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Are deployment numbers a big secret?

Some people think the number of police officers on duty at any given time should be a secret. If the deployment numbers were publicly known, the theory goes, criminals could use that information to plan an elaborate heist.

Never mind that 99.5% of criminals don’t plan that far ahead. The truth is that deployment numbers are easy for anyone to figure out using common sense and basic research.

Let’s take a 25 member police department. Assuming they have a twelve hour patrol shift, they will have four watches. So I would ball park twenty people in patrol, a couple of detectives, one community police officer, one deputy chief and a chief. Each watch would have a sergeant and four constables. This is close to what the Central Saanich Police Service shows on their org chart. (Here is a PDF of a screen shot in case the other link changes.)

With a little more research, you can estimate these numbers for larger agencies as well.

The misplaced concern around deployment numbers is addressed by Section 68(1) of the Police Act. It reads:

68 (1) The provincial police force, a municipal police department or a designated policing unit must, on receiving a request for temporary assistance made by another police force, police department or designated policing unit, assign to the requesting police force, police department or designated policing unit the officers and equipment practicable to assign for the purpose.

Are you are planning the crime of the century? Do you think you can get away with it because you are in a jurisdiction with a low number of officers on duty? Forget it. Dozens of cops from neighbouring municipalities are seconds away.

For some agencies, general deployment numbers might be a delicate issue, particularly if the numbers do not match public expectations. But that in itself is not a reason to keep them secret from taxpayers.