No consistent correlations were found between increased police spending and municipal crime rates in a longitudinal study by researchers at the University of Toronto and the Upstream Lab shared in the Advance Access issue of Canadian Public Policy.
“Our analysis found that police services are a top budget priority in most municipalities, with up to 26 percent of total expenditures allocated to police,” wrote Mélanie Seabrook, Researcher at Upstream Lab based at MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions, St. Michael’s Hospital, with co-authors. However, the findings revealed net increases in per capita spending are not associated with larger reductions in crime rates.
The authors examined budgets of 20 urban municipalities in Canada: Toronto, Montreal, Peel Region, Calgary, York Region, Edmonton, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Waterloo Region, Surrey, Quebec City, Hamilton, Halifax, Laval, London, Gatineau, Saskatoon, Burnaby, and Longueuil.
The study looked at police funding and how it varies across Canadian municipalities over a long period of time. The data from 2010 to 2020 showed wide differences in spending. For example, Vancouver spent more than double per capita on policing in 2019 than Quebec City, highlighting the complexity of the interactions between crime rates and police funding.
Other studies have also had mixed results regarding the relationship between police funding and crime. A 2014 study found no clear relationship between crime rates and per capita police expenditures in Canadian provinces, and a 2015 study of 50 Canadian municipalities found that higher spending on police was associated with higher rates of violent crime, but the direction of the relationship was not established.
Research on police funding is limited in Canada, partly due to the lack of publicly available data on police spending. The study calls for improved publishing of police expenditure data, and for future research to examine whether funding decisions may be based on past crime rates and explore whether investments in police impact future crime rates.
“Although we do not make specific policy recommendations regarding police budgets, our findings raise questions about the reasoning for such vast differences in police funding across the country despite overall downward crime rates,” the authors concluded, who include Upstream Lab Founder & Director Dr. Andrew Pinto and MAP Scientist Dr. Nav Persaud.
“Police Funding and Crime Rates in 20 of Canada’s Largest Municipalities: A Longitudinal Study” was published in Canadian Public Policy Advance Access on October 17, 2023. The official publication will appear in the December issue.