You can have a good argument for a bad idea. That insight comes from legendary director Tim Schafer, after he realized he nearly ruined Grim Fandango. But I don’t have time for one of my trademark tangents this week because I need to jump right into explaining why we need to defund the Niagara Regional Police Service.
Defunding the police is a movement that sprang up after the George Floyd murder, only to fizzle out quickly because it’s a bad slogan. “Defund the police” is a bad slogan for a good argument.
It lacks nuance and the average person above 40 thinks it means “get rid of the police service” when it really just means “stop blowing a massive amount of our municipal budget on a highly inefficient means of solving the problem at hand.”
“Defund the police” does not mean getting rid of the police service. Unfortunately, we still need cops. But we don’t need as many as they claim we do, and we don’t need to spend as much on the police budget as they would like us to believe.
Every year the Niagara Region asks its various departments to try and limit their annual budget increases to about 2 or 3 percent, and every year the NRPS says “too bad” and comes in with a 5 or 7 percent increase. Typically our Regional politicians are too timid to question the police and just rubber stamp the fat increase, but this year, emboldened perhaps by the unaffordability crisis and the inflation that is blowing a hole in the rest of the budget, the Region actually sent the initial 7.1 percent increase from the NRPS back to them, and asked them to kindly try again.
The cops managed to trim $2 million from the budget, which is a good start, but it still left us with a gnarly 6 percent increase to choke down.
In doing so, NRPS Chief Bryan MacCulloch basically told councillors this was going to lead to chaos on the streets. After trimming that $2 million, the NRPS is left with only a scant $188.5 million budget, which MacCulloch said would, “just keep the lights on” and claimed that any more cuts, even a single shiny penny less, “would potentially jeopardize public safety.”
Violent crime, he noted, is up. Which it is. After years of decline, violent crime began trending upward during the pandemic and has been stubbornly growing even since.
Because violent crime is up, we need more police officers, claimed MacCulloch. Makes sense. Seems like a good argument. Except it’s not. It’s a good argument for a bad idea.
The research doesn’t support their line of reasoning. A study published last year by Catalyst California and the ACLU of Southern California found that police “are not crime fighters.” After comparing 40 years worth of data (from 1971 to 2013) the conclusion was that, “the overall effect size for police force size on crime is negative, small, and not statistically significant.”
"Hiring more police officers does not, and has never, led to a statistical drop in crime"
Hiring more police officers does not, and has never, led to a statistical drop in crime. Probably because cops spend a surprisingly tiny amount of time responding to actual crime. The study found that, on average, a cop spends about one hour every week responding to actual crime.
“Enforcement is a relatively small part of what police do every day,” explained New York University School of Law professor Barry Friedman, who was part of the team that analyzed the data. According to Friedman, a vast majority of police time is spent on routine traffic violations and minor calls like noise complaints.
So the thing people are actually worried about, violent crime, is not really being addressed by police, and won't be solved by adding more police officers. MacCulloch accidentally made this same argument when bemoaning being asked to trim his budget, saying that last weekend officers in Niagara Falls responded to six overdose calls in six hours. He seemed to think this made the case for needing more police officers, but to me it sounds like we need more mental health and addiction workers, not more cops.
The backwards arguments kept coming that night, as police board chair Jen Lawson said that, until better mental health and addiction service strategies are in place, “Niagara needs more police officers.”
Better mental health and addiction services you say? Hmm, good point. If only there was some massive pool of money somewhere where we could find some cash to pay for things like mental health and addiction service strategies. If only there were like, say, some overfunded department that had a $188.5 million budget this year, which was able to easily trim $2 million. Surely some inflated budget like that, if it can find $2 million, can find a couple more million to pay for mental health and addiction supports.
James Culic is going to get pulled over for a traffic stop very soon. Find out how to yell at him at the bottom of the page, or share your thoughts in a letter to the editor.