As it faces a”significant operating budget shortfall” in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Vancouver said it has cut the budget for the Vancouver Police (VPD) by 1%, in an effort to reduce costs and “bridge the projected shortfall.”
As presented to City Council on April 28, revenue losses for the year are projected at $152 million, the city said in a statement.
By law, the city is required by law to achieve a balanced budget for the year and the decision around the VPD budget was one of the measures the city said it took to achieve this.
On May 13, City Council passed the motion to reduce the budget, as well as confirm its expectation that the Vancouver Police Board pursue collective agreements with all three unions representing VPD employees that result in a 0% increase in compensation costs for 2020, in line with recent City of Vancouver labour discussions.
And, subject to the outcome of any arbitration under the Fire and Police Service Collective Bargaining Act, that the VPD budget for 2020 be further reduced by any amount notionally budgeted for 2020 compensation adjustments.
The motion followed a request from City Council to the Vancouver Police Board on April 15, for a report detailing measures that the department had implemented to reduce operating expenditures in response to the pandemic, including an evaluation of options for additional operating savings.
The city said that in its response to council’s request, the board declined to identify any operating savings.
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The 2020 operating budget for the VPD, as initially endorsed by council in December 2019, totals $314 million. The VPD’s budget represents 21% of the total operating budget for the City of Vancouver; excluding utility fees that are not available to fund other services, 27% of the City’s revenue is allocated to the VPD.
The motion also calls for the VPD to pursue collective agreements that provide for 0% compensation increases for 2020. VPD’s operating budget includes a contingency for costs associated with a 2% increase in compensation, which would be available for reallocation as savings without an impact on the department’s operations.
VPD police chief responds
In response to the decision, VPD Chief Adam Palmer said he’s “surprised” by the decision.
“Since the pandemic began, police officers have been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “Patrol officers have been on the frontline, putting themselves at risk, to keep the city safe.”
Police, he continued, “cannot reduce or defer frontline work, as in-progress emergencies have continued throughout the city.”
Further, said Palmer, “crime has not stopped.”
And while he does “appreciate the hardship” faced by employees of the City, library, and Park Board, and does not want to minimize the impact the pandemic has had on these employees and their families, Palmer said it’s “important to take into consideration that there was a corresponding reduction in their workload due to closures as a result of physical distancing rules. This has not been the case for police.”
Ultimately, said Palmer, “police are an essential, core service.” And in his view, it is problematic to cut an essential service to fund non-essential services. He noted that 97%of the VPD’s budget is non-discretionary (i.e. salaries).
Therefore, “any reduction equals a reduction in police response.”
Palmer also expressed concern with what he called a lack of transparency in the decision making process.
“Decisions that have the potential to have a fundamental impact on public safety should not be made in private,” he said. “There was zero consultation with the Vancouver Police Board, VPD, or any VPD unions on the motion itself and how it will affect the safety and security of Vancouver residents.”
For his part, Palmer said he learned about the motion on Wednesday afternoon “after it was developed, voted on, and passed.”
Palmer said it’s important to note that the VPD was asked to reduce costs “by not filling frontline positions in response to the 2008/2009 economic downturn.”
Finally, this year, he continued, “the department overcame this staffing deficit to return to 2009 staffing levels. During this same time, the city’s population has increased by 11% and calls for police service have increased by 14%
Palmer said he will discussing “next steps” with the Vancouver Police Board next week.