The Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative (OMBI) is exactly what’s wrong with our approach to public spending in Ontario. The OBMI has just released a report that says Hamilton has fewer police officers per capita than other Ontario cities. Hamilton has 202 officers per 100,000 population; London 223, Toronto 282 and Windsor 295. From this there will be no doubt a case made that Hamilton needs more police officers—even though Hamilton has experienced the biggest decrease in violent crimes of all cities. True, Hamilton is above the provincial median for overall crime, but that sample includes all municipalities in the province, including smaller communities where crime is less common.
Back to the OMBI, the problem with this kind of survey is the same as the problem with the Public Sector Arbitration system. The criteria applied are not things like ability to pay, or value for money; but rather simply comparing one community with another and leaping to the inevitable conclusion that the community that pays more should now be the benchmark for the rest of the province. The tendency with these staffing and salary agreements is that they always “round-up” to the higher figure– we never “round down.” Nowhere does anybody say, ‘Hamilton is doing a helluva job with fewer police officers, why can’t other communities learn from Hamilton.’ Instead those who set the budget for Hamilton’s Police Service will be under pressure to “catch up” with other communities. It’s a bad system that, these days, is simply unaffordable.