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Union says deal for Vancouver police would make them highest-paid officers in Canada

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A new tentative agreement that would make Vancouver's police officers the highest paid in Canada is a crucial tool for the city to recruit and retain talent in the face of a major labour crunch, the union representing the officers said.

Vancouver Police Union president Ralph Kaisers said the union was happy to see the tentative agreement reached with employers on Oct. 31 after months of negotiations.

He said it includes not only higher wages for officers, bringing a first-class constable's pay to about $122,000 next year, but also better maternity and parental leave benefits.

Kaisers said he has talked to a number of female officers, and as many as 22 have considered leaving the Vancouver Police Department for another organization due to maternity benefits.

“I do know - not mentioning any names of any organizations - but we did have recruiters from a different organization actually emailing all our young female members, pointing out to them that their maternity benefits were much better than ours, and they should consider coming over to their organization,” Kaisers said.

$440 MILLION FOR POLICING

The tentative agreement is part of the Vancouver Police Department’s 2024 operating budget. According to a draft of next year’s civic budget, Vancouver is expected to spend $440 million on policing services in 2024 – up nearly $100 million from the $348 million spent in 2021.

By 2028, the VPD anticipates it will spend $486 million, nearly half a billion dollars, as per its Operating Budget Report that was discussed at a Vancouver Police Board Meeting Thursday.

Vancouver city Coun. Pete Fry said while he supports the police, he doesn’t think the yearly increases to funding are sustainable.

“We are coming to a point where it’s a significant chunk of our overall budget and it continues to go up,” he said. “At what point do we have to have some kind of reckoning?”

Benjamin Perrin, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, said rising police budgets and hiring more officers aren’t the answer to addressing many of the challenges in the city.

“The research is very clear,” he said. “Increasing the number of police officers does not reduce crime.”

Perrin said instead of allocating millions of dollars to police, the city should funnel that money into investing in supportive housing, harm reduction and mental health supports.

Police forces across Canada have faced challenges hiring in a tight labour market, with organizations mounting recruitment drives, in some cases battling each other to attract new talent.

Kaisers said Vancouver's situation is especially challenging because of the city's high cost of living, which discourages officers looking to settle down.

That, in turn, affects the VPD's mission to deliver on public safety, he said.

“Recruiting is not just a local issue,” Kaisers said. “Provincially and nationally, everyone is seeking people from basically the same pool of candidates. So it's very competitive right now, and we need to draw as many good candidates as we can to Vancouver.

“One of those things to draw people into Vancouver is to properly compensate them.”

Vancouver's unionized officers have been working without a collective agreement since the last deal expired on Dec. 31, 2022, and the new agreement includes retroactive wage increases for this year.

A first-class constable's annual pay will rise from just under $112,000 last year to a retroactively applied $117,000 this year, followed by another jump to roughly $122,000 starting in 2024.

Kaisers said the new tentative deal also includes a boost to the annual psychological injury benefit available to an officer and their family, from $3,000 to $5,000, and the ability for members to spend it on clinical counsellors.

Currently, the benefit only covers services from registered psychologists, and Kaisers said members face wait times of up to six months when seeking help.

The ability to access clinical counsellors would significantly shorten wait times for treatment, he said.

“'I'll speak to one incident in particular where one of our members was involved in a critical incident,” Kaisers said. “They were at home, obviously being consoled and supported by their spouse, not realizing that their young child had overheard what was going on.

“They ultimately needed to seek out psychological assistance for their child because their child was actually traumatized (when) they had realized what their parent had been through.”

Kaisers said Vancouver city council and the police board have already ratified the deal, while union members will vote on the agreement between Nov. 26 and Dec. 7, with the result likely available on the morning of Dec. 8.

“I think it's important that if we're compensating our members and supporting them by way of other benefits as well, that we're able to recruit and draw some of the brightest and best candidates to the city,” he said. “Obviously, that's an important factor when you look at public safety and ensuring that our communities are safe.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2023.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Isabella Zavarise

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