Spending More Money on Police Shows No Clear Link to Lower Crime Levels
Spending More Money on Police Shows No Clear Link to Lower Crime Levels

One effect we’re now seeing from the inflation that is largely a product of the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are municipal tax increases on a scale that was politically unimaginable not long ago.

Brandon, the second largest city in Manitoba, is proposing a 10 percent increase. Calgary raised taxes by 7.8 percent. The City Council in Vancouver approved a 7.5 percent increase, and Toronto’s City Council is debating a proposed 10.6 percent increase.

One item that generally isn’t getting a lot of attention in all this, however, is the cost of policing, the single biggest expense in most Canadian municipalities.

While it varies by province, in many communities police budgets are debated by police boards, which then pass on their recommendations to city councils for final approval. In Toronto, the Council is looking at a proposal to raise police spending by 18.3 million Canadian dollars, to 1.35 billion dollars.

But in social media and at City Hall, the police service is pushing for the Council to adopt the police board’s recommendation and add a further 12.6 million dollars to the increase. Chief Myron Demkiw said that not doing so would create “unacceptable risk and imperil the service’s ability to ensure public safety, to offer community policing, and to proactively patrol the city.”

Chief Demkiw is not the first police official to paint a dire picture of the consequences of rejecting a police force’s request for more money. And it has come at about the same time when researchers published a paper looking at the relationship over a decade between increased police spending and crime in Canada’s 20 largest cities.

The result? “We didn’t see kind of consistent correlation between crime rates and police funding,” Mélanie Seabrook, a researcher at the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions and the paper’s lead author, told me.

While the vast majority of those cities increased what they spent on police services, after adjusting for inflation, only Edmonton and Saskatoon experienced a statistically significant drop in crime between 2010 and 2020, the study period. Conversely, Peel Region in Ontario, which includes Mississauga and Brampton; Quebec City; Gatineau, Quebec; and Winnipeg had significant upticks in crime after police spending was increased. For the other municipalities, it was essentially a wash.

Ms. Seabrook, whose lab is part of St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto, said that to avoid skewing the study, the researchers had not used raw crime statistics. More police spending could mean more police officers who, in turn, make more arrests, increasing the level of reported crime.

Instead, they matched police spending with a crime severity index published by Statistics Canada that adjusts the volume of crimes based on how serious they are and factors in population. The theory, she said, is that major crimes will always be reported regardless of how many police officers patrol a particular place.

Finding out how much cities actually spent on policing, rather than what they budgeted, proved to be more of a struggle because many cities don’t make the expenditures readily available, Ms. Seabrook said.

“A big challenge,” she said of finding out what policing costs. “That’s part of the reason why there’s not much of this type of research on police budgets in Canada.”

While the overall finding of the paper, which will appear in Canadian Public Policy, is consistent with similar studies in the United States, Ms. Seabrook said that she and the other researchers had been surprised by the wide disparity in police spending across Canada. At the high end, Vancouver spends about 500 Canadian dollars per resident annually, while Quebec City’s police force gets about 200 dollars per capita.

“It obviously brings up questions of why there is such a large difference in spending and what is being taken into account in determining those budgets,” she said, adding that the increases in budgets were within the context of a long overall downturn in crime across Canada.

Ms. Seabrook and the other researchers are not finished. Their next project is to take the data they have compiled on police spending to compare it with what the cities spent on social services during the same time period.

“We’re hoping that will shed some light on what types of services are prioritized by municipalities,” she said.

  • Several Republican politicians in the United States are suggesting that it’s time to build a wall along the border with Canada. But when my colleague Jazmine Ulloa traveled to Pittsburg, N.H., a border town, she found no support for the idea.

  • A Federal Court judge has ruled that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s use of the Emergencies Act to end a truck convoy protest that upturned Ottawa and several border points was an unjustified infringement of civil rights and that the government didn’t meet the conditions legally required to invoke it. The decision contradicts the conclusion of a public inquiry, and the government plans to appeal.

  • Norman Jewison, the Toronto-born filmmaker whose movies ranged from the socially conscious drama “In the Heat of the Night” to the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” and the romantic comedy “Moonstruck,” has died at the age of 97.

  • British Columbia is expected to be hit by excessive rain and heavy snowfall from two atmospheric rivers.

  • Jesse Green, chief theatre critic for The Times, cites “Casey and Diana,” by Nick Green, a playwright in Toronto, as an example of how to portray Diana, Princess of Wales, without having her become “dragooned into trauma porn, mauled with the excuse of reincarnating her.”

  • A man in Quebec who spread conspiracy theories online suggesting that the Canadian government was deliberately starting wildfires to convince people that climate change is happening has now pleaded guilty to setting more than a dozen fires.

  • Almost a decade after nine blue whales died after being trapped by ice near Newfoundland, a DNA analysis of their remains and other blue whales has found a ticking time bomb in blue whale demographics, odd migration patterns and clandestine cross-species matings.

  • A rare strain of salmonella that sickened scores of people, including several infants, across Canada and the United States has been linked to bearded dragons kept as pets.

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for two decades.

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