March 30, 2016 3:23 pm

Crime rates are falling. So why has Canada had the same number of police officers for years?

Crime may have fallen, but the paperwork burden of policing has grown, an expert points out.

PATRICK CAIN/GLOBAL NEWS
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The strength of Canadian police forces has remained constant for years, even as crime rates fall steeply, data released today by Statistics Canada shows.

Canada has had just under 70,000 police officers since 2009, a number that has grown slowly from about 50,000 in the mid-1980s.

Year after year, however, there have been fewer crimes for them to investigate. In 1986, there were 44 Criminal Code incidents per police officer, a number that has fallen steadily over the years, to 26 in 2014. StatsCan’s ‘crime severity index,’ a measure that balances the frequency and severity of crime, stood in 2014 at 56 per cent of where it was in 1998.

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However, policing has become more complex and labour-intensive, observes Rick Ruddell, who teaches justice studies at the University of Regina.

“What people don’t consider is that the police carry out a lot of social service duties.”

“Law enforcement represents only a small fraction of their job. Even though the rate of police-reported crime is showing a decrease, their workload is actually increasing in a lot of areas, as they’re responding to all these other social problems.”

The paperwork burdens of policing has also grown, he points out.

“Impaired driving, for example. Twenty years ago, it took three hours to process an impaired driving case. Now it takes closer to eight or nine hours of an officer’s time. The requirements are so much higher now in terms of reporting and paperwork.”

Paul Brantingham chats with us about his new Fraser Institute report that shows crime rates are decreasing but the cost of fighting illegal activity has increased dramatically.

Because of population growth, the rate per 100,000 of police officers to the population has fallen slightly in recent years, from 203 in 2010 to 191 in 2015.

Being able to send large groups of officers to potentially violent situations makes it easier to resolve them without harm, he argues.

“A physical confrontation, if it’s one-on-one, the rate of injury is very much higher on both sides for officers and the suspect.”

“Speaking from my correctional experience, it’s just really hard to restrain somebody. When it’s one-on-one, it’s very difficult.”

Ruddell worked in the Saskatchewan and federal correctional systems before going into academia.

READ MORE: Canada sees decline in all crimes but sexual assault rates

StatsCan’s release also showed a growing number of women in Canada’s police ranks — 20 per cent of Canada’s police officers, up from 10 per cent in 1996. Twelve per cent of senior police officers are women, up from six per cent in 2006.

Click here to view data »

In efforts to boost the number of women in its ranks the RCMP held a recruitment event in Winnipeg Thursday specifically aimed at female recruits.

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