Do police matter? The answer is yes.
Police officers sign up for a career in which they commit to running towards danger, while others run away. They swear an oath to serve and protect and some lay down their lives to honour it.
Canadian police officers are integral to the sense of safety and security we value as Canadians. When public safety is at risk, there is an outcry for more police officers. People want to see the police, instinctively understanding that a street corner is safe if there is an officer standing on it.
Costs of policing are central in discussions across all levels of government and some argue that we simply cannot continue to afford policing at its current rate. I recognize that current models of policing are not the most efficient or effective, but this does not diminish the importance of front-line policing. A properly funded and accountable community-based police response does have an impact on crime rates and criminal activity. We cannot allow for our community to degrade into a breeding ground for drug trafficking and turf wars and then call for more police. We need police officers in schools intervening with at-risk youth, we need police officers in restaurants removing unwanted patrons and we need more of them on street corners and public transit. The public needs to know that when they call, the police will come. If we don’t deal with the little things, the little things will become big things.
I understand that the cost of additional police officers can be prohibitive for local governments and for this reason we have to begin thinking differently about public safety. There are opportunities to use community volunteers, community service officers, reserve officers and auxiliary police officers in dealing with low-level issues. These options complement front-line policing and are invaluable in crime prevention, by supporting a variety of policing initiatives. Many police agencies in Canada and the United States use a range of these options, which are proven to be both cost-efficient and effective. We do not need to re-invent the wheel when it comes to policing, but in many ways we aren’t even using what we know already works: supplying the necessary resources so that police can do their jobs effectively.
A key link in the resource chain is the connection between the community and the police. The importance of that relationship cannot be overstated. Sir Robert Peel once said that “the police are the public and the public are the police.” The police have a full-time responsibility to keep our communities safe, but each citizen also has a responsibility to do the same. The police do not have a monopoly on policing and it is imperative that they work with the community to combat crime and public disorder issues.
There are currently some serious public safety issues in our communities. If we are going to be “in the face” of criminal activity, partnering with our communities and preventing crime we need sufficient resources on the front line. The police do matter and the only way to discourage criminal activity is to close the gap between the police and the community so that we can work together in the best interests of public safety.
Jim Cessford is the retired chief of the Delta Police Department. He has spent more than 40 years in law enforcement.