Vancouver police board vice chair Barj Dhahan explains decision to seek review of council's budget allocation
Vancouver police board vice chair Barj Dhahan issued the following written statement today:
"The Vancouver Police Board (Board) has unanimously decided to apply for a Director’s review under Section 27(3) of the Police Act, of Vancouver City Council’s (Council) $5.7 million cut to the Vancouver Police Department’s 2021 Operating Budget.
"The Board has a fiduciary responsibility to exercise the highest level of ‘duty of care’ for the safety of the people of Vancouver, the VPD, and its employees. On November 30, 2020, the Board submitted a budget to Council that was developed through careful consideration and analysis. The Board’s budget balanced the City’s needs with respect to public safety, while taking into account the financial impact from the Covid-19 pandemic. In order to support the City’s financial challenges, the Board opted to delay year four of the five-year Board and Council approved staffing plan under the Operational Review by not including in its budget the 20 sworn and 10 civilian positions that were slated to be filled in 2021, in addition to existing 2020 staffing levels.
"The subsequent decision by Council, which was framed by Council as maintaining the 2020 budget, is in fact a $5.7 million cut, as it fails to account for the Board’s contractual legal obligations for collective agreement provisions, or inflationary increases. This decision was made without any analysis or risk assessment regarding public safety impacts. The cut was larger than recommended by City staff, exceeding the cuts imposed on other City departments. It appears the VPD is the only municipal police department in British Columbia to have been subject to a budget cut for 2021.
"The VPD must mitigate this shortfall through hiring delays. As $5.7 million is the monetary equivalent of 61 new recruits, the Department will effectively fall 61 officers below current staffing levels as members leave and retire. This will bring staffing levels below those of 2009, resulting in negative impacts to police response, proactive policing initiatives and community based programs, diversity through hiring, and the health and wellbeing of our members.
"After extensive review and consideration of areas that will be directly affected by the cut, and information relevant to the current policing climate, the Board has unanimously determined that at minimum the current staffing and service levels must be maintained. Council’s budget cut undermines the Board’s independent governance role, and will negatively impact public safety, public confidence in policing, and member wellness for years to come.
"The Board supports the Vancouver Police Department for the integral part it plays in ensuring the safety, health, livability and vibrancy of our community. The Board and Council must work together to ensure Vancouver preserves its world-recognized degree of safety and livability."
The Vancouver police board is chaired by Mayor Kennedy Stewart. He did not participate in the decision to seek a director's review.
After Dhahan released his statement, Stewart issued his own statement, which you can read below.
“COVID-19 and the global pandemic continues to hit our city hard, especially when it comes to our City budget. Vancouver City Council was forced to grapple with $13 million in increased costs due to the pandemic, while losing $85 million in revenues.
“These were not challenges that could be solved with a few simple changes. The City laid off 1,800 staff, deferred $250 million in key capital projects, with management and Council taking a 10 percent pay cut. But these actions were still not enough and that’s what made the 2021 budget process so difficult. During the course of debate, over 200 people came to speak and thousands more wrote in with suggestions about how to balance the 2021 budget.
“Most wanted to discuss policing and it’s understandable why—Vancouver’s police budget has increased 70 percent over the last 10 years, growing from around $200 million in 2010 to $340 million in 2020, and makes up over 20 percent of our operating budget. Given pandemic economic pressures, Council decided to hold the 2021 police budget steady, while at the same time boosting funding for community policing centres to $300,000 to enhance public safety.
“The City looks forward to hearing from the Director of Police Services regarding the process for consideration of the Police Board’s application and is ready to provide any information the Director may require.”