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OTTAWA -- Winnipeg has one of the most overstaffed police forces in Canada, a think-tank said Monday.

The Fraser Institute report, called Policing and Crime Rates in Canada, looked at police staffing levels and crime rates in major Canadian centres over the last few decades. It found Manitoba has more police officers per capita than any other province and Winnipeg has among the three least efficient forces.

The report says Winnipeg and Thunder Bay, Ont., had the most police officers per 100,000 residents in 2013, at 189. The median was 160 officers per 100,000 for the 24 cities included. The lowest ratio was 122 per 100,000, found in Saguenay, Que., and Trois-Rivières, Que.

The 2013 annual report of the Winnipeg Police Service shows the city has a complement of 1,463 police officers, 465 civilians and 60 cadets.

The Fraser Institute report also looked at how many officers it said the city should have, using population, crime rates and various social and demographic factors such as the age distribution of the force, and local economic factors such as the number of single-parent families, income levels and unemployment rates.

Using that scale, the report's author, Livio Di Matteo, said Winnipeg should have had 145 officers per 100,000 population in 2011, but actually had 187. Only Windsor, Ont., had a bigger gap, with 138 officers recommended per 100,000 people and 181 actual officers. Twelve cities had fewer than the recommended number, including Moncton, N.B., which had 39 fewer officers than the 154 recommended.

Di Matteo found staffing levels and spending on police forces across Canada grew substantially from 2001 to 2012, even as crime rates fell. Nationally, the number of cops per 100,000 people grew by 8.7 per cent, while the crime rate fell 26.3 per cent. Total spending grew 85 per cent in that time frame to $13.5 billion in 2012 from $7.3 billion in 2001.

Di Matteo acknowledged the work done by police officers in Canada is becoming more complex, with a greater emphasis on things such as cyber crime and mental illness, but said there are still likely more cops than we need in many jurisdictions.

"Growing numbers of police officers and declining crime rates raise the question of whether the most efficient use is being made of policing resources across the country," Di Matteo wrote in his report.

Winnipeg police Chief Devon Clunis said he will look at the study but on the surface he doesn't put much stock in a study that looks only at numbers on paper and doesn't include a visit to the city. He said he has commissioned two studies on police staffing in the last year and both said the city is relatively close to having the proper amount of staff. One study, completed by a researcher at Simon Fraser University, suggested Winnipeg had 50 cops too many but needs 85 more civilian staff.

Crime rates have fallen in Winnipeg, with a drop of 13 per cent in violent crime and 17 per cent in property crime in 2013 from 2012.

Clunis acknowledged the political winds and public pressure in recent years have all been aimed at hiring more police officers.

Most of Winnipeg's mayoral candidates have promised additional police officers and one dismissed the Fraser report Monday.

Judy Wasylycia-Leis, who has promised five more foot-patrol officers each year for four years, credits the current makeup of the Winnipeg Police Service for its success in reducing crime and said the Fraser Institute is merely repeating old criticisms that aren't relevant or accurate.

"I've heard these stats before," she said. "We need a strong police force just as we need firefighters at the ready and we need paramedics."

Clunis said he's not asking for more officers. What the force needs, he said, is more civilian staff to allow officers to focus more on police work and less on administrative duties. He also said it's premature to say just because crime has gone down, so should the number of police officers.

"I'm not saying we need to maintain this level forever, but the minute you have some positive gains (in the crime rate) I think it would be irresponsible at this point to say we have to cut."

-- with files from Aldo Santin

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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