Vancouver Police Department pushes back against cut requested by city staff

The Vancouver Police Department could soon find itself in a dispute with city council. 

The VPD board submitted its 2021 budget proposal to the city this week, opting against a cut of one per cent requested by city staff, which would put the budget at $318.6 million. 

Instead, the requested budget comes in at $321.7 million, $6 million higher than last year. The budget increase would result in an extra 0.72 per cent increase to the average property tax bill — putting in jeopardy the city’s plans to limit the overall property tax increase to five per cent. 

Other city departments made a one per cent cut in the summer, but the police department refused to do so because it said the year’s budget had already been approved. 

A week before council is set to pass next year’s budget, the police board says any cut would jeopardize safety.  

“Regardless of the financial climate, the board and the VPD have a legal obligation to maintain public safety, prevent crime, apprehend offenders, and advance investigations,” wrote the police board finance committee. 

The full memo from the police board to city council can be found here

Vancouver Coun. Christine Boyle has pushed for money to be diverted from the VPD’s budget into mental health and addiction services. (Ben Nelms)

‘A real challenge’

Councillor Christine Boyle, who has pushed for a reduction of the police department’s budget — transferring those funds into programs to help with mental health and addiction issues — criticized the police board’s stance. 

 “It presents a real challenge for council in our budget deliberations,” she said. 

“[We] asked the police to find savings in the midst of the pandemic when every other department was finding savings, and they weren’t interested. So this is the moment when council needs to make clear decisions, and we’ll see what happens.”

Council is in the middle of hearing from hundreds of speakers over several days about next year’s $1.6 billion budget. Like most large cities, policing is the department with the highest budget, taking up 21 per cent of expenses. 

If the police board and council fail to come to an agreement, it may fall to the provincial government — which is in the middle of a review of the Police Act — to resolve the matter.

Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer says the increase is necessary to keep the department at safe staffing levels. (Ken Leedham)

On Tuesday, VPD Chief Adam Palmer presented to council, arguing the budget increase is necessary.

“It’s very important to the people of this city that we have a properly resourced police service for people that live and work here,” he said.

“We’re one of the few services the city provides that is an essential service. We’re not a nice-to-have, we’re a must-have, and that sense of community safety and well-being we provide to the people of this city, especially during a pandemic … is more important than ever.”

Palmer also argued many of the letters to council asking to reduce the VPD’s budget were form letters, many from people outside Vancouver, while letters expressing support for the VPD were “individually written with feeling and expression” and “often from that silent majority.”

According to city documents, the overall crime rate is down in 2020, and violent crime is approximately the same as last year. 

In his presentation to council, Palmer cited individual types of violent crime that were up, along with neighbourhoods where violent crime was up. He also cited a survey that showed residents believed crime has increased. 

“Many people in the community would never be able to tell you if crime is up or down,” he said. “But they know how they feel.” 

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