Vancouver police chief, councillor in talks over ‘public safety strategy’

Adam Palmer, Deputy Chief Howard Chow meeting with Coun. Michael Wiebe

Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer. Palmer and Deputy Chief Howard Chow have met with Michael Wiebe to discuss the Green Party councillor’s push for a community safety plan | File photo: Dan Toulgoet

That Michael Wiebe and Adam Palmer are talking may come as a surprise to some.

Especially for those city hall watchers who heard the contrasting views of the city councillor and the police chief in a December budget meeting over police funding and the need for a “public safety strategy.”

I’ll get to the back-and-forth in a few sentences.

I first wanted to begin with the fresh news that Wiebe told me he has met a couple times this month — virtually, of course — with Palmer and Deputy Chief Howard Chow on the topic of a public safety strategy.

He’s also spoken to members of the Vancouver Police Board.

How are the talks going?

“We’ve had some fired-up conversations,” Wiebe acknowledged.

That fire was sparked back in December when council debated whether it should approve the VPD’s requested $322-million operating budget for 2021.

At that meeting is when Wiebe let it be known he was going to push for a “public safety strategy, recognizing the City of Vancouver does not have one.”

Burnaby has one, he added, so Vancouver should have one, too.

“We need to shift to a proactive and collaborative approach to community safety and well-being planning, where municipalities take the lead in defining and addressing local needs,” Wiebe said at the time.

“Through this approach, vulnerable populations can receive the help they need and when and where they need it most, and from the providers best suited to support them.”

In response, Palmer said he was very familiar with community safety plans in Burnaby and Surrey. But, he continued, he didn’t think people were aware of the “sophisticated plans” connected to the Vancouver Police Department.

He mentioned the VPD’s mental health strategy, its drug policy, the force’s de-escalation training and community outreach teams “that have reduced the interactions people have with police by over 50%, and hospital visits by over 60%.”

Palmer then said this about Wiebe’s push for a public safety strategy.

“I really feel there’s a lack of understanding that you’re looking to some plan somewhere else when actually you’ve got an amazing plan right here in your own backyard,” the chief said.

“It can be improved upon, but the plans that are being mentioned actually aren’t as sophisticated as the plans that already exist.”

In the end, Wiebe and the majority of council rejected the VPD’s 2021 budget request for $322 million by $5.7 million, which police and supporters saw as a broadside to the work they do in Vancouver.

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Green Party Coun. Michael Wiebe. File photo Jennifer Gauthier

Fast forward to last week and there are three updates to be made on this file.

First is that Wiebe withdrew his motion for what he’s now called “a community safety and well-being framework” until council meets again in the week of Feb. 8.

Expect a lot of speakers.

Second is the police board approved Jan. 21 the VPD’s “draft strategic business plan” for 2021, which warns: “It should be noted that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and Vancouver city council’s decision to not fund the VPD as per [the police board’s] requested amount for 2021, may impact the achievement of 2021 plan strategies and actions.”

Third is the police board has yet to decide whether it will appeal council’s decision to not entirely fund this year’s police budget. The board can appeal via the province’s director of police services for a review.

So what’s Palmer’s assessment of the talks with Wiebe?

He wasn’t available when I asked the department’s communications director, although I was told the virtual meetings were “productive” and both the chief and his deputy looked forward to continuing the conversation.

Palmer made it clear in an interview with Glacier Media last June, when the widespread “defund police” movement was at its peak, that such a conversation couldn’t be one-sided.

“If the community wants us to do things differently, then I’d love to be at the table,” he said. “I want to be part of those discussions, but it has to be informed discussion and it has to be evidence based and a thoughtful discussion. It just can’t be a reaction to let’s all of a sudden just cut the police and see what happens.”

mhowell@glaciermedia.ca

@Howellings