In the lead-up to the November 15 civic election, a taxpayer watchdog is wondering why both Vision Vancouver and the Non-Partisan Association are in favour of adding more officers to Vancouver Police Department ranks.
“If crime is falling, why are we having so many more police officers?” Maureen Bader, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, asked the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “If what we’ve got here is a situation of declining crime and increased budgets for police, the city needs to take a closer look at what’s going on there. Of course, with property-tax rates potentially going up by as much as 10 percent next year, things are just getting a little bit out of control.”
In July of this year, Statistics Canada reported that in 2007 the national crime rate reached its lowest point in 30 years. According to the national agency, Canadian police reported a seven-percent decline in crime, the third consecutive annual decrease.
However, for this budget year and the next, the VPD will see 96 officers and 22 civilians added to its ranks. The city’s total operating budget this year is $894.5 million, according to the city’s budget document. The VPD chunk of that pie is $195.4 million, approaching one of every four allocated dollars.
Police staffing costs have increased 27.3 percent since 2005, the latest budget document notes.
On page five of its election platform, the NPA’s first listed action if elected would be to “increase funding for more police on the streets and in our neighbourhoods”. On page eight of its document, Vision pledges to “provide adequate resources to Vancouver’s Police Department” and to cut times for 911 priority calls. Although COPE makes no mention of the VPD budget in its platform, the Work Less Party platform promises to “institute a freeze on the hiring of additional police officers”.
Const. Tim Fanning, VPD media-relations officer, told the Straight by phone: “We don’t have any fat here.”
According to Fanning, the budget increases are partially justified by a 1,300-page Patrol Deployment Study report from February 2007. “The other part of it is that we still have one of the worst [call] response times in the country. Though the national average is down for crime, we still have one of the highest crime rates in the country. Our crime rate is similar to that of Miami. We have a very high crime rate that is linked to the massive drug problem that we have in the city. If we get a handle on it and we see things going down, then obviously we would ask for less people.”
Of Bader’s criticism, Fanning added: “I think that people that don’t see the need for us increasing our numbers don’t have the whole picture and would have to research it and have a look. We’d love to live in a city where we need less police officers, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not in the foreseeable future.”
However, Pivot Legal Society’s policing campaigner, Doug King, told the Straight the VPD cry for more officers “does not jibe with what they have been saying”.
“VPD stats show that supposedly crime is down by 8.2 percent in the last year,” King said by phone. “So I’m not quite sure why there’s that pressing need for additional officers.”¦It seems to me there is a giving to the Vancouver Police Department and there is no take. There is nothing they [taxpayers] are getting out of it.”
Police statistics show that the violent-crime rate dropped 16 percent this year compared with two years ago and the property-crime rate went down 17 percent over the same period. Home invasions were down 76 percent, and shots-fired incidents dropped 83 percent. Robberies dropped 18 percent, and auto theft declined by 33 percent.
King said Pivot also takes issue with the fact the city covers the police department’s legal fees.
“So whenever a police officer gets sued for misconduct or assault or something, if they are found guilty and if there is an award paid out, that is the city that is paying that bill,” he said. “And that’s not a part of their budget.”