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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume 2 - Policies and Practices In Canada

Chapter 14 - Police Practices

Costs [1][6]


The Committee had requested certain details from police forces such as the proportion of time officers spend on drug-related cases, the number of officers assigned to drug enforcement, etc. In most cases, we either received no response to these questions or very general broad statements. Either the police forces were not willing to share this information or police work does not lend itself to these types of calculations and no one knows how much is spent on drug enforcement. In either case, the lack of data makes it extremely difficult to estimate how much of police budgets is allocated to drug-related matters and to analyze whether or not public funds are efficiently allocated.

Estimating the cost of drug enforcement is a fairly complex exercise. Questions raised include: Which items should be included? Which items should be left out because of a lack of data? How should each cost element be measured? Are such costs truly avoidable? How are items to be costed? Finally, what is the effect of these factors on the quality of the results?

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) undertook the latest major study of the costs of drug abuse in Canada.[2][7] This study was published in 1996 and relates to 1992 data. Law enforcement costs were estimated as:


Police                                                          $208.3M

Courts                                                           $59.2M

Corrections (including probation)          $123.8M

Customs and Excise                                     $9.0M

Total law enforcement costs                  $400.3M


Police costs consisted of the costs for specialized law agencies such as the (then) RCMP Narcotics Division, plus that fraction of the general costs of operations that could be attributed to dealing with illicit drug crimes. Such crimes included both direct violations of the drug laws and also that proportion of general crimes that could reasonably be attributed to illicit drugs.  

Data existed on the proportion of homicide and assault cases in which the perpetrator was under the influence of illicit drugs. The CCSA study estimated the proportion of those cases where the assault or homicide could be causally attributed to the drug intoxication of the perpetrator. Putting these two together, it estimated that 8% of violent crimes were attributable to illicit drugs in Canada. No such figure was estimated for property crimes.

The measure of police output was the offence. To estimate policing costs, total policing expenditures as reported by Statistics Canada were multiplied by the percentage of offences that were estimated to be drug-related. The CCSA study concluded that in 1992, 2.4% of all offences were attributable to illicit drug use.


Policing costs of enforcing federal drug laws   $168.4M

Policing costs of 8% of violent crimes                              $39.9M

Total policing costs                                                            $208.3M


The Customs and Excise figure excluded programs financed under the Drug Strategy.

While we are unable to conduct an in-depth study of enforcement of laws on illicit drugs costs in relation to the RCMP, the CCRA and provincial and municipal police, we can assert with certainty that the current costs of enforcement of laws on illicit drugs are significantly higher than the approximately $210 million estimated in 1992.     

The Auditor General’s 2001 report estimated that the RCMP alone spent approximately $164 million in 1999 on enforcement of laws on illicit drugs.[3][8] This estimate was based on detailed expenditure data gathered by the federal drug enforcement program. The amount included costs directly related to drug enforcement as well as costs in related areas such as proceeds of crime and customs and excise initiatives.

The $164 million applies only to RCMP federal policing services, however, and not to the policing services rendered by the RCMP under contract to a province or municipality, which account for the largest share of the force’s budget. We were told that, at present, it was not possible to ascertain the costs related to the enforcement of laws on illicit drugs for the latter functions.


In the case of contract policing, enforcement of drug laws is rendered in conjunction with a number of other services as, typically, the officers under contract are performing uniform duty, that is, general policing duties in communities. It is therefore difficult to determine what portion of their time is spent doing which activity. This difficulty is enhanced when the drug offence is incidental to another crime, which is often the case.


One must consider that a large portion of the cost of any police service is the pay and benefits extended to its members. In order to accurately determine the cost of drug enforcement in contract policing, the amount of time devoted to the effort must be measured.


While this is done for members of the RCMP employed in the federal services, the present system applied to contract policing is incapable of collecting this information. An effort is being made to develop a new system that could possibly capture this information. However, given the breadth of day-to-day contract policing duties, it is a clear challenge to separate out, in a meaningful way, drug-related activity.


…I should like to speak now to the cost borne by provincial and municipal police forces. We have recently begun a process to determine what information exists on enforcement costs and where the gaps lie. Last month, at the most recent meeting of the National Coordinating Committee on Organized Crime, which I chair, our department distributed a questionnaire to collect existing information on the cost of enforcement in the provinces and territories. The questionnaire has since been distributed to police forces across the country through the Canadian Association of Police Boards. We are very interested in analyzing the results once we have received them. [4][9]


This Committee is obviously also very interested in these results, since they would provide the most accurate information available to date. As previously explained, we found it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain any specific details on cost breakdowns for drug-related activities for provincial and municipal police forces. While Chief Fantino of the Toronto Police Service indicated that “probably one-third of our resources are sucked right up in some form or another relating to drug work,”[5][10] this type of statement is insufficient to permit concrete conclusions with respect to policing costs. What we did hear was that drug investigations–in particular those targeting trafficking networks–can be very resource-intensive for police forces.


It is a large pull on resources, due to the nature of the work. The work is complex and, as you point out, it involves surveillance. It will sometimes involve wiretap surveillance as well. It requires a network of people who work in a clandestine fashion. It takes the police a long time to assemble credible evidence to reveal the network, make the connections, and then to correlate all of that for the court. It is a very resource-intensive aspect of policing, therefore, it is very expensive to the police department. [6][11]


It is not clear, however, whether the same rationale with respect to costs applies in the case of cannabis possession.


Cannabis use is, except as it is incidental to an encounter with a police officer, not a target of police investigation at this time, at least not in this community. We do not go out and seek people who are simply using cannabis. We do encounter them, however, as we go about our business in many other circumstances. We encounter them as one part of the drug investigation into trafficking, so we see the users there and some charges arise. We see them in domestic disputes. We see users in drinking establishment investigations and sometimes in traffic-infraction situations. Their presence is incidental to the investigation.


As far as targeting cannabis trafficking and cannabis cultivation, that is a mainstream of the drug investigations. The money from cannabis cultivation and cannabis trafficking does flow into other aspects of crime. In some communities it is most definitely formal, organized crime; in other communities it is groups of affiliated criminals who are involved for profit only. We direct our activity to those areas. [7][12]


With respect to customs-related costs, the CCRA indicated that of its $410 million budget for 2001-2002, it can be estimated that $75 million is dedicated to the interdiction of illegal drugs, in areas such as: Flexible Response Teams; district-targeting units; the container examination program; the marine centre of expertise; regional intelligence analysts; and regional intelligence officers. In addition, costs were associated with contraband detection technology that includes: X-rays; ion-mobility spectrometers; and the Detector Dog service. The CCRA did indicate that the officers involved in contraband detection are not dedicated solely to drug enforcement but to contraband enforcement in general–although illicit drug interdiction was their first priority. The Auditor General’s 2001 report had estimated the CCRA’s enforcement expenditures at between $14 and $36 million for illicit drug interdiction.[8][13]  

The numbers indicated below have been selected from the following sources:


v     RCMP (federal policing services) – Auditor General’s 2001 report and testimony before the Committee;

v     Provincial and municipal forces and RCMP (under contract) – by multiplying the estimated total policing expenditures for municipal and provincial policing of $5.0 billion (in 1997-1998, expenditures totalled $4.8 billion – excluding RCMP federal policing services expenditures)[9][14] by 3.5% (the percentage that illicit drug offences represented of all CDSA and Criminal Code offences in 2001: 91,920 CDSA offences and 2,534,319 Criminal Code offences = 2,626,239 total CDSA and Criminal Code offences)[10][15]; and

v     CCRA – based on an estimate between figures provided in the Auditor General’s 2001 report ($14 to $36 million) and the CCRA’s testimony before the committee ($75 million).  


While this is a crude and unscientific method of calculation and does not take into account a series of factors that would certainly lead to adjustments, it does provide some basis for comparison.    


RCMP (Federal Services)                                                                                           $164 million

Provincial and municipal policing                                                                              $175 million

CCRA                                                                                                                              $50 million


Total    $389 million


As indicated above, given the fact that drug investigations are extremely resource-intensive, drug enforcement may be assumed to represent much more than 3.5% of policing budgets. Chief Fantino of the Toronto Police Service indicated that it was probably closer to 33% of his budget. Even if a conservative number such as 15% were used, the figure for provincial and municipal policing costs would increase to $750 million. This would mean that almost $1 billion is being spent on drug enforcement in Canada every year. Clearly, not all costs would be recoverable, even under a legalized system. For example, already overburdened police forces would surely redirect resources to other priorities. However, significant savings could reasonably be expected, if the cannabis laws were relaxed.


…the actual savings in law enforcement costs attributable to changing prohibition of possession are hard to estimate. The difficulty occurs in part because cannabis arrests have decreased in recent years in Vancouver reflecting the overall tendency to relax enforcement for simple possession. Nevertheless, reduced law enforcement activities would have substantial savings if the law was repealed or changed.[11][16](emphasis added)




[1][6] This section relies to some extent on The Costs of Drug Abuse and Drug Policy, a paper prepared for the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs by Antony G. Jackson, Economics Division, Parliamentary Research Branch, Library of Parliament, 22 April 2002.

[2][7] Single, E., et al., (1996) The Costs of Substance Abuse in Canada: A Cost Estimation Study, Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

[3][8] Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons, 2001, Chapter 11, “Illicit Drugs: The Federal Government’s Role,” page 17.

[4][9] Paul E. Kennedy, Senior Assistant Deputy Solicitor General, Policing and Security Branch, Department of the Solicitor General, Proceedings of the Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, Senate of Canada, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, 2001-02, Issue no. 22, pages 9-10.

[5][10] Chief Julian Fantino, Toronto Police Service, Proceedings of the Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, Senate of Canada, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, 2001, Issue no. 5, page 11.

[6][11] Chief Cal Johnston, Regina Police Service, Proceedings of the Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, Senate of Canada, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, 2001-02, Issue no. 16, page 31.

[7][12] Ibid., page 33.

[8][13] Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons, 2001, Chapter 11, “Illicit Drugs: The Federal Government’s Role,” page 16.

[9][14] Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Juristat, Justice Spending in Canada, Catalogue no. 85-002-XIE, Vol. 19, No. 12, pages 4-6.

[10][15] Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Juristat, Crime Statistics in Canada - 2001, page 14.

[11][16] Kash Heed, Vice Drugs Section, Proceedings of the Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, Senate of Canada, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, 2001, Issue no. 10, page 62.

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