Number of police officers per Canadian hits 13-year low, Goodale told

The number of police officers per capita is at a 13-year low in Canada, putting us behind our international allies, according to a memo drafted for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.

Nation's policing strength now lagging behind every other G7 country

Earlier this year, Statistics Canada published a report looking at police strength — defined as officers per capita. Researchers gathered data from federal, provincial, territorial, municipal and First Nations police services. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC )

The number of police officers per capita is at a 13-year low in Canada, putting us behind our international allies, according to a memo drafted for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.

"Canada has one of the lowest rates of police per capita among industrialized countries," reads the briefing note prepared by Public Safety staff and obtained under the Access to Information Act.

"The rate of police officers per 100,000 population in Canada is less than in all the G7 and Five Eyes countries."    

Earlier this year, Statistics Canada published a report looking at policing strength in Canada — defined as the number of officers per Canadian. Parts of that report were plucked out and summarized in a briefing note for Goodale, the minister tasked with overseeing the RCMP.

The Statistics Canada researchers gathered data from federal, provincial, territorial, municipal and First Nations police services.

According to its report, there were roughly 69,000 police officers in Canada on May 15, 2017 — about 188 officers for every 100,000 Canadians.

It's a slight drop from the 2016 policing strength rate and the sixth consecutive annual drop.

"How many police officers Canada should have is not straightforward," Goodale's spokesperson Scott Bardsley wrote in an email to CBC.

"The overall police-reported crime rate has been falling for more than 20 years. Yet the rate of police officers to population has been about the same for half a century, while the number of civilian personnel has continued to grow. Different types of crime require different resources depending on their complexity, making direct comparisons difficult.

"All that said, we are deeply concerned whenever a portion of Canadians don't feel that they're safe."

The numbers come as no surprise to Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association, who said officers have been reporting heavier workloads.

"There's a tremendous impact as a result on the individual officers," he said. "Police officers become busier and busier, they are going from call to call.

"One of the consequences is they often can't spend time responding to a call or investigating an offence as they'd like to, which undermines the services that we deliver to the public."

Visible minority numbers flagged

While policing affects large urban hubs and rural towns across Canada, it also has international implications — especially in the growing area of cybercrime policing, which includes investigations of online child pornography and financial crime.

"We're only just scratching the surface around those kinds of investigations," said Stamatakis.

"Everyone involved in public safety is going to have to spend some time seriously thinking about and considering whether our existing model is the right model to meet these emerging demands."

While the ratio of police officers to citizens is decreasing, the briefing note to Goodale notes the number of civilians working for police forces is growing. About 30 per cent of all police service personnel are not police officers, says the briefing note.

Those civilians are doing such jobs as record keeping, crime mapping and, in recent years, intelligence gathering and analysis.

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale is the minister in charge of overseeing the RCMP. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The so-called 'civilianization' of police forces has been a controversial phenomenon in Canada.

A 2017 survey commissioned by the Department of Public Safety notes that while civilians earning lower salaries and benefits than sworn officers do offer some cost savings, their pay gap and lower status in police organizations can lead to problems with morale and employee retention.

The briefing note for Goodale did note that the number of women in uniform continues to grow.

In 2017, 21 per cent of the RCMP's ranks were female, according to the briefing note.

"However, visible minorities continue to be under-represented among police officers," wrote the Public Safety staffer who prepared the briefing note.

Just eight per cent of Canada's police officers self-identified as belonging to a visible minority group in 2016; visible minorities accounted for 22 per cent of Canada's population that year.

That number is higher for the RCMP, where 10 per cent of officers identify as visible minority.

Crime severity index up slightly

After steadily decreasing over the past decade, Statistics Canada's crime severity index is slowly creeping up. The index, which measures both volume and severity of police-reported crime, was up slightly in 2016 compared to the previous two years.

The number of gun crimes has been rising, with 2,465 criminal firearms violations reported in 2016, a 30 per cent increase from 2013. That same year, police reported 141 gang-related homicides across the country, 112 of them involving guns.

Public Safety staff also pointed out that Indigenous Peoples "are proportionally represented among police officers in Canada."

In 2016, five per cent of all police officers self-identified as Indigenous, mirroring the overall population in Canada that year.

Statistics Canada is revamping its police survey to collect data on salary and operating expenditures, not just police numbers. The updated version was sent into the field last spring.

Despite having fewer officers per capita than in 2004, police services' operating expenditures increased modestly in the 2016/2017 fiscal year. Canada now spends $14.7 billion on policing.

Bardsley says the federal government has promised $2 billion for policing and crime prevention initiatives, including money for the RCMP and the First Nations Policing Program.

"The [RCMP] enrolled over 1,100 new cadets in 2017-18. That's almost triple the number from five years earlier," he wrote.

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