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A 30 Year Analysis of

Police Service Delivery and Costing:

“E’ Division

Research Summary

 Aili Malm

Nahanni Pollard

Paul Brantingham

Paul Tinsley

Darryl Plecas

Patricia Brantingham

Irwin Cohen

Bryan Kinney


School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

University College of the Fraser Valley 

(Abbotsford, B.C.)

Institute for Canadian Urban Research Studies



Research Summary Report:

A 30 Year Analysis of Police Service Delivery and Costing


Understanding current costs of police services requires an understanding of past costs and past demands for police services. This research explored how demands for police services from the RCMP in British Columbia varied over the past 30 years and whether the amount of work necessary to respond to calls for police services increased or decreased. This is a study of police capacity, that is, the quantity of cases that can be handled by police responding to calls for service. If overall police members’ time to handle a call were to decrease, then police capacity would increase and the number of calls for police service could increase with the expenditures remaining the same. If the time it takes to handle a case were to increase then police capacity would decrease and fewer cases could be handled with the same number of police. If police capacity decreased at the same time that demand increased then serious operational decisions might have to be made, either limiting demand, or increasing the number of police, or reducing in the work done with respect to any given case. 

This research used a series of different measures of demand for police service and police capacity (time required to respond to calls). These measures showed that over the last 30 years:

  • There was an increase in demand for police services that exceeded increases in police;

  • There were a series of court decisions that substantially increased the required number of steps and the amount of paperwork generated in handling cases that proceed to court;

  • There was an associated increase in time for handling specific types of crimes as the legal requirements changed; and,

  • There were increases in time required to handle cases administratively as computer systems were introduced.

Overall, there was a decrease in police capacity and an increase in demand for services. Not surprising, as the demand for police services in British Columbia increased, there was a decrease in the proportion of cases cleared by charge.

The amount of time required by police officers to handle a case from initial call to acceptance by crown increased substantially over the course of the last 30 years. For example:

  • Break & Enter cases required 58% more time in 2003 than in 1983;

  • Driving Under the Influence cases required 250% more time; and

  • Domestic assault cases required 964% more time.

A substantial part of this time increase involves time spent to prepare a case for Crown acceptance.


This costing of police services is an activity-time costing in which baseline line estimates of demand for police services, the steps required to handle a call and the time taken in responding to a call were researched for current operations and operations 10, 20 and 30 years ago. This approach provides estimates of changing levels of police capacity and, in periods of fixed resources, provides the basis for comparing expenditures over a fixed period. 

Police services in British Columbia have traditionally been staffed and funded according to a formula grounded in part on provincial population. As the province has grown over the past three decades, so have the numbers of sworn police officers and their civilian support staff increased. Accordingly, policing expenditures have also increased.

This fact – that both police expenditures and the number of police officers and civilian support staff has grown as British Columbia’s population has grown – seems to stand in stark contrast to public concerns for the safety of both person and property in the province and to the concerns of senior police managers, who believe that there has been a substantial erosion in their capacity to respond to crime and calls for service over this same time period.

This perceived erosion of police capacity to respond to crime is reflected in many aspects of police service delivery.  Crime clearance rates have declined substantially.  Police forces and detachments have become far more selective about the crime reports to which they physically attend and about which crimes they will fully investigate. Anecdotally, we can point to one police agency that was recently forced to consider abandoning a homicide investigation because of the costs involved and to a police force in another city in which a six-figure fraud investigation was shelved because the losses involved were not considered big enough to justify the cost of investigation and prosecution support. It appears that increasing numbers of impaired drivers are being given 24 hour suspensions rather than being charged and increasing numbers of drug cases end with contraband seizures rather than charges.  Moreover private security personnel still outnumber public police in Canada and have begun to act in matters such as investigating corporate fraud, preventing computer crime and conducting forensic analyses that have traditionally been done by public police. 

At least part of the explanation for the current situation of increased police resources and declining police service can be found – in British Columbia at least - in a series of less visible changes in the relative position of police forces in relation to the crime burden and in the increasing complexity of the police job. Legislation and court rulings have resulted in increases in required steps in handling cases with associated increases in time for complete cases. Technical advancements and additions of computer systems may have increased some administrative work. For example, a DUI case or a domestic assault of 30 years ago is decidedly different, with current cases requiring substantial longer police time.  Police case capacity is decreasing.

This ICURS Research Summary Report condenses and highlights the findings in an associated technical report.

Research Strategy

Discussion with senior police managers, NCO’s and front line officers confirmed our initial assumption that there was a general feeling amongst police in British Columbia that they were working harder than they had in the past, but doing so less effectively. Further discussions supplemented by a systematic literature review suggested two likely reality-based explanations for this general feeling:

  • Police resources allocated on the basis of residential population are inadequate to the tasks police are expected to accomplish.

  • Changes in the legal and technical context in which police must operate have made the job more complex and therefore much more time consuming than in the past.

The implications of these two issues for understanding contemporary police resourcing needs are profound. To the extent that the first explanation is correct, too few police are available to do the job. To the extent that the second explanation is correct, those police who have been resourced have far less capacity to handle crimes and other calls for service than did police working 10, 20 or 30 years ago.

We addressed these issues in a series of interconnected ways.  The first issue could be addressed by looking at BC police resources in comparison with other Canadian, Commonwealth, and Common Law jurisdictions and further examining BC police resourcing in relation to BC population and BC crime over time.

Addressing the second issue required examination of the evolving legal and technical requirements of the job over time and the development of police work process models describing the step-by-step handling of a variety of crimes both at the present time and in prior decades. We looked at things 10, 20 and 30 years ago for three different areas centered on – Surrey, Nanaimo, and Prince George – representing three different regions of the province.

We gathered information through:

  • An analysis of case law and legislation touching on the police function over the period 1970 – 2004.

  • Expert Focus Groups with long term service helped develop flow charts depicting the steps involved in handling different types of cases – break and enter, domestic assault, driving under the influence, drug trafficking, homicide – at present and 10, 20 and 30 years ago. They provided their own notebooks for historical analysis. They also helped us develop a time line depicting the technological changes that have influenced policing since 1970.

  • Regional Focus Groups in the three study cities helped refine the crime handling flow charts from local perspectives and also helped provide timing data for understanding how long each step in the process takes currently and 10, 20 and 30 years ago. They provided their own logbooks for historical analysis.

  • Analysis of historical operational records including case files and members’ notebooks provided additional information for the flow charts and time estimates.

  • A sample of members kept current time use logs, recording the time spent on various tasks as they handled cases involving the five types of crime under study. Analysis of these logs gave current estimates of the amounts of time needed to complete the different tasks need to carry the case to conclusion. 

  • An analysis of data derived from CAD and CIIDS was intended to supplement and refine the timing models developed from the sources mentioned above. A variety of obstacles have precluded our accessing these data to this project to date. This report will be supplemented when these data become available.

Finally, we utilized the information developed in this study to prototype a simple tool for estimating the impact of changing case handling times as the British Columbia policing context continues to evolve.

At the same time, it will be important to keep in mind that there are multiplicity of work and attendant costs associated to policing that this study did not take into account – but it is widely recognized by those familiar with policing services that such work and costs have increased dramatically over the years. These cost include, for example, added training requirements related to increased accountability and liability issues respecting such matters as use of force, emergency vehicle operation, handling of domestic violence cases, harassment prevention, labor code changes, and emergency preparedness. As well there are the added training that has become necessary as a consequence of the increasing complexity involved in investigations, legal matters in general, the globalization of crime, and crimes involving ever changing technology. Further, there have been ever increasing equipment, training, testing, and legal costs associated to general health and personnel matters. Overall, every year, the requirement of police agencies to deal with new aspects of these issues adds millions of dollars to the costs over previous


Overview of the British Columbia Policing Context

Canada is a relatively high crime nation. International victimization surveys and international compilations of crimes known to the police both indicate that Canada has high property crime levels and high assault levels relative to other developed nations.  About one Canadian in four (25% of the population) is victimized each year by one of the 11 types of crime tracked by the International Victimization Survey. Canada has traditionally also been relatively lightly policed in comparison to other developed nations such as Australia, Britain, France, Ireland, Netherlands or the United States having far fewer police per capita than any of them. For instance in 2003, Canada’s ratio of police to population was 19% lower than Australia’s, 22% lower than that of the United States and 26% lower than that of England and Wales.

Within Canada, British Columbia is traditionally lightly policed compared to other provinces although it has consistently had among the highest provincial crime rates since at least the 1920’s. In 2004, for instance British Columbia had more criminal code offences reported to the police than Quebec, although Quebec had almost double BC’s population. British Columbia’s crime rate was more than double that of Ontario. Yet Ontario and Quebec both had substantially more police per capita than British Columbia, which had lower police to population ratios than relatively low crime Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

British Columbia, like the rest of Canada, estimates the number of police it needs on the basis population counts. Population in Canada more than doubled (2.3 times) between 1962 and 2003 while the number of police increased by only 1.7 times – falling behind what might be assumed to be needed if population were the best indicator of policing needs. The number of crimes reported to the police in Canada over this same time period increased seven fold. British Columbia’s data tell a similar story: population more than doubled (2.4 times) between 1962 and 2003, but the number of crimes reported to the police increased seven-fold. This means that although the increase in police resources kept pace with population growth over this forty-year period, each British Columbia police officer was expected to handle almost three times as many crimes in 2005 as his or her 1962 peer had been expected to handle. Police resources did not keep pace with the volume of crime British Columbians suffered. All things being equal, this fact alone indicates that police effectiveness must have declined relative to police effectiveness a generation ago.

Over this time police clearance rates have declined substantially. Break and Enter clearances have dropped from around 25% to around 8%; homicide clearance rates have dropped from around 90% to below 70%. British Columbia spends less per capita for police services than Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.   British Columbia has 13% of Canada’s population and 20% of Canada’s criminal code offences, but accounts for only 10% Canada’s spending for police services.

It appears that the answer to the first issue posed in this study is that police resources are funded more on the basis of residential population resulting in an insufficient quantity of police resources to accomplish the tasks police are expected to accomplish. Police resources funded on the basis of crime volumes could provide an increase in capacity that could better address the province’s crime problems.

The Evolving Technical and Legal Environment

Technological Impacts

The R.C.M.P. in British Columbia have seen a number of technological impacts in the past three decades.  The major technological influences are:

  • Computer aided dispatch

  • Records management system

  • Radio communications

  • Mobile workstations

New technology provides new and better systems for communication, dispatch, crime analysis, case management, prosecution support, and force administration and management. New technology also makes demands on members’ time in terms of training and re-training in its use and in terms of connecting with and waiting for technical support when problems develop and glitches occur. There is another problem as well. New technical tools can be seductive, inviting members to spend more time working with the technology (polishing the text of reports or printing better looking graphs, for instance) rather than working cases or implementing special projects. Improved technology often carries with it demands from others in the criminal justice system for new and increasingly time consuming activities on the part of police officers. As the diagram above indicates, a limited number of major technical advances in the 1970’s and 1980’s have been followed by an accelerating introduction of new technical hardware and systems in the 1990’s and in the new century. The need for training and re-training in the use of technical systems is accelerating.

It should be noted that the introduction of technology in policing follows a path similar to the technology changes in government in general and in business as well. The increased technology provides the potential improving the availability of information, but for most has an associated increase in administrative work.

The time consuming use of these new technical systems continues to grow. This is illustrated in the amount of time members now put into administrative duties and report writing compared to the past. In the 1970’s such tasks took a typical member about an hour and a half per day. Currently the typical member spends more than four hours a day, that is, about 40% of his or her time, at administrative duties and report writing.  In addition, both our experts focus groups and our study of the daily time logs members kept for this study indicated that many members are putting in up to an hour of unpaid overtime every day to get through all the required paperwork.

Time per Day Spent on Paperwork-Related Tasks

Now and in Past Decades

Study of the daily time logs members kept for this project indicates that general duty members spend more time on paperwork tasks than they spend on responding to calls for service and conducting investigations combined. They also told us that the introduction of mobile data terminals has made it possible to do paperwork in their police vehicles and estimated that some 80% of their time on patrol when not actively responding to calls is spent doing paperwork over the mobile data terminals.

Current Time Logs:

Average Number Of Hour Spent Per Task Category Per Day

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