Number of police officers per Canadian hits 13-year low

he 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.

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.”

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.

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.

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