There is no question that police services across Canada are constantly re-evaluating the roles of specially trained civilian personnel and special constables, and the duties that those (very important) members can take on, particularly with an eye towards ensuring that taxpayers receive the most benefit for their investment in public safety. That being said, your recent editorial calling for fewer uniformed police officers to be directing traffic misses the mark on a number of fronts.
You cite the experience of Vancouver (where I serve as the President of the Vancouver Police Union), and while it is true that in some, limited, circumstances Traffic Authority personnel are used to direct traffic, this is far from the norm, and only occurs in clearly defined situations where there is little, or no risk and there is a need for outer event perimeter control. The majority of traffic control is still done by uniformed police personnel.
Further, by definition, a lesser-trained special constable will lack the ability to respond to the full scope of situations that often arise when traffic is significantly disrupted in a major metropolitan core, such as Toronto. They also won’t have the necessary training to respond to circumstances such as walk-up reports of crime occurring, or, more seriously, instances of impaired/dangerous driving. Several independent evaluations of a ”tiered” response have found that this can lead to increased cost and arguably less effiency if after replacing the fully trained police officer with a lesser trained person, you ultimately have to call on a police officer.
There is a place for citizen volunteers and other specially trained civilian personnel in any successful and modern police service. How decisions on how to most effectively integrate these personnel and volunteers into an effective public safety model should be informed by objective research and data not political rhetoric and other agendas. While it’s easy to paint Police Association representatives as obstructionist, the fact is that our members have been at the forefront of the ongoing discussion of how to build modern, efficient and cost-effective police services. Citizens deserve nothing less.