Although Greater Sudburians want more police patrolling streets to improve community safety, evidence connecting these two ideas is actually murky.
The number of sworn Greater Sudbury Police Service members grew by 33 during the past 20 years. GSPS counted 241 sworn members among their ranks in 2002, and they now total 274.
But during that same period and despite the hiring of additional officers, the city’s overall crime rate did fluctuate somewhat, of course, but in essence has remained generally unchanged.
The number of criminal violations reported annually in Greater Sudbury averaged 10,175 between 2001-21 (Statistics Canada data does not yet include 2022).
Although there has been a range of violations totals, from 7,751 in 2015 to 10,960 in 2001, the annual tally has fluctuated around the average and does not reveal a clearly defined trend in either direction. In 2021, there were 9,718 violations reported in Greater Sudbury.
These numbers do not factor in the 83 per cent of calls police receive that are not criminal in nature (there were 48,199 non-criminal offence calls to police in 2021).
While the number of people charged by police each year has trended similarly, it hit a 20-year low in 2021, when 3,080 people were charged. The 20-year annual average is 3,885.
The 20-year average for total annual violent Criminal Code violations is 1,966, which the 2,729 incidents recorded in 2021 far exceeded. Aside from 2021 and the 2,418 incidents recorded in 2020, the annual total of violent incidents has hovered closer to the average since 2001.
When it comes to property crime violations, the 20-year average is 6,142, with annual statistics revealing no clear trends away from this number. A spike of 7,528 was recorded in 2003, and the last time the annual statistic exceeded the average was in 2019, when 6,231 incidents were recorded.
The perceived parallel between the number of police officers and crime rates is relevant to ongoing budget deliberations because Chief Paul Pedersen has been pushing to add 24 sworn members to their ranks within three years, beginning with 10 in 2023.
Pedersen defended the request during a Jan. 5 police board meeting, and reiterated it to the board the following week, clarifying the need for the full 24-member boost is “today” and arguing "staffing enhancements" were needed to deliver "adequate and effective services."
Among his arguments in advocating for new members is the idea 40 per cent of local citizens and business owners believe “more patrols / visibility” will help improve community safety.
Members of Black Lives Matter Sudbury are among those who do not support the hiring of additional police officers, and questioned why the survey results as a whole have not been made publicly available.
Sudbury.com reached out to GSPS spokesperson Kaitlynn Dunn this week to request the survey results, but we were informed the survey results GSPS was using to support its case for hiring more officers are not being made public at this time.
The police board is in the process of hiring a consultant to “assist in analyzing the results/information gathered through the surveys and consultation sessions as part of the strategic direction planning process,” she said by emailed correspondence, adding the results will be shared as soon as the board has “finalized the strategic direction.”
Police board administrator Matthew Gatien told Sudbury.com the survey was conducted by Oraclepoll Research Ltd., which polled 900 residents and 100 businesses.
The question cited by Pedersen asked: “What do you feel can be done to improve community safety in the Greater Sudbury area?”
Forty per cent of residents and 11 per cent of businesses answered “more patrols/visibility.”
Asked the same question about their specific neighborhood or business area, 55 per cent of residents and 61 per cent of businesses reported with “more patrols / visibility.”
Of the 24 new officers to be hired under Pedersen’s plan, 18 are for patrol operations, four are for a new dedicated homicide unit and two members will be added to the drug enforcement unit.
In the budget the police board unanimously approved last week, two special constables are to be hired to work the GSPS front desk, which will free up two officers to work the front line on patrol.
Scholarly literature is mixed when it comes to whether more police result in less crime.
The authors behind a 2019 article in the Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice found that “each additional Canadian police officer correlates with slightly fewer homicides and 13.3 fewer reported property crimes on average.” This, according to data they drew from almost 700 Canadian municipal police jurisdictions between 1998 and 2017.
A 2018 Journal of Community Safety and Well-Being article responded to conclusions such as this by suggesting “correlation does not imply causation.”
To support this point, the used an interesting method to highlight how statistical relationships can appear to link otherwise unrelated things. To demonstrate this, the article uses statistics to show the existence of a direct link between total NHL penalties and the Canadian violent crime rate. The article also makes a direct parallel between Major League Baseball stolen base attempts and property crime in Canada.
Clearly, there is no real-world link between the things being compared in the 2018 journal article.
The number of police officers has been increasing throughout Canada, Lakehead University economist Livio Di Matteo noted in a 2014 Fraser Institute report. The number of police officers per 100,000 of population increased by 8.7 per cent between 2001 and 2012 while the crime rate declined by 26.3 per cent, according to Di Matteo’s report.
“Policing has evolved beyond just dealing with crime and includes a wider range of problem social behaviours, which are factors in police resource and expenditure growth,” Di Matteo wrote.
“Society is now more complex and the nature of policing has evolved beyond just dealing with crime but also a wider range of social problems and behaviours, which can be a factor in police resource and expenditure growth.”
Pedersen addressed these changing times last year in response to the skyrocketing number of mental health calls police have been responding to. He argued that frontline officers carrying guns, tasers and pepper sprays might not be the correct people to respond to these calls.
On the flipside, Pedersen noted that police are the only ones under the Mental Health Act able to apprehend people, and that they are expected to show up whenever there’s an unknown or potential for violence.
In light of Pedersen now arguing for 24 new sworn members within three years, Black Lives Matter Sudbury said the police chief “continues to speak out of both sides of his mouth.”
Rather than hire more police officers to handle non-criminal cases, Black Lives Matter Sudbury's collective statement said, “Sudbury needs social services that will respond to the needs of its population with community care.”
Although the police board unanimously approved the 2023 Greater Sudbury police budget last week, including the addition of 10 sworn members this year alongside two special constables, it’s not yet set in stone. Pedersen is scheduled to present the proposed budget to city council during tonight’s (Jan. 17) finance and administration committee meeting.
The public component of the meeting is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m., and the meeting can be attended in-person at council chambers in Tom Davies Square or viewed online by clicking here.
In advance of the meeting, Black Lives Matter Sudbury issued an email to city council “demanding an immediate pause to the decision-making process and the holding of a community town hall in which community members most affected by policing can have their voices heard, and have a stake in the decision-making process when it comes to the GSPS budget proposal.”
Sudbury Workers Education and Advocacy Centre executive director Scott Florence also wrote an open letter to members of city council and local media. In it, he urges them to put a pause on the police budget and engage in a “real discussion,” as also recommended by BLM Sudbury.
“Housing, mental health, increased services were all topics that formed much of the conversation in the election period,” he wrote. “A rushed public consultation process and a continuation of the failed practice of increasing police budgets to deal with social and health issues do nothing to address the real issues, or to have real engagement to determine the best way forward.”
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.