I call the meeting to order.
Good morning, everyone. This is meeting number 66 of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, on Tuesday, January 29, 2013. Before we get into welcoming our guests for today, I want to welcome our committee members back after a constituency break and winter break.
It's good to have each one of you here. It's also good to come back and to hit restart—or whatever we want to do—on this study that we've undertaken. We're going to continue our study on the economics of policing in Canada.
As one of our witnesses today we have, from the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the assistant deputy minister, community safety and partnerships branch, Mr. Shawn Tupper.
Mr. Tupper, welcome.
We also have with us the director general of the policing policy directorate of the law enforcement and policing branch.
Mr. Potter, welcome back.
From the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, we have the deputy commissioner, east region, Mr. Steve Graham.
Our committee thanks our witnesses for helping us out with this study on the cost of policing in Canada.
I also want to say that this is really the second time that some of you have appeared before our committee. We began the committee in the midst of votes, I think, so that meeting was interrupted, and there were just other things that were happening in the life of the Parliament. I know that we were interrupted that day, so it's good to welcome you back. We very much look forward to what you have to say. We'll now turn the time over to Mr. Potter.
Welcome. We look forward to your comments.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good morning to everyone. It's good to be back here to talk to you about the important topic of the economics of policing. As noted last time we met, the economics of policing is about the evolution and sustainability of policing at a time of fiscal constraints and enhanced public expectations.
Although the Government of Canada is but one of the many partners involved in this issue, the Minister of Public Safety has been providing leadership. The minister introduced this issue this time last year at a meeting of federal, provincial, and territorial ministers of justice and public safety in Charlottetown. At that time, two next steps were agreed on: first, to share information on initiatives that have improved the efficiency and effectiveness of policing; and second, to convene a summit on the economics of policing.
Building on that, at the next FPT ministers meeting in Regina in October of 2012, it was further agreed that after the summit there would be consultations on the development of a shared forward agenda for policing in Canada.
I am pleased to say that there has been progress on all three steps, and I would like to update you today on that work.
The summit on the economics of policing was a Government of Canada event hosted by Minister Toews on behalf of all FPT ministers. It took place on January 16 and 17 in Ottawa. The summit included 30 speakers from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand, as well as participants representing the policing community and other stakeholders in Canada.
The agenda for the summit was developed in cooperation with all governments and the three national policing associations in Canada. It was built around three pillars for reform: one, efficiencies within police services; two, new models of community safety; and three, efficiencies within the justice system.
In his welcoming address at the summit, Minister Toews made a number of key points. The minister referred, for example, to “a shift in public expectations”, and noted the following:
A decade ago, the average Canadian readily accepted, almost without question, steady increases in police budgets.
Today, however, there are increasing calls to demonstrate the value of the investments that all governments make in public services, including policing.
And because policing performance measures are not well-developed, widely applied, or reported to the public, there is little clarity as to the efficiency and effectiveness of police spending.
The minister also outlined actions being taken to address those areas of policing for which the ministry is directly responsible. For example, the RCMP is implementing reductions in its annual funding through administrative and operational support reforms. In addition, with the passing of the Expenditure Restraint Act in 2009, federal salary increases, including those of RCMP members, have been held to 1.5% annually. It is expected that these key cost containment measures will help keep RCMP policing services sustainable in the future.
In concluding, the minister stated that police services face a couple of options: they can do nothing, and may eventually be faced with having to make cuts or significantly reduce the growth rate of police spending depending on the fiscal situation in their jurisdiction, or they can be proactive, get ahead of the curve, and have greater flexibility in designing and implementing both incremental and meaningful structural reforms in order to better serve Canadians.
Several of Minister Toews' points were reinforced by his provincial counterpart from B.C., Minister Bond, in her welcoming remarks. She stressed the importance of getting the best possible return on taxpayers' investments in policing, and of finding new and better ways of doing things, whether it's police service delivery, investigating and preventing crime, training or, most importantly, working together. That, she remarked, means challenging the status quo, which is never easy.
These remarks by the two ministers served to set the context and direction for the summit. Although the summit was but one step on a longer journey, it was a productive two days of informative presentations and frank dialogue. Comments from the participants and formal evaluations submitted by the attendees both confirmed that it was a constructive event that served to raise awareness, provide practical information, and help steer us on a path toward greater efficiency and effectiveness in policing through innovation and reform.
To continue the momentum, the three national police associations supported a strategic framework, or shared forward agenda. The shared forward agenda introduced at the summit by Public Safety Canada was based on discussions with other governments and will be developed collaboratively over the next several months.
As Minister Toews made clear in his opening remarks, no one party—certainly not the federal government—can buy the solution to the challenges the sector is facing, but together we can identify the necessary actions to support innovation and reform, and we can each take on certain responsibilities.
In that vein, it is encouraging to note that Ontario, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia have already agreed to champion the development of one of the three pillars of reform over the next few months.
Building on the summit discussions, the closing session also laid out potential areas to explore through a shared forward agenda. In terms of efficiencies within police services, these areas include strengthened civilianization, police service efficiency reviews, sharing and adoption of best practices, improved measurement and reporting, and enhanced research capacity and coordination.
In addition, actions under the second and third pillars of reform could include cataloguing and validating new community safety models and identifying and advancing policing priorities for justice reform. Clearly progress requires system-wide approaches.
As a result of the national dialogue launched through the summit, over the spring and summer of 2013 we will engage in a broad-based collaborative process to develop the shared forward agenda.
Another key FPT deliverable, the catalogue of initiatives from across Canada that improve the efficiency and effectiveness of policing, was also showcased at the summit.
We very much welcome the committee's interest in this issue. Your engagement will contribute to the dialogue that is under way and strengthen the momentum of reform necessary to sustain Canada's policing advantage.
Policing currently enjoys a large reservoir of public confidence that can be further replenished only if we are seen to be acting in a responsible manner, a manner that meets the challenge of constrained resources while striving to improve service through greater efficiency and effectiveness. This is the opportunity that can be seized through working together, tackling the issue from every angle, and fostering lasting change through long-term commitment.
That concludes my opening remarks. We would be very pleased to answer any questions.
Thank you very much.
Yes, because I think it would be useful for all of us in the committee to be able to have a look at those materials as we move forward, and particularly in this study.
The second thing I have to say is, again, that perhaps what we really needed today was to have the minister here, because what you've put forward as these three pillars seems to contradict a lot of things that have been happening in the area of public safety, I believe, on the part of the government, so it's difficult for me to ask you those questions. We've seen cutbacks in resources for the front end of policing, which I believe is quite often where we reduce ultimate costs. We have those things in crime prevention and those kinds of enforcement activities. We've seen a tendency towards shedding those federal responsibilities and a downloading of those to municipalities.
Also, unfortunately, in the opening remarks of the minister I thought we saw—maybe it was just a media emphasis—an overemphasis on police salaries and a blaming of police as the cost drivers in public safety, but again, without the minister here, it's difficult to see.... The optimist in me says that perhaps we're seeing the government chart a new course here in public safety, and I would certainly very much like to see that, but it's really not something we can ask you.
There is one thing I can ask you. We spoke to first nations police chiefs about the summit. Before the summit, they had not been invited. I guess my question is based on the idea that first nations need to be included as full partners in everything we're doing here. Were first nations policing forces invited to the summit? Were they present at the summit?
It was the last 10 years. That's an incredible increase. It reminds me a little bit of the galloping increases in health care costs and how this has been as a result of many factors, some demographic—for example, the aging population—and the introduction of new and complex technologies and so on and so forth.
Often we hear—and we've been hearing this for a number of years with respect to health care—that all we need to do is bring about some administrative efficiencies and we will keep our costs down. Today there is a realization, if you've read Jeffrey Simpson recently—he's just written a book on the subject of health care in Canada, but this is specifically in relation to an article he published recently—that this is not the road to bringing down health care costs. We've tapped that possibility as much as possible.
I'm wondering, then, how much room is there for saving as a result of administrative efficiencies when you have more complex crimes, especially in the area of white-collar crime, which I am told needs more resources within the RCMP. It's extremely complex. You have highly technological crimes that require highly trained individuals. The investigations are more complex, and so on and so forth.
As well, you have the problem across the board, not just with the RCMP, of very high policing costs due to high police pensions. As a matter of fact, when we talk about the problem in the United States, from what I gather, the impetus for looking at bringing down policing costs has been the result of huge pension liabilities. In some communities, the whole municipal budget goes to pension liabilities.
I must say that I'm sure there are some administrative efficiencies to be had, but I just don't see how you can solve a $12 billion problem just by so-called back office improvements. I would like your comments.
I think the challenges are multi-layered. The first is we don't often know how efficient most police services are because we have a measurement challenge. There are a range of indicators that can be helpful. Any one indicator in isolation often gives you mixed or ambiguous information, so you have to be cautious in how you use it and you want to look at a range of indicators. That's on the quantitative side.
Then you begin to look more deeply into police work and realize there's a whole qualitative side to policing that is not easily captured by typical measurements. It's a real challenge to open up the box, look inside the police service, and figure out how efficient and effective it is. We've seen programs in the U.K., for example, in which private sector specialists come in and work with you to look at all of your processes, look at each officer's daily routines, and break them down into what they're doing basically every minute of the day. They look at all of those steps. Having done that, they assess possible areas in which efficiency can be increased, and often what they find are fairly straightforward things.
A lot of policing is about demand management. Whether it's calls related to crimes or calls for service, you're managing the demands that residents place on the police services, so it's about how you do that as efficiently as possible: how you prioritize those calls, how you use things like scheduling for non-urgent calls, how you use technology—mobile technology, for example—and how officers in the field are better able to respond to those calls.
Once you do that assessment, you're in a much better position, having looked in a very detailed way at a police service, to recommend how you might improve the efficiency.
It sounds to me as though it means one of two things. It means taking some of the services that are performed in-house by police forces and essentially contracting them out to outside specialists. Again, the state will still be spending money, except it will be spending on outside contractors, and sometimes that doesn't save that much money.
Is there another element of trying to download costs onto the civilian population? In other words, are we saying, “Create more neighbourhood watch groups, and we won't have to patrol as much”, and so on?
In terms of demand management, I think if you speak to any citizen who's witnessed a break-in or whose house alarm has gone off or what have you, they'll say they didn't call the police because it takes them so long to get here and so on. Whenever they do come and take a report, they say—and this is just anecdotal—“Look ma'am, it's really going to be hard to find this person. It's like a needle in a haystack”, and so on.
It seems to me there's a sort of pent-up demand for policing services, so I don't think there's a lot reduction of demand to be had. I just think the system's overwhelmed. That's what citizens seem to be saying to me.
I'm really curious about the jurisdictional aspect of policing. We say policing is a provincial jurisdiction unless we're talking about the RCMP, and yet we have all kinds of federal programs and crime prevention, and the government—
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Gentlemen, I would like to thank you for being here today.
This study is extremely important. It gives us some clarification on the direction we want to take and what to do to straighten all this out. I should say that this is an important national issue.
I'm in favour of looking at where we can save and where the money needs to be put so that this is as effective as possible. We all want our police forces to be as effective as possible, with the best possible budgets.
Mr. Potter, you've probably heard about the Police Officers Recruitment Fund, which is going to end in March 2013. In Quebec, it was used to fight street gangs. Four years ago, joint squads were formed to that effect. It worked incredibly well. Positive results were seen in the first year, and at a lower cost because these were joint squads that travelled from town to town. So fewer police were used to do a larger job over a broader territory. It worked extremely well.
Now, we are unfortunately stuck because this recruitment fund is going to be discontinued. The joint squads for fighting street gangs, which worked well, are unfortunately not going to receive any more funding. I think that's a problem.
When a program is effective, could we not invest the money and use it as an example instead of getting rid of it? Could we not use this type of program nationally with another type of fund?
As I mentioned earlier, I think it's not the role of the federal government to tell police services across Canada what they should do in terms of specific programs and how they should approach improving their efficiency and effectiveness. I think our role is facilitative: providing them with information, sharing best practices, providing tools that will help them to make that decision with their communities and their residents as they see fit.
In terms of your broader point about what can we learn from other jurisdictions, I think there is a tremendous amount we can learn from other jurisdictions, whether it comes to structures to support policing or to individual actions within policing.
Your colleague a moment ago was asking about civilianization. Civilianization is not a new phenomenon. It's been in policing for a very long time. We have about 69,000 sworn police officers in Canada. We have about 30,000 civilian staff working in police services directly with them. It's a question of basically looking at the skill sets of the different individuals and applying them as efficiently as possible. A person trained to be a sworn police officer has certain skills, often to deal with a tremendous range of challenges and problems in the field, but that doesn't necessarily make them an IT expert, for example.
Thank you very much, Mr. Potter.
I have a couple of questions.
First of all, I want to comment on Mr. Scarpaleggia's statement at the beginning about the opposition critics not being invited to the conference. To make it clear, I don't think the government was invited either. As far as the invitation list is concerned, it was something that was worked out with the provinces and with all levels of government.
Also, the challenges of moving in 10 years from a $6 billion budget to $12 billion budget for policing have been brought out here, and the challenges of just how we can keep some of these costs in line but still maintain protection of society as a guiding principle for all this. I'm wondering, as we begin this report, if there is some way that you could brief us a little bit about the process in allocation dollars. We understand that we have a role as a federal government, but we also know that a lot of this can fall under provincial jurisdiction.
What is the process? As we decide to send money to the provinces, be it the RCMP or municipal policing, can you give our committee a bit of an idea? Is it based on per capita? What is the consideration for geography, for rural areas or large areas to police over? Where do “case calls” come in, if we can use that term? How is this allocation of funds divvied up?
I think that's maybe part of what Mr. Scarpaleggia was asking as well when he at the end talked about jurisdictions.
It's a model that's been pretty widely used.
I'd make a distinction here between civilianization and what is typically referred to as tiered policing, which refers to engaging individuals to carry out different and often more basic functions than what a typical police officer would do. Let's take, for example, the U.K., where they have a fairly robust tiered policing framework in place: there are the sworn police officers, who are the majority of the staff; there is the civilian staff within the police service, who often carry out administrative and support functions; and then there are two other categories of police personnel.
The first is what they call police community safety officers. These are individuals who are very engaged in the neighbourhood and the community—understanding their needs, gathering information, and working to solve problems. That is one other level.
The other one is exactly the one you referred to, which is volunteers. They call them special constables in the U.K. We have them in Canada, too. Different police services use them to varying degrees, but they can often be a very helpful resource for meeting policing needs and meeting the needs of the communities in terms of visibility and some of the more basic functions you don't necessarily want to have a fully sworn officer carrying out.
Yes, I think that's a very important issue. The involvement of all aspects of the policing community in reforms is absolutely essential if you want to bring about lasting change, so in organizing the summit, we worked very closely with the three main national policing associations, including the Canadian Police Association, which represents front-line officers. Their president and their members were very much involved in the planning of the summit, in the dialogue at the summit, and in raising important issues.
There were also some interesting discussions among, for example, academics who looked at reform efforts both in the U.S. and the U.K. Their studies have indicated that in many instances front-line police officers were not engaged in developing reforms, in scoping out how you can improve efficiency. That was often the reason the changes didn't succeed, so that's an important element that you need to build into the program.
Another example is that when they're looking at doing efficiency reviews in the U.K., they realize they need to have the front-line officers directly involved in that process, not only to get their perspective but to build a capacity for continuous improvement. It's through that engagement that you can bring about lasting change.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and welcome to our witnesses.
I want to go back over a few things, because we tend to hear generalized comments being made that the opposition members hope will stick. I think it's important that we reiterate a few of those and clarify a couple of points before I get to the questions.
We heard a little bit earlier that there's concern that at the summit the chiefs weren't invited, but of course, Mr. Potter, you clarified that. You indicated that in fact they were, and that a lot of thought was put behind who was going to be invited. I thought that was great.
Then Mr. Tupper clarified that there was no reduction in the anti-gang programs, and that the money in fact was going out the door more now than in the past 10 years.
The third point brought up was that there was a concern that the first nation program had been cut, but Mr. Tupper, you indicated that it's been protected and is stable.
There was also a comment made that front-line policing service has been cut, but you mentioned that we'd seen an increase from $6 billion to $12 billion in the last handful of years, and you haven't been cutting on the front line. I've read “Police Resources in Canada” and seen constant-dollar increases in police resourcing in that publication year after year, particularly more in light of the need for recruitment, with around two-thirds of the police force—I think I've got my numbers right—preparing to retire between that time period.
Then we just heard that there were cuts to CBSA. I know, Mr. Potter, you weren't prepared to comment on that, but you probably have a great interest in it, so I'll just let you know that there was actually a 26% increase to the CBSA. That hasn't been cut either, so let's hope none of that sticks.
Now let's get to some questions.
I've seen some great work done in the Yukon Territory in terms of efficiencies and new modelling with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It does touch on some of the questions that Mr. Rousseau talked about in terms of police engagement. They've increased the limited-duration posting time periods, as an example. That was directly what members wanted. They were just getting a foothold in the community in two years, and they said, “Why don't you let us stay for three or four years?” That was one area.
As well, reserve policing got brought back into the territory wholeheartedly in the last four or five years, with retired members coming back. I know that's been an advantage to policing services and the RCMP, and it was driven at the members' level. They said they needed this for training, needed this for leave accruement.
The RCMP has now moved into an agreement with the Whitehorse Correctional Centre to do their cellblock services. They've moved cellblock services out of the detachment up to the correctional centre. It's provided a higher level of efficiency and more time on the road for police officers. That's another thing driven by the front-line police officers in the RCMP there, and it's great use of community partnerships and relationships.
Moving from those operational things to the legislative end, is there legislation that we can look at to improve administrative efficiencies or financial efficiencies? One thing I'm looking at is the RCMP accountability act, for example. There is definitely a tremendous cost in leave and internal grievances and those sorts of things, and legislation can help reduce that burden, but what about legislation regarding proceeds of crime? Money that police officers generate in this country by fighting crime generally goes into general coffers. Is there some creative strategy we could use to see some of that returned to police work or given back directly into policing? Is there any other legislation?
I'll open this to anybody who has a comment on that.
Perhaps I'll kick it off.
Certainly the bill you referred to, Bill , is in third reading. The RCMP accountability act will strengthen the complaints regime, but as you noted, it will lead to certain improvements in HR management that should realize greater efficiencies within the RCMP, going forward, to manage their human resources, their discipline, their grievance processes, and so on. That's the federal responsibility.
As noted, the jurisdictional responsibilities are quite clear. You have, for example, in both Ontario and B.C. comprehensive reviews under way right now on their policing acts and their policing models. I expect we may see more of this across the country, given the fiscal challenges, but those governments are looking at their police service acts in a very comprehensive way, asking whether they need to make legislative changes to advance policing and improve efficiency and effectiveness. It's happening at that level.
Maybe I'll leave it at that.
Thank you very much, Chair. It's great to be back.
Thank you for being here.
I found it interesting in Mr. Toews' remarks that he says we're all in this together; as the director general of policing policy, you know that's not true. There are police services in this country that are left far behind. I'll give you an example in a minute.
All of Mr. Toews' remarks in his opening remarks at the conference, and things you have been talking about today, make an assumption that all police services are at least at a certain level in this country—that they are at a point where perhaps they need to, as you say, become more efficient and more effective, but that they have the basics there. However, as you are aware as director general, there are police services, such as first nations police services, that are woefully inadequate in terms of their efficiency and their effectiveness.
There are a number of first nations police forces in northern Ontario, and on the road system they are not so bad. However, when they have to deal with 39 fly-in communities and not have the money there....
I know Mr. Toews says you can't buy this and that it's not about buying police services, but a service like the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service in northwestern Ontario has virtually no communications equipment. They use cellphones. They have inadequate housing. There was an instance, I think last year, of a young officer being flown out with a burst spleen because of mould in his house. Officers continually go one week and two weeks past any rotation because there's no one to replace them. The OPP, which used to pick up the slack a little bit, over the last couple of years is no longer doing it because of their own budget restraints.
I know it probably didn't come up at this conference, but as you're planning and when you're talking about efficiencies and effectiveness and you have a police force like the one in northwestern Ontario, the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service, that simply can't do the job.... I'm sure you're aware of the issues surrounding those communities in northern Ontario, particularly the fly-in communities, and drug and alcohol abuse, and so on and so forth, and all the issues associated there.
Is there any talk at all about dealing with those police services and making sure they are at least up to the standards of other police services across Canada?
There is ongoing discussion about the first nations policing program and the kinds of investments.
I think I would first want to point out that we need to remember that the first nations policing program is designed to add additional policing services on top of what the provinces already provide through their policing programs. No community is without policing, from the perspective that the provinces have a baseline of policing they provide.
You quite rightly point out a significant challenge in policing in Canada, which is how to deal with remote communities that don't have the same kind of access. This isn't an aboriginal issue. It's a reality in Canada that we do have to fly into some communities, and we have those challenges. Aboriginal communities tend to be isolated in many jurisdictions, and so they confront these issues across the board.
We have given advice to the government, and the government is discussing the future of that program and has been discussing with the provinces and territories the future of that program to determine the kinds of investments to make. We're going through exactly the same thing in looking at first nations policing as Mark is going through in looking at policing generally, which is finding what the most efficient model is and what the right kinds of investments are. We have a $120 million program, and we really do need to stop and think about whether we are spending that money in the right way.
You quite rightly point out that there are challenges in those communities that focus largely on some of the facilities and the tools they have to deliver policing. We are in active discussions with the provinces and territories, again across the land, to address those kinds of issues and try to find the models that will allow us to fund those things adequately.
The catalogue is a work in progress. This was a commitment made at the Charlottetown meeting. These initiatives at one level sound quite simplistic, but in reality I think they can be quite fundamental to reform efforts. As a police service, it's not an easy task when you're looking at how you might reform, innovate, and make yourself more efficient and effective, so other examples from across the country and around the world that let you learn what works and what doesn't work can be tremendously helpful, at least in giving you ideas into areas you want to look at more deeply and then perhaps customize for your particular situation.
We're still gathering the information from all the provincial and territorial governments and the police services within them. We hope to have a document soon that we would be able to share with our provincial and territorial colleagues first and foremost so they can see the whole package. We were able to pull that together in a rough draft at the summit for them to look at, but this is still a work in progress and will take a little longer to be finalized. This would be an important tool to share.
It builds on initiatives we've seen in other countries. The Department of Justice in the United States has an online tool called "CrimeSolutions.gov". I'd recommend the committee look at it. It's quite a robust site where they look at various initiatives, whether problem-oriented policing, hot spots, increased patrols in particular areas, integrated teams, and so on. They look at those programs and the evidence-based research related to those programs and try to validate how effective those programs are. It's a very user-friendly site that lists what the research is telling you about the various initiatives happening in police services right across the United States and how effective they are based on sound analytics related to those programs. I think moving toward that kind of model in Canada could be very helpful.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I like a lot of things we're hearing here. It's interesting to me that it seems, in part at least, to be heading in a different direction than the government's traditional approach to crime. It's moving toward an approach we've advocated, which is more along the lines of building safer communities.
Not having the minister appear before us, I think it'll be interesting to see our report. I guess at that time the minister will give us a response to whatever report we choose to create on this topic of the economics of policing, but I'm certainly very glad to hear the emphasis on partnership and consultation.
I want to turn to the specific question of mental health. We have seen, in the prison system, the cost driver that mental health problems can be and the difficulties we've had in dealing with that. In my own experience, about a decade ago, when I sat on a municipal police board, we had discussions about mental health as a significant cost driver for our police force. That included things like uniformed officers having to sit at a hospital with a person in crisis until a doctor arrived. It meant sometimes sitting there as long as six or seven hours, when they could be otherwise used for crime prevention purposes.
I've had some recent discussions with municipal chiefs of police and with the RCMP inspector in West Shore in my riding. This issue continues to be a problem in British Columbia. When people have mental health crises, even if there are community resources, people tend not to have their crises between 9 and 5, when mental health agencies tend to be available. They tend to have them during evenings and weekends, when the police are really the only resource available in the community.
Was this topic brought up at the summit? Is there any way we can try to make sure that in this study we address mental health issues and leaving mental health to police?
I think this is an important dimension, but I think it's important to keep it in context.
I think police officer salaries have been increasing over the past period particularly because of the fiscal situations in most jurisdictions, which have been quite favourable. Collective agreements have been reached on that basis. As that fiscal situation tightens to a considerable degree, that problem will begin to solve itself, because there will be a requirement for all jurisdictions to manage within their resources. We have seen that at the federal government level. We have seen that in terms of RCMP salaries, which sets an important precedent. To a considerable degree, that issue will be constrained through that process.
I would make a couple of other observations. The nature of police work is tremendously complex and challenging. Your colleague just mentioned mental health issues. To have an individual with the right skill set to be able to deal with an individual in distress and to recognize the potential that the situation could range from the individual simply requiring a little assistance and sympathy to a potential violent act—to have the training, the judgment, and the interpersonal communications to do that is tremendously difficult. To get those individuals, to retain those individuals, you need to pay them a good salary.
Having been involved in this issue for some time now, I actually don't think it's a question of police officer salaries. I think it's a question of the salary envelope, the overall amount you are spending on human resources and how you get the biggest bang for your buck. I think a whole bunch of ways you can do that aren't necessarily about reducing police officer salaries—far from it; they're much more about civilianization, tiered policing, technology, and other tools to improve efficiency.
I think we have a bit of a luxury in Canada in that we're ahead of this issue. I don't think there are necessarily a lot of issues on which you have an opportunity to see what's happening around the world, to analyze the trends that are happening there and in Canada, to try to get ahead of the issue, and to try to take action before you have to do things in a drastic or blunt way. We're looking at well-considered strategies to manage the growth in policing costs that we've seen in Canada over the last several years.
Policing is not alone. All government expenditures have been going up at a considerable rate, both in Canada and in many other countries. As you look at particular segments of public spending, you see that it's about delving into those areas and finding ways to respond to the fiscal realities through finding efficiencies and improving effectiveness.
We're certainly benefiting, I believe, from the U.K. and the U.S. experience, in that they haven't had that luxury. They were placed in a situation in which their revenue drops for many jurisdictions were so severe that they didn't have the luxury of saying, “Okay, now we're going to spend the time to analyze how we can improve our policing services, look in depth at our police services and how efficient and effective they are, and develop well-considered strategies to respond.” In many cases, they had to respond within a matter of months.
We certainly have seen U.S. cities that have gone bankrupt, and we've seen states in the U.S. that have had to make 20%, 30%, or 40% cuts to their policing budgets within a matter of months. The U.K. is going through a process of a cut of 15% to 20%, depending on the police service.
These are big cuts. We are fortunate to get ahead of those issues. Hopefully the kinds of fiscal realities will not be as hard here, but they are nonetheless constraining, as we see when we look at our overall fiscal picture. It's about giving police services and the broader policing community an opportunity to see what works best and to develop customized solutions that respond to community and resident needs in the time we have to make those adjustments.
As with most things, I think there's often always an ebb and flow.
I will comment very briefly on mental health and other calls for service that the police receive. When you look at the crime rate over the past decade, you will see that it has gone down quite noticeably, but calls for service generally are fairly flat. What this says is that there are a lot of other things going on, of which mental health calls are certainly one of the dynamics.
I often think of policing in terms of a river. The police are kind of the last net, in many respects. The more intervention there is upstream earlier on, the fewer the issues that are caught in the net further downstream, which I think is important for costs, for call management, for training, for complexity of the service, and important in terms of sending police to calls that they're not well equipped for, in many cases.
Certainly the issue has been raised in smaller communities and other areas where a lot of those supports don't exist. Anything that can be done in behind the system to improve access and to improve community capacity goes a long way toward improving the overall delivery of community safety, which is what it's about.
I have three quick areas I want to touch on.
Following up on this issue, I think it would be very important for us to bring in someone from the Calgary police, and possibly Halifax and Vancouver, to hear them. I spent half a day in Calgary sitting around a table talking to the officers about what they do. It's quite amazing. They literally have someone from Alberta Health, the school division, mental health, addictions, and housing. They're not just meeting once every six weeks, but as you said, sir, they're on a first-name basis with individuals, such as maybe someone who has an addiction and is being picked up for petty crimes. Finally this person says they need help—they want to get off this drug or they want to quit drinking—and immediately there's someone there to help. It's not the police officer; the police officer knows who to call.
It's an excellent model, which I think, coming from a small town, can be adapted pretty quickly, because in a small town people are much closer together and we really know who to call. We know who the housing person is in Morden, Manitoba, and who can help get someone some treatment. I think there are ways we can adapt it. It's just seeing how they do it and then adapting it to a smaller jurisdiction.
I hope we can get someone in—for example, Chief Rick Hanson—to explore this, because it's quite encouraging.
I found it interesting that one of their greatest challenges was a very practical one: the privacy issue. It took them a while to start getting things going, because one program didn't want to talk to another one. They said there were privacy issues. That's very practical. They had to deal with that, and once they did, everybody relaxed and agreed to work together.
Mr. Potter, what is tiered policing? You referred to it a couple of times. I hadn't heard that phrase before.