The Public Debate About Privatizing Police Services in Ontario: Lessons from the UK

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Reid, Charles, Stephen
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Mount Saint Vincent University
In 2015, Kathleen Wynne’s government began a public consultation process of modernizing the Police Services Act (1990), arguing the public safety model must reflect a changing society. Throughout the past three years, the Wynne government used the United Kingdom’s experience of restructuring the police service delivery model as the basis for a similar process in Ontario. This thesis compiled and reviewed a number of academic qualitative and quantitative academic studies which pertained to how the UK government promoted police austerity measures including privatization as a means toward increasing service efficiency without compromising public safety. After reviewing data from over seven years of police service cuts in the UK and existing Ontario-based data on policing costs, my thesis concludes that the new Police Services Act (2018) was supported by a successful communication strategy that purposely avoided the long-term public relations risks of promoting a modernization process that included privatization as a way to control the perception of escalating police costs. Instead, the Wynne government’s success in influencing public acceptance of the legislation was the result of a communication strategy that focused solely on social justice issues and its relationship with professional policing. In the process of reviewing how both the UK and Ontario governments used political communication to influence the public’s perception of how policing should be modernized, I also identified a significant reluctance by police service leadership towards increasing and promoting their own value. My thesis concludes that this reluctance and a lack of investment of resources in both research and communication planning by police organizations continues to allow police legitimacy and its value as a public service in Ontario to be questioned by its detractors.
Privatizing police services, public safety