Vancouver police call for $6 million boost to budget to ‘keep the lights on’

Request at odds with city staff recommendation for $3.1 million cut to VPD’s budget

The Vancouver Police Department wants a $6.1 million increase to its operating budget for next year, despite an earlier request from city hall to trim this year’s budget by 1% | Dan Toulgoet/files

Vancouver Police Department management continues to defy a request from city hall to trim its operating budget this year and recommends an increase of $6.1 million for its 2021 budget to avoid cuts to staff and service.

The recommendation for the increase is set out in a report released Friday that outlines three budget scenarios for the Vancouver Police Board to consider at a meeting November 30 – one to meet city hall’s request, one for the $6.1 million increase and another for a $10.9 million boost.

“This [$6.1 million] scenario will allow the VPD to continue operations at status quo staffing levels [i.e.: ‘keep the lights on’] and is VPD management’s recommendation to support this scenario, at a minimum, for the 2021 operating budget,” said the report from Deputy Chief Steve Rai. “Cognizant of the city-wide financial pressures, while this scenario does not include any additional new hires, it does ensure that there is no service or staffing impact to the VPD’s current operations.”

A $6 million increase, which is a boost from what the report described as the department’s “2020 restated budget,” would see the VPD operate next year with a $321 million budget.

Such an increase is at odds with a city staff report released Wednesday that recommends city council shave $3.1 million from the VPD’s budget. That recommendation, which translates to a 1% cut, stated it would be at the police board’s discretion to reduce staff or hold vacancies.

The VPD and the board stated several months ago that it would not trim 1% from this year’s police budget when requested by city hall, citing call load and pressures from policing the pandemic – reasons the department reiterated in its report for the 2021 budget.

“This is a direct budget cut and will impact existing staff and service levels as this will result in the delay of 34 sworn officer hires,” said the report, which describe the work of officers as a core and essential service.

The delay in hires would be contrary to the police board’s objective to hire an additional 120 police officers and 52 civilians from 2018 to 2022, a calculation based on a review of the department’s operations and approved by the previous council in 2017.

A separate appendix attached to city staff’s report warned that a delay in hires would create a “downstream hiring impact to future years” and result in longer response times to emergency calls, reduced service levels to citizens and businesses, limited ability to respond to non-emergency calls, greater risk of unsolved crimes, cases being lost in court and increased rates of officer burnout.

Council has requested staff create a draft budget that keeps a property tax hike at 5%, or lower. How a $6 million increase to the police’s budget would affect the overall budget is unclear, although the city created a VPD specific reserve fund in 2013, which sits at $1.9 million.

In May, council decided at an in-camera meeting the VPD should fall in line with other city departments and reduce its budget this year by 1% . That request was met with pushback from Police Chief Adam Palmer and the police board, saying the cut would be detrimental to public safety.

In June, Glacier Media reported that at least five city councillors supported the need for the VPD to trim 1% from its budget to help offset revenue loss related to the pandemic.

That same month, city manager Sadhu Johnston told Glacier Media in an email that it was the city’s expectation that the VPD "will comply with the council directive to reduce their spending to address the COVID pandemic budget pressures."

The city’s revenues have been hit hard by the pandemic, with staff projecting in May a shortfall of $136 million. That shortfall has been reduced to $85 million, city staff said this week.

The November 30 police board meeting is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Council’s first meeting to discuss the budget occurs the next day on December 1 at 9:30 a.m. Council isn’t expected to approve the city budget until December 8, or later.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart doubles as chairperson of the police board.

mhowell@glaciermedia.ca

@Howellings