British Columbia

Victoria police will cut staff unless council increases budget, chief says

The Victoria Police Department is seeking a budget increase of $3.2 million, but city council says that's too high.

Police chief says force would have to cut 9 jobs without budget hike

Victoria's police chief says if the force's budget isn't increased, staff cuts will be the next step. (Victoria Police Department/Facebook)

Victoria councillors say its police department is asking for an unsustainable budget increase, but the force says public safety could be jeopardized without more funds.

The Victoria Police Department is seeking a budget increase of about six per cent on its nearly $54 million annual budget. It says it needs the increase to cover a range of costs, including pensions, B.C.'s new employer health tax and what it says is a changing community. 

But in a 5-3 vote Thursday, Victoria's committee of the whole rejected that amount and ordered the force to come up with a new budget that's only 3.4 per cent higher, according to a police spokesperson.

"That is a pretty hefty increase ... we're investing in policing, but we're also investing in housing and climate action and a ton of really important things at the city level," said Coun. Laurel Collins, who voted for the trimmed budget.

But the force says the lower increase won't cover its rising costs and will result in a budget shortfall.

If council won't meet its request, Chief Del Manak said VicPD will have to make cuts to staff which could hurt its ability to respond to emergencies.

Changing role

Collins said the police budget request comes at a time of declining crime rates and says Victoria's residents pay the highest per capita policing costs in the country.

But Manak called those points a "false narrative."

Manak said crime has been ticking upwards in recent years and Victoria police not only have to serve Victoria citizens, but also out-of-town tourists and late-night revellers coming downtown from neighbouring municipalities.

Manak also said the department remains extremely busy with about 160 calls each day including many non-criminal matters, such as suicides and reports of suspicious persons.  

"They are continuing down the path of reductions in staff," Manak said. "It's going to mean a reduction in service."

New problems including increased violence, drug overdoses and even terrorism mean police work is becoming more complicated, he added.

"We're living in a new world reality."

Contentious meeting

During a contentious meeting Thursday, councillors went over the budget line by line with Manak and the force's controller to find savings.

Manak insists there are none to be had and the likely option will be to cut the equivalent of nine officers.

The force currently has 243 officers and several dozen civilians employees, according to a department spokesperson. 

It's possible that some or all of the cuts would come from the civilian employees, but Manak said that would tie officers down with administrative work.

Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe, who supports a higher police budget, said she was frustrated by her colleagues who voted against it.

"It all goes back to public safety as well as officer safety," Thornton Joe told On The Island host Gregor Craigie. "I hope some of my colleagues will reconsider."

The police board will now draft a new budget for council to consider.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said VicPD received 160 calls per day on average for non-criminal matters. In fact, it receives about 160 calls per day in total.
    Feb 17, 2019 9:03 PM PT

With files from Liz McArthur and CBC Radio One's On The Island

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