Elected politicians in Vancouver have been stymied in their effort to freeze the city's police budget in 2021.
City council normally approves an annual budget allocation, but last year the Vancouver police board filed an appeal to the unelected provincial director of police services.
This is permitted under section 27(3) of the Police Act.
Today, Chief Adam Palmer said in a statement that the police board had won its appeal.
Palmer insisted in the statement that the city had reduced the "net budget" in 2021 by $5.7 million. In fact, the budget was frozen, but the VPD had to make cuts because council's allocation failed to account for contractual legal obligations under collective agreements or inflationary increases.
"The Province of British Columbia’s decision to restore $5.7 million to the Vancouver Police Department’s 2021 budget will ensure the VPD can better serve the residents and business owners of Vancouver, and improve public safety for everyone," Palmer said.
He claimed that the "shortfall had a direct impact on the number of police officers the VPD was able to hire to meet the city’s complex policing needs". And he thanked the board for filing the appeal.
"Since that time, Vancouver has been gripped by an abundance of public safety challenges, including the ongoing Lower Mainland gang conflict, a surge in violent street crime, nearly 1,000 protests, concerning levels of hate crime, and a growing number of people who tell us they just don’t feel as safe as they used to," Palmer said.
After the police board had filed its appeal last year, Mayor Kennedy Stewart pointed out that city finances were hit very hard as a result of the pandemic.
"The city laid off 1,800 staff, deferred $250 million in key capital projects, with management and council taking a 10 percent pay cut," Stewart said at the time. "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," the mayor continued. "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."
Today, in response to the decision by the director of police service, Stewart had this to say:
“Today’s report dates back to a decision made by Vancouver city council during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic when all departments were asked to do more with less.
"It is important to note that at no time did the Vancouver Police Department lack access to requested funds thanks to the city’s budget reserves.
"I am glad we finally have a decision after waiting for more than a year for this report.
"The City of Vancouver spends over $1 million per day on policing, with a budget that has increased from $317 million in 2019 to $367 million in 2022—accounting for more than 21 percent of city spending."