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Vancouver council cuts to police budget will total $8.5 million: chief

Last Updated May 14, 2020 at 11:00 pm PDT


Council passed a motion to cut the Vancouver Police Department budget by one per cent

Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung, who's married to a member of the police department, didn't support the decision

Vancouver Police Chief Constable Adam Palmer is surprised by the reduction

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Council passed a motion behind closed doors Wednesday to cut the Vancouver Police Department budget by one percent, and eliminate 2020 salary increases.

A one per cent cut of the overall budget works out to about $3.5 million.

Chief Adam Palmer estimates these combined measures will total an $8.5 million loss for the Vancouver Police Department.

Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung, who’s married to a member of the police department, didn’t support the decision. She recuses herself when voting on the VPD collective bargaining agreement, but can vote on the department’s operational budget.

Kirby-Yung said with a reported increase in hate crimes during the pandemic, cutting money to policing doesn’t make sense.

She also questioned a lack of transparency on behalf of Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who is head of the Vancouver Police Board, the employer and governing body of policing in the city.

“I believe that when we are discussing the overall allocation to the police department, it should happen in public, and that’s important for transparency and that didn’t happen,” Kirby-Yung said.

Impact on policing

Vancouver Police Chief Const. Adam Palmer said he’s surprised the city has asked for a reduction to frontline response during the pandemic.

“Since the pandemic began, police officers have been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Patrol officers have been on the frontline, putting themselves at risk, to keep the city safe,” he says in a release.

“Police cannot reduce or defer frontline work, as in-progress emergencies have continued throughout the city.”

He added crime has not stopped, nor have calls from the public.

“I appreciate the hardship faced by employees of the city, the library, and the park board who have recently received lay-off notices. I do not want to minimize the impact the pandemic has had on these employees and their families,” Palmer said.

“However, it’s important to take into consideration that there was a corresponding reduction in their workload due to closures as a result of physical distancing rules. This has not been the case for police.”

Palmer said, in his view, it’s problematic to cut an essential service to fund non-essential services, adding 97 per cent of the police department’s budget is non-discretionary, such as salaries.

“Therefore, any reduction equals a reduction in police response.”

Palmer said he’s also concerned about a lack of transparency in the process.

“Decisions that have the potential to have a fundamental impact on public safety should not be made in private. The public has a right to know what was debated, and how their elected officials voted,” he said.

Palmer also said there was “zero consultation” with the police board, police department, or any unions on the motion itself and how it will affect safety in the city.

A one per cent cut to the operations budget will mean 35 fewer officers patrolling Vancouver streets, according to the President of the VPD Union, Ralph Kaisers.

“We today, finally, have reached the 2009 staffing numbers that we were at. Ultimately, I would assume if there’s a funding gap for 3.5-million dollars, that equates to about 35 members. There’s going to be about 35 [fewer] people hired this year,” he said.

Kaisers also questioned whether this decision is legal because the VPD’s budget was already approved in December and making cuts now may require approval from other levels of government.

“The question will be for the Police Board then, if they don’t agree with this, then they may have to go to Police Services in Victoria and say, hey, wait a minute. Now we’ve got the city of Vancouver turning back the clock. It may involve some kind of intervention from police services now too.”

No one immune to financial strain

Coun. Pete Fry supported the cut to the police department, adding no one is immune from the lack of revenue and financial strain facing the city right now.

He said the issue was discussed in-camera, because it’s human resources issue, but the reduction is in line with those for all municipal departments.

“Hopefully, the Vancouver Police Department will be able to find a way to work with that one-per-cent reduction,” he added.

The police department budget represents about a quarter of the city’s annual revenue, Fry said.

“It’s a pretty significant ticket item, as far as what we pay out. I think they should be able to find a way to work with one per cent,” he said of police department members.

“It is, however, all of our responsibility to maintain public safety on behalf of the community, especially during times of crisis when crime is increasing, and the mental wellbeing of our citizens is being severely challenged,” Barj Dhahan, finance committee chair, Vancouver Police Board, wrote in an April letter to council.

At the municipal level, police and fire services are on the frontline of the pandemic protecting the welfare of our community; these services must be steadfastly supported during a crisis, not reduced.”

Dhahan said the board supports the police department and its members, adding they are compromising their personal well-being to ensure the health and safety of the city.

“These savings can be redirected to mitigate the financial impacts faced by our partners at the City of Vancouver,” he said.

The City of Vancouver previously asked the provincial government for $200 million in emergency funding to help maintain essential services and continue to support vulnerable residents during the pandemic.

Last month, the city also decided management and other non-unionized city employees would take one mandatory, unpaid day off every 10 business days in order to help balance the budget. The savings are equivalent to about a 10-per-cent pay cut for each staff member, according to the city.

The furloughs are expected to remain in effect until Dec. 17, and contribute with other measures to an operational budget savings of approximately $7.5 million, the city said.

On Thursday, Stewart said 90,000 people were displaced in April and more than 13,000 businesses closed, representing a $27-billion loss to Vancouver’s economy.

The city previously issued temporary layoff notices to 1,500 staff and declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19.