VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A small cut to the budget of the Vancouver Police Department is a drop-in-the-bucket and offers an opportunity for the force to rethink its priorities, according to an advocate.
A one per cent budget cut and a halt on raises were announced Thursday after being approved at an in-camera council meeting Wednesday, a move slammed by the city’s police chief.
More than one-fifth of the city’s operating budget goes to the Vancouver Police Department.
Meenakshi Mannoe, with Pivot Legal Society, says the cuts need to be put in perspective.
“This is a time of unprecedented crisis for many people. I’m sure that there are folks who would be happy to lose one per cent of their income if it meant that they could still be employed,” she says.
“It raises questions for me about the effectiveness of the force to respond to what is a very small reduction in their operating budget.”
Mannoe doesn’t dispute issues identified by police amid the pandemic, she just doesn’t think the police are best poised to address them.
“Chief Palmer made a number of remarks and pointed out areas where he believes police need to serve communities right now: anti-Asian racist attacks, domestic violence, the displacement of people living at Oppenheimer Park, and I think a number of those areas would be better served by people who are not in law enforcement such as people working in the anti-violence sector, and peers working with folks who use substances or experience homelessness,” she explains.
“Right now we have the opportunity to look at ways to solve problems that don’t rely on law enforcement and to get creative just like everyone has had to do during COVID.”
The organization recently wrote to the VPD and the mayor saying people in the Downtown Eastside are being “overpoliced” amid COVID-19, and urging a change in priorities.
Libraries and community centres have been closed, hundreds of city employees have been laid off, and Vancouver is facing a shortfall of $152 million at year-end.
Coun. Pete Fry supports the reduction in the police budget, saying cuts have been made across the board–including to Vancouver Fire Rescue Services.
“We are asking all of our departments across the city to take on a little bit of belt-tightening, recognizing that a lot of priorities have changed, a lot of the roles and obligations have changed. We’ve asked staff to take pay cuts, we at council have taken pay cuts, the mayor has taken a pay cut,” he says.
“We’re all trying to squeeze every little bit of savings that we can. So hopefully, Vancouver Police will be able to adapt.”
Fry also points out that a number of large, annual events in the city, like the annual Celebration of Lights, have been cancelled, eliminating the need for police to send officers to control crowds or respond to incidents.
With files from Sonia Aslam