Some of Ontario's top police officials say funding cuts are pulling officers away from fighting crime.

These days, police officers deal with everything from court security to nuisance bears — and that's keeping them from real police work.

Sudbury police Chief Frank Elsner has joined a chorus of other police leaders in Ontario who want a clear mandate for officers, instead of asking them to fill in where other programs fall short.


Greater Sudbury Police Chief Frank Elsner (CBC)

"Only about 25 per cent of the calls we go to — and that’s pretty much standard across the country — are actually what people would consider policing calls,’ where there's a crime is in progress and all those types of things," Elsner said.

"Seventy-five per cent of what we do [are] things like mental health. There have been times in this community where every officer I've had has been at the hospital."

Officers picking up the slack

A spokesperson with the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police said Elsner's police force is not unique in its use of resources in Ontario — police often escort the mentally ill. Joe Couto said officers are also on call in the courtroom. And they have recently been tasked with handling nuisance bear calls.

Couto said when the province recently dumped the "Bearwise" trapping and relocation program, officers had to pick up the slack.

"When governments download things like the Bearwise — which is a download — police are not going to say, 'well that's not our job we're not going to come,’ because typically we're dealing with public safety," he said.

"What we need to be talking about is ‘what do we want police officers to do?’"

Couto noted that leaning on police isn't exactly the cheapest alternative.

According to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, policing costs have risen from $2 billion in 2001 to more than $35 billion in 2010.

Ontario's police chiefs want a clearer mandate for their officers as soon as possible. A new provincial task force called the Future of Policing Advisory Committee is currently looking at ways to define a more strategic direction for policing in the province.

Elsner said that committee is expected to report back some time next year.