weight and exceed expectations.

An Ernst & Young study of Toronto police suggested an annual savings of $52 million was possible by implementing shift and schedule changes, using civilians in some roles, and not requiring police to hang around construction and road repair sites -- arguably the most boring and needless police roles in the city.

Every faction of the province needs to curb spending -- and it would be inspiring if the bloody politicians themselves showed signs of exercising personal restraint.

Most of us don't belittle police getting good pay. They are worth whatever they get. It's a pity one can't say the same of teachers, whose union seems to have a stranglehold on the provincial government.

As Christina Blizzard has pointed out, for nine years the McGuinty government "has caved in to every outrageous contract demand of the teacher unions."

In the harsh year of 2008 when the private sector was struggling, teachers got a 12.5% pay hike. Now they want a 5.5% hike -- which the McGinty government says it won't pay -- and will ban teachers' strikes. There's no shortage of qualified teachers who want jobs in Ontario, but there are few openings for them.

Their union doesn't seem to have the same dedication to serving as our cops do.

Pay the cops well, even if their numbers are cut, because we need them more than we need reluctant teachers who can easily be replaced.