British Columbia

New West council backs down on proposal to freeze police budget after police board disapproves

The police board said it is committed to police reform, including the implementation of a diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism framework. But it rejected the idea of changing the budget.

Board says it is committed to police reform, but rejected idea of changing budget

New Westminster's police budget is proposed to rise from $30.8 million in 2020 to $32.5 million in 2021. (CBC)

A rare proposal in British Columbia to freeze the amount of money given to a local police department was quickly scuttled by New Westminster after its police board said it didn't approve of the idea. 

New Westminster council voted 5-2 on Monday evening to accept the city's police board argument they could not hold its budget at the same $30.8 million figure as 2020, due to increases in collective wages and targeted funds toward PPE and naloxone. 

Council originally voted 4-3 in December to ask the police board to freeze its budget and modify its request for a $1.7 million increase for 2021. 

In its response, the police board said it is committed to police reform, including a review on deployment of weapons and the implementation of a diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism framework. 

But the board rejected the idea of changing the budget.

"The police board certainly respected the intent of the letter, but did have some challenges making the budgetary cuts that were asked," said New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté, who chairs the police board. 

"I think they want to be a partner … we've kind of recognized it's easy to pass a motion, but a lot more difficult to engage in this important and difficult work [of reform]."

The motion was the part of the city's discussions for its overall 2021 budget, and a final proposal will now be created by staff.   

'Justice always has to wait'

The original request to freeze the budget was championed by Coun. Nadine Nakagawa, who was one of two councillors voting against Monday's motion. 

"We need to push for change in whatever way we can, and for me, that is not voting for a budget that is upholding the status quo," she said.

New Westminster Coun. Nadine Nakagawa says the city shouldn't wait to act on questions of police reform. (CBC)

Last summer saw protests across North America against anti-Black racism and police brutality, along with campaigns to defund police departments and increase spending on separate initiatives for mental health and addiction issues

The B.C. government is in the early stages of a review of the Police Act, but Nakagawa argued it was important for council to act instead of further waiting and consultation.   

"There has been report after report … and it seems to me like justice always has to wait. We have to wait for one more public engagement opportunity, or one more inquiry by politicians to do something."

To date in B.C., only the City of Vancouver has attempted to freeze overall police expenditures for 2021, with no municipality proposing a reduction. Vancouver's police board has not yet formally responded. 

If a dispute over funding between a police board and city council cannot be internally resolved, it falls on the province to adjudicate.  

Coun. Patrick Johnstone said that while he supports many of Nakagawa's aims of police reform, he was skeptical of what would happen if the disagreement escalated. 

"I know we could dispute this, I know we could take this to Victoria, but I think we're pretty sure what's going to happen if we take that to Victoria," he said.

"I think we'd end up in a dispute mechanism that would get us back to where we are today."