$8.5 million cut to Vancouver police unacceptable: chief
VANCOUVER -- Vancouver's police chief is raising the alarm about what he calls an $8.5-million cut to the city's $340-million police budget this year as the city wrestles with lower revenues in the pandemic.
In an email obtained by CTV News, Chief Adam Palmer warns that cut could mean 80 fewer police officers, and says despite a motion from city council apparently passed behind closed doors on Wednesday, he won't be taking action.
"Regardless of the financial climate, police have an unwavering statutory requirement to maintain public safety, prevent crime, ensure the safety of victims and witnesses, apprehend offenders, and advance investigation," the chief wrote.
"I will not be taking any further action on this until I receive direction from the Vancouver Police Board," he said.
Vancouver's finances have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic, with tens of millions lost in parking, casino and other revenues. The city estimates its shortfall will be between $231 million and $310 million.
The city has laid off more than 1,500 workers. Vancouver's mayor warned of a dire impact should citizens not pay their property taxes.
On Thursday, the city made public the motion: that Vancouver city council passed a resolution to cut the VPD budget by 1 per cent, and pursue collective agreements with the unions that represent Vancouver Police employees to get no raises in 2020.
The motion also says that the "VPD budget for 2020 be further reduced by any amount notionally budgeted for 2020 compensation adjustments."
City Councillor Christine Boyle told CTV News this decision has taken at least a month of consultation.
"As people know the city has had to make a number of hard budget decisions over the last couple of months and this was one of them. The city asked the VPD to find savings within their own budget and come back with options to help meet the budget pressures. They declined," she said.
"The city has found nine per cent savings through a number of very difficult decisions. We're asking that the police board do their fair share," she said.
On Thursday the city released a letter from city manager Sadhu Johnson, referring to an April 14th motion asking the Vancouver Public Library Board and the Vancouver Police Board to evaluate options for cuts.
Also released was the letter in reply from the Vancouver Police Board Finance Committee Chair, Barj Dhahan, who said police had spent over $1.9 million extra during the pandemic on personal protective equipment, $1 million to police pipeline protests, and started the year with a $1 million shortfall. Scroll down to read both letters.
He also warned that the VPD could lose people to the new Surrey Police Department, where 41 per cent of Vancouver Police officers live.
"It will take the VPD years to recover from this loss due to the significant lead times needed prior to new staff being deployable," Dhahan wrote. "The requested reductions are not a viable and prudent option for the VPD."
The measures in the motion together would result in a cut of about $8.5 million dollars, or about 2.5 per cent of the police budget, Palmer said.
"This motion comes in the midst of an extremely challenging year that includes large-scale pipeline protests, the COVID-19 pandemic, Oppenheimer Park decampment as well as increased calls of anti-Asian racism, arsons, commercial premises being burglarized and violent robberies in our city, to name a few," the chief said.
Commercial break and enters doubled by week during March and April, but in May have returned to pre-pandemic levels.
The police budget makes up about one fifth of the city's overall budget.
"It came to me as a real surprise," said Ralph Kaiser, the president of the Vancouver Police Union. "Generally most of these discussions are in a public meeting. Why is city council hiding behind closed doors to have this discussion? The citizens of Vancouver have a right to know who's voting what way and why it is that the VPD is experiencing this cut."
A city spokesperson said the meeting was in camera because it could have had implications for personnel. However, many city discussions involving cuts to other personnel during the pandemic have been in an open forum.
Vancouver's mayor, who is also the chair of the police board, is expected to address the finances of the city today.