Give me a break

Tight budgets mean stressed out cops

There is a new style of police management which has a focus on efficiency. The old phrase of “doing more with less” appears to have taken on a popular mantra which is suppose to engender positive opinions for management of police agencies and their political masters. It usually translates into budget reductions.

There is a price to pay for such attitudes and the piper must always be paid in one fashion or another. Too often it is high crime rates and stressed out cops.

I recently heard Toronto’s Mayor John Tory suggest a shift to using officers for only “important calls.” This means they can reduce the numbers of officers on the payroll. A much vaunted report released a year earlier, however, suggests that taking officers out of scout cars and on to the streets is better policing… seems like a lot of sucking and blowing at the same time. Obviously this mayor feels an officer’s effectiveness in the community is only tangentially connected to face to face meetings with the public.

When one gets obsessed with spreadsheets and budget numbers it is easy to forget that to a victim any crime committed against them is “important.” At times the only scant reassurance they get is that the police officer who attended them feels the same way.

Both this mayor and his chief  have suggested technology can take the place of much of what police do today. Their remarks are essentially saying some crimes committed against citizens are unworthy of direct police attention. The indirect suggestion to citizens is police have more important things to do… so why even report it. But there is always a positive… the mayor might say that crime rates are falling.

The mayor has further suggested taking police officers away from traffic enforcement duties. Indicating it is unimportant and beneath an officer’s skill sets.

This ignores the fact that 99 per cent of criminals use cars. Finding out who is behind the wheel of offending vehicles is a legitimate way to find out who lives in your community. Issuing a ticket has the potential of changing a driver’s behaviour and the immediate affect of sending a positive community safety message to all who see the stop. Having the stop performed by a “police officer” sends a far more powerful message as to where this fits in the community safety continuum.

When I was a newly minted police officer, in this same city of over two million, I would listen to the police radio and marvel at the fact one police station had a high number of calls for getting horses and cattle off the road. I asked around about this station and was informed that it was euphemistically called “Old MacDonald’s Farm”. The station was situated in the north east corner of the city and included all of the city’s remaining rural farm land. I questioned why the station even existed. Calls were few, I reasoned, and most of these could be handled by surrounding police divisions. The answer confronted me with a little reality. It was a good place to transfer officers who need a break.

Wishing police to answer increasingly higher stress calls means management is unwilling to give officers a decompression period. For me there was something therapeutic about issuing parking and stop sign tickets after stress filled days of domestics, bar fights, traffic accidents and bank robberies.

Increasing the number of high stress calls with fewer police is a recipe for disaster. It is surprising such an attitude has developed. Higher recognition of the effects of post traumatic stress and knowing the importance of a stable family environment to the effectiveness of an individual’s work performance should be well understood today.

Military success on the battlefield usually consists of more than just good training and discipline. Good management of resources is also important. This means, among many other factors, minimizing the exposure of fresh troops to the wounded, mangled and dead and spreading the gruesomeness of the battlefield over as large a body of soldiers as possible. A little stress on a broader group is preferrable.

Given all that has been said on the subject I think it is time for a re-think. The next time a firm is hired, at great cost, to determine the best manner to deploy police it might be suggested to have a lot more input from people who have actually done police work. Strange this has to be said… but it does. More input should be given from outside the upwardly motivated demographic of policing. I would suggest Chiefs and long-serving Constables only. After all … they’ve both gone as far as they are going to go and their opinions might not be tainted by whom they are trying to impress.


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