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Policing in 21st Century Kingston

By: James Jeff McLaren
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An opinion piece on why Policing needs to change in Kingston to remain affordable and effective

Modern policing is so much more than rapidly responding to crime. I know in my personal experience, Kingston Police did much more than respond to a call for help. After one case of vandalism at my business, they counseled how to avoid it in the future. We took their suggestions and implemented a secure entrance and CCTV cameras. In another case after the unexpected death of a tenant, they saved me personally from the trauma of seeing the body of a suicide. They are a great police force and do many additional tasks to serve and protect the public than just responding to crime.

In this context we have been forewarned of the need for ongoing massive budgetary increases as Kingston continues to grow and as new threats, like our current opioid epidemic, emerge. The standard approach to city growth and new threats has traditionally meant hiring more police officers and deploying them in conventional patrol, response, and investigation modes. This is likely the most expensive strategy and unfortunately one that is becoming marginally less and less effective on a cost-to-benefit comparison. The incremental increased benefit of hiring one more police officer is diminishing, making this strategy unsustainable. Our traditional labour intensive strategy to rely on sworn officers may be the most expensive and yield the least marginal utility. This means that a new strategy needs to be the central core of policing in 21st century Kingston.

In addition to our traditional policing model there are other models and elements of models that can help increase police effectiveness and crime prevention. Some of these models can offer lower cost alternative strategies, actions, techniques, and maneuvers that are marginally more cost effective and sustainable. However, every strategy has a breakeven point where more of the same is less effective than a little of something else. One sign or indicator that we have reached this point is when total crime is going down but an articulated need for more officers is expressed. This is the situation in Kingston and a new conversation needs to address cost effectiveness.

As a start, I believe one under expressed point that needs to be made is that policing is a shared responsibility. A better and more cost efficient crime prevention and safety improving outcome can be realized very inexpensively if we all contribute our fair share to making our community safer. If the owners of properties where crime is more likely to happen would help contribute to the safety of the community by better securing their properties and the public space near them, in consultation with police experts, then a fairer distribution of the costs of safety and a reduced number of calls for service could be achieved. For example, if retail stores and malls are a common place for shoplifting and auto theft then they may need to do more to reduce the likelihood. If apartment complexes are common scenes of burglary, drug dealing, or assaults then landlords may help the community by being more concerned with crime prevention and safety in and around their buildings. If bars and night clubs are places were crimes happen disproportionately then they may also need to adjust their operations in some way to help reduce crime. Our current model has people call police for crime but if some locations are more prone to crime than others then the owners of these properties may not be carrying their fair share of crime prevention and are rather counting on a safety subsidization from the rest of the community.

This is particularly important for Kingston because we still have several good years of population growth left. However, the current policing model is being tested to its limits as the trend in our population-to-officer ratio shows. At the same time new demands on our police department are appearing. For example the decriminalization of cannabis will require more police resources to help keep our schools and roads safe. Then there is the growing opioid epidemic. Additionally, the fact that many mental health issues, problematic but non-criminal behaviour, and substance abusers on the streets are primarily handled by police suggests that rapidly responding to calls is not enough. We need public service and crime prevention that reduces the need for calls to the police. One of the best ways is for further collaboration with various stakeholders.

Currently, there is a new emerging collaboration on a community drug policy. But there are many more possibilities. Collaboration with the City’s planning department to better design building and subdivision guidelines that take into account Safe Growth is one long term possibility. A more immediate Safe Growth amelioration is to think in terms of crime prone properties rather than crime prone neighbourhoods leading to collaboration with land and property owners to better proactively secure private property to deter crime and reduce calls for service.

We need to think about the root causes that lead to calls for police services and come up with better high level strategies and more effective front-line solutions. I believe the community wants to help and would prefer improvements without the necessity of large ongoing tax increases. I believe the community wants to have the police’s back just as certainly as the police have had our back for so long. But we need to know how we can help. More police officers may be needed but certainly so are new collaborations.

Added on: Oct 21, 2017
By: James Jeff McLaren
© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren