Vancouver’s police chief is expressing a “fundamental concern” about an $8.5-million budget cut to the department approved by city council.
In an email sent Wednesday night and obtained by Global News, city officials notified Chief Adam Palmer of a motion that was passed that night in-camera to cut the police budget by one per cent to help offset the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vancouver council passed a resolution to cut the VPD budget by one per cent, which is an estimated $3.5 million. However, Palmer says upcoming labour arbitration in June means that, in fact, $8.5 million will be cut from the budget.
The police department is an essential service, Palmer wrote in reply to city manager Sadhu Johnston, and while the department works with the city, it is governed by the Vancouver Police Board and “does not take ‘direction from council.'”
“There was no consultation with the VPD on this motion nor was the VPD afforded the opportunity to address city council about the potential public safety implications/repercussions of reducing the VPD’s budget during a worldwide pandemic,” he said.
The cuts translate to about 80 fewer police officers, he added.
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“There is a lack of public transparency and accountability with this in-camera process,” Palmer said.
“This is particularly concerning regarding matters of public safety that impact all Vancouverites – decisions that have a fundamental impact on public safety should not be made in private.”
In a statement, the City of Vancouver says it is facing a “significant operating budget shortfall in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Revenue losses for the year are projected at $152 million.
“The City is required by law to achieve a balanced budget for the year and City staff have identified a range of measures to reduce costs and bridge the projected shortfall,” the statement reads.
Council passed the motion to reduce the 2020 operating budget for the VPD on May 13 following a request from council to the VPB on April 15 asking for a report outlining how the department had implemented cost-saving measures.
The city says following an in-camera meeting of the VPB on April 27, the board “declined to identify any operating savings.”
However, in a statement from Palmer Thursday afternoon he said the board did provide a “thorough, detailed response about such a reduction would be detrimental to public safety.”
“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,” Palmer states. “Finally, this year, the department overcame this staffing deficit to return to 2009 staffing levels. During this same time, the city’s population has increased by 11 per cent and calls for police service have increased by 14 per cent.”
Palmer said the VPD has had a particularly challenging year so far, including large-scale pipeline protests, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oppenheimer Park decampment as well as increased calls of anti-Asian racism, arson, commercial break-ins and violent robberies.
“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 investigations,” Palmer said.
In the statement Thursday afternoon, Palmer said police are an essential, core service. “In my view, it is problematic to cut an essential service to fund non-essential services.”
He also said decisions that have the potential to have a “fundamental impact on public safety should not be made in private.”
“The public has a right to know what was debated, and how their elected officials voted.”
Palmer will not be taking any further action until he receives direction from the board and will be meeting with them next week.
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In a report presented at a news conference on Thursday, Stewart said Vancouver has lost 90,000 jobs and $2 billion in revenue due to the pandemic. More than 13,000 businesses have closed.
When added to the COVID-19 revenue losses of between $110 to $189 million, the report said the municipality could see a revenue shortfall of between $231 to $310 million.
In addition, a survey of residents suggests more homeowners intend to pay their property taxes versus a month ago, but 22 per cent of people said they will pay none or only some of their property taxes.
That would mean a potential loss of about $121 million.
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