The Vancouver Police Board’s approval Monday of a $322-million provisional budget to operate the police department next year – a $6.4 million increase over the 2020 budget – sets up what will likely be a contentious debate at city hall over the next two weeks.
That’s because a staff report released Nov. 24 recommended city council shave $3.1 million, or 1%, from the Vancouver Police Department’s 2021 operating budget to help offset $85 million in lost city revenues related to the pandemic.
The $3.1 million recommended cut, however, could rise in the days ahead once the city’s finance staff consider the police board’s decision Monday to also add an additional $350,000 to help fund the city’s 11 community policing centres.
The difference now between what city staff recommended in its report – a $318 million budget for the VPD in 2021 – and what the police board approved Monday is $3.4 million, making for a considerable funding gap to close.
Police board member Rachel Roy said she supported the increase to the VPD’s budget because of social issues such as homelessness and drug addiction the department continues to deal with that are not being addressed by governments.
“The reality is that when our safety net has holes in it, things end up on the doorstep of the police,” said Roy, who urged board members to pressure senior governments for funding to better provide for people in need who otherwise are responded to by police. “I will continue to push — and I hope that you all will be joining me — to actually put us on the forefront of asking for provincial and federal money to deal with these things.”
The $6.4 million increase is a boost of about 2% over the VPD’s 2020 budget.
It’s an increase that Police Chief Adam Palmer said would not be unique to Vancouver, with police departments across the country receiving similar or larger increases for their 2021 budgets.
Departments in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto and Calgary all received recent notifications their budgets will increase, said Palmer, noting Vancouver’s 2% boost would be at “the low end.”
“All the major cities across Canada are following a similar situation where budgets will be going up in this order of magnitude at around 2%, or a little bit more in the case of the major cities – 3-4%,” the chief said.
Council meets Tuesday in what is expected to be the first of several meetings to discuss the draft 2021 operating and capital budgets. Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who doubles as the police board’s chairperson, mentioned Monday more than 200 people are registered to speak to council.
The city’s draft operating budget of $1.6 billion is $17.1 million less than this year’s and based on a tax hike of no more than 5%. A shortfall of $136 million projected by staff in May is now at $85 million.
The board’s decision Monday to increase the VPD’s budget comes after council requested at an in-camera meeting in May for the VPD to fall in line with other city departments and take cuts to offset the city’s revenue losses.
Council’s vote was not released to the public, but at least five councillors told Glacier Media in June that they supported a cut to the police department. That support came after the police board sent a letter to the mayor and councillors explaining its refusal to trim the VPD’s budget, citing cuts would be detrimental to public safety.
Police board member Barj Dhahan, who wrote the April 27 letter, cited the Police Act and how it specifies a municipal council must include the costs from the board’s provisional budget in the city’s overall budget.
“Fortunately, reliance on this legislation has been avoided thanks to the strong working relationship the Vancouver Police Board has with you, and previous city councils,” Dhahan wrote. “This relationship has been based on the shared goal of the Vancouver Police Board and Vancouver city council in ensuring that VPD operations are efficient and effective.”
Whether that section of the Police Act comes into play won’t be known until council debates the budget. The VPD’s operating budget typically accounts for 21% of the city’s overall operating budget.