The Canadian Review of Policing Research (2004)

ISSN: 1710 6915


Christopher Murphy

Christopher Murphy is an associate professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Dalhousie University. He has researched and written extensively on trends in Canadian policing for over 20 years, and is currently working on the impact and implications of security on public policing and immigrant communities and the question of international policing. The discussion paper from which this summary is taken was funded and published by the Police Futures Group of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police in its electronic studies series. It can be found at Dr. Murphy can be reached at

This research-based discussion paper examines the impact of rising costs, limited resources and growing service demands on Canadian policing between 1990- 2000. It documents the police adoption of neo-liberal business models and values in order to facilitate the “rationalization” of police governance, organization, management and services. The analysis concludes that limited, rationalized, modern police services require a new strategic formulation of the police role to address public interest and the rapidly expanding policing and security demands of late-modern Canadian society.


Three different methodologies were used to provide an empirical basis for the findings and analysis:

  1. A review of the international and national research, policy and program literature on various policing issues;
  2. Thirty semi-structured, in-person or telephone interviews were undertaken with selected police chiefs, executives and policing academics;
  3. A national mail survey of 125/325 police chiefs or senior executives, with the assistance of the Police Futures Group.


Canadian public policing is in another period of transition characterized by growing political pressure for greater fiscal and operational accountability, escalating policing costs, expanding service demands, shrinking budgets, declining police growth and, ultimately, reduced police services. Police executives are no longer managers of continuing organizational growth and service expansion, they are now confronted with inexorable political demands to find ways to cut costs, increase efficiency, improve productivity and demonstrate what is called “value for money”. Pressured to abandon traditional quasi-military, bureaucratic police management models for more contemporary and efficient private-sector service managerial philosophies and strategies, modern police executives must now provide business-based planning models, argue the cost efficiency of various policing strategies and promote radical organizational change.

The New Public Police Political Environment

This chapter examines the impact of the new political economy of public policing and its rationalizing influence. In a globally-influenced political and economic environment, Canadian national and local governments have changed from expanding public services such as policing, to market-driven models of limited and “managed” public services and private-sector alternatives. The attempt to manage rapidly increasing police costs, by reducing police budgets, demanding more exacting political and fiscal accountability, and encouraging the adoption of business-based managerial procedures has led to far more active governance. Governments have tried to rationalize the structure and cost of municipal policing by encouraging police service competition, operational standardization, and service amalgamation and regionalization. In response to these external governance pressures, police management has been shifting from traditional bureaucratic to modern corporate management values and strategies, in and effort to introduce the organizational and cultural change required for the rationalization of police services.

Rationalizing Public Police Services

This research section describes the dramatic rationalization of “traditional” broad based public police services in Canada. Policing costs, limited public funding, and expanding service demands forced Canadian police services to find ways to ration their existing police services and find alternative or innovative ways to deliver services more efficiently. Interviews with police chiefs and survey responses indicate this has meant eliminating some traditional police services altogether and significantly reducing or restricting access to others. Another response has been to share the responsibility of police service with others in the community or private sector. The “commodification” of police services has also encouraged public police to price, sell or raise revenues from some police services. New technology is also transforming police services by either enhancing or replacing in-person police activities. Finally, the privatization of some low-skill and high-skill police functions is another rationalization strategy enabling private security to meet expanding market needs. These changes are gradually redefining and rationalizing the role and power of the public police.

Police Rationalization Issues and Implications

This research on Canadian policing suggests a clear trend towards “market” driven forms of police governance, police organization and, ultimately, the rationalization of police services. The transition has critical political and practical implications for both Canadian police and Canadian society.

Questioning the “Business” Model of Public Policing

While the application of market strategies to the governance, organization and delivery of public policing services can potentially improve police effectiveness and efficiency, it also introduces new values and practices that conflict with the historical, constitutional and social character of the public police as a legally-bound public service. For example, values such as cost-benefit, efficiency, and consumer satisfaction often conflict with public service values such as the public good, equity, accountability, due process and justice. That is why the business models and values that are now shaping public policing services should be assessed more critically before they become the new definition of what constitutes acceptable public police service.

Empowering Police Management

Managing public policing has always been an important but difficult task. Police managers must respond to a broad and changing mandate, often governed by unrealistic public and political expectations and an unpredictable work environment. An insular organizational and occupational police culture, reinforced by powerful and occupationally protective unions, resist managerial and political reforms. Modern police executives are forced to manage within the confines of restrictive collective agreements that limit their managerial authority, enshrine inefficient work practices, and severely restrict their ability to make desirable organizational or operational changes. More managerial authority and expertise is required for public policing to respond adequately to the political, financial and public pressures of late-modern policing.

Supporting Canadian Policing Knowledge Production

Virtually every issue explored in this discussion paper remains largely uninformed by Canadian research. The question is whether Canadian public policing can develop in a competitive market environment by simply relying on past practice, imported knowledge and untested innovation. Without institutional capacity for knowledge generation, accumulation, communication and implementation, a sceptical and challenging market- society may well be unsympathetic to the expensive and expansive needs of public policing. An annual expenditure of $7 billion a year, and rising, requires explaining and defending, especially with an aggressive private policing and security industry claiming it could do it cheaper and better. Public policing must be capable of demonstrating with credible research findings that it is using public resources effectively on matters vital to public interest and that it is using scarce resources efficiently. Canada needs a national “policing knowledge network”, or a national research and development strategy, capable of coordinating and disseminating existing policing knowledge, producing new knowledge, promoting knowledge-based innovation, and supporting critical and responsive policy development and debate.

Conclusion: A New Role for Public Police?

Perhaps the most significant finding in this study is the degree to which police services in Canada have already changed in response to resource and demand pressures. Given the likelihood of a continuing squeeze between public demand and police ability to respond, even the most imaginative police managers will find it difficult to decide what kinds of police service are possible and who should receive them. Rationalization, while perhaps more cost efficient, ultimately reduces the role and capacity of public police to respond to broad policing needs. This research demonstrates that public police are increasingly unable to address a growing proportion of the policing and security needs of society, while other public and private agencies are offering more policing and security alternatives. Given this reality how should public police respond? While it is likely that policing and security needs in general will expand and diversify in the future, what is not clear is the role public police will or should play in its development. What role will the public police play in the complex and pluralized policing environment of the immediate future? The following are some the strategic options for public police and policy-makers to consider and debate.