Future Shock for Policing

By Joe Couto

Published July 23, 2014

When the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) established the Future of Policing Advisory Committee (FPAC) after the 2011 election, it did so based on the advice of Ontario’s police leaders. During the 2011 Provincial Election, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) asked all three major parties to commit to a “Summit” on the future of policing. That Summit took place in March 2012 and brought together police leaders, representatives from police services boards and police associations, and provincial and municipal government stakeholders.

The OACP’s goal in calling for a Summit was to convince all its policing partners that the future of policing in Ontario required a collaborative approach rather than one where competing agendas drove important decisions. In essence, the OACP wanted to try and “change the channel” from discussions on simply the costs of policing to that of what should the appropriate service delivery be, agree to it, and fund it appropriately and sustainably.

The Summit succeeded in convincing the Government of Ontario that the OACP’s approach was the right one. FPAC is the result of the OACP’s leadership and vision.

One of the more interesting discussions at the FPAC table has been about the policing model that would work best for Ontario. Some groups have been consistent in a rather simplistic message: policing is too expensive, it is broken, and we need a more “efficient” model. I say “simplistic” because if public services were just about “efficiencies” and “saving taxpayers’ money”, then the mantra of cost cutting in policing would have been implemented long ago. Everyone is looking for “plug-and-play” solutions. But policing is a complex public service with lots of variables to consider for police planners.

When you probe the efficiency arguments you often hear during debates about policing, you find that what proponents of the simplistic efficiencies mantra really want is to get all the policing services they already get, but at less cost.

When I ask proponents of the efficiencies arguments the simple question “What do you want police to cut?” they don’t really answer the question. Should we get rid of school resource officers and put them in cars so they can drive around waiting to respond to crimes? Should we stop responding to mental health calls? Stolen property? Noise complaints? How about stopping all crime prevention initiatives? Crowd control? The answer is always, “We want you to do all that but do it for less.”

Police services in Ontario spend about 90% of their budgets on their people; salaries, benefits, health and safety, all these human resources-based costs that drive the majority of the costs of policing. Chiefs of Police have very limited control over such costs because they are not the employers – police services boards or the Government of Ontario (in the case of the OPP) are. So when the police services boards complain about the arbitration system, about the costs Adequacy Standards, MCSCS reporting requirements, costs driven by Police Services Act requirements, etc., their concerns need to be directed to law makers, not law enforcers. That’s why FPAC is an important initiative. Fundamentally, FPAC is about what kind of policing we want and it’s about government acting on what it believes is the type of policing Ontarians want and deserve.

The question that needs to be reframed by efficiency devotees should be “What is the cost of not policing” because that’s what the “efficiencies” argument comes down to. Wanting police to focus only on “core” functions means that some things – victims services? Crime prevention? Community outreach? Promotion of diversity? Protection of vulnerable groups? – are going to have to be sacrificed. Should police do everything they do? Perhaps not. Civilianization, private security, two-tiered policing all are alternatives. But are they the right ones for building strong, safe, and healthy communities?

Maybe the debate about what type of policing we want in Ontario should look back before it looks to the future. Modern policing in North America is divided into three eras: (1) the “Political” era, (2) the “Reform” era, and (3) the “Community-Problem Solving” era (Kelling & Moore, 1988, p. 2). The Political Era (1840 to the early part of the 20th century) was characterized by its decentralized policing structure. While organized on a centralized, quasi-military hierarchal model, policing during this era was characterized by strong local leaders who ran their local units as small-scale, quasi-independent departments.

From the 1930s to the 1970s, a trend toward greater centralization occurred during the Reform Era. Police leaders adopted more scientific theories of administration, which called for greater routine and standardization of policing work, especially in the area of patrol, and focused on crime suppression (Sklansky, 2011, p. 1). According to Kelling & Moore (1988), greater standardization addressed public concerns about the abuse of police powers based on discretion. Since the 1970s, policing has moved again toward a decentralization structure of policing during the Community-Problem Solving Era. This move towards decentralization attempted to connect police with their communities while retaining appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms (Kelling & Moore, 1988, p. 2).

So, there you have three different models. Which way will Ontario go?


Kelling, G.L. & Moore, M. H. (1988). The evolving strategy of policing. Perspectives on Policing, 4, 1-15.

Sklansky, D.A. (2011). The persistent pull of police professionalism. Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety, National Institute of Justice and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, 1-20.