As we predicted in the Outlook 2011 issue, post-recession budget shortfalls are forcing cities around the world to make some tough decisions. (See “The year of cutbacks.”) Tuesday, Toronto residents got a taste of what a kind of cuts may be coming down the pike in their backyard: the city has asked the police chief to looking into trimming the police force by 10%. But while the announcement is no-doubt shocking (as Police Chief Bill Blair remarked, “We have no historical precedent for doing that in Ontario), it comes on the heels of a similar move in numerous U.S. cities, where the axe has already fallen on those previously considered to be untouchable.
Despite public outcry and fierce resistance from unions, cities across New Jersey cut police departments by 15% late last year. Meanwhile in San Jose, more than 100 police officers were handed pink slips in April. The move, which occurred during the city’s 10th year of budget shortfalls, came as some 620 city jobs were eliminated. And in Cleveland, 42 police cadets have just learned that they will be laid off upon graduation from the city’s policy academy in late June.
Though the long-term implications of skimping on public safety to satisfy the public purse remain to be seen, recent New Jersey crime stats are less than heartening. Following a spate of killings over the Easter weekend, Newark’s murder total for this year hit 28—a 65% increase over last year. As former Newark police officer Wayne Fisher, who now heads the Police Institute at Rutgers University told the Associated Press, “No one can say [the layoffs] had absolutely nothing to do with it, but the hard question in to determine how much.” And as cities increasingly consider cutting back on cops, it’s a question that’s certainly worth answering.