Victoria and Esquimalt councils each voted for a smaller increase in the Victoria Police Department budget than the police force was asking for on Monday night.
Both municipalities are going through the budget process for the 2023 fiscal year, and on Monday both discussed funding for the Victoria Police department.
Victoria votes to keep increase in line with inflation
As part of the 2023 budget discussion, Victoria’s council has decided to keep its budget increase in line with inflation, which is 6.96 per cent, and asked VicPD to do the same – which is lower than the police department’s original ask of 9.55 per cent.
The Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board responded to the council’s ask by refusing to reduce its budget, which is almost $70 million for 2023, and maintaining its ask of an increase of 9.55 per cent.
“I have to say that I’m quite disappointed in the board’s reluctance to reassess their 2023 budget with the same type of analysis or rigour as other departments in the city,” said Mayor Marianne Alto at the start of the council meeting.
“I’m also quite disappointed that the police board is taking what I would consider to be a fairly passive approach to what I would have called sound fiscal management and oversight of the draft budget, which in my view and disregards the financial limitations of Victoria’s property taxpayers.”
Now, Victoria council has reaffirmed its position to keep the increase for 2023 to 6.96 per cent, and suggested a number of items that the police department reduce funding for or eliminate this year in order to achieve that.
These items included adding a financial analyst, police file archivist, records supervisor, training specialist and starting a body camera project, which Victoria council suggested can be postponed to another year.
Additionally, council recommended VicPD reduce its budget for building maintenance, capital funding and external contracted support, as well as eliminate the employee benefit obligation funding.
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The new changes keep the Victoria police budget request in line with inflation. As a result, council passed the motion in a 6-3 vote, with Alto and councillors Jeremy Caradonna, Matt Dell, Krista Loughton and Dave Thompson voting in favour. Councillors Marg Gardiner, Chris Coleman and Stephen Hammond were opposed.
The recommendations will now go back to Victoria's police board for consideration.
Thompson noted in the meeting that while council can make these recommendations, if the city and police board do not come to an agreement, under the Police Act the final decision would go to the provincial government's police director, who historically has sided in favour of police departments.
"I think that the Police Act is an example of poor governance structure, it was inherited by the current provincial government, it's not the fault of that government, but it sets up the illusion that city council is in charge of the police budget, which it is not," Thompson said.
"As we've seen in the past, decisions that have been reached have been mainly overruled by the provincial government and by a non elected appointee under Section 27 of the act, that director has final decision and therefore has final accountability."
"I find that this structure that we're looking at right now where we cut down the budget and then it goes to somebody else to actually make a decision is reflects poor accountability, poor democratic control over taxpayers dollars and the poor governance structure."
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Esquimalt tells police to keep increase at seven per cent
While keeping the increase in line with inflation wasn't the goal of Esquimalt, Mayor Barb Desjardins says the township's council landed on about the same rate.
"Last night, we finally got to the police budget deliberation we asked a number of questions of police staff, and they were very good to provide information," Desjardins said in an interview with CHEK News. "But ultimately council voted six to one to reduce the police budget [request] by about $1.3 million."
The council also indicated similar line items as Victoria's council for VicPD to not introduce in this fiscal year in order to keep the increase lower to reduce the burden on taxpayers.
Desjardins says she continues to be frustrated with the shared policing model, and staff are expected to come back in May with recommendations for alternate policing options for the township.
"It's a really hard pill to swallow with added costs where we're trying to reduce those costs," Desjardins said. "That's the challenge of the framework agreement is that you have two very different communities, and neither of us are very satisfied with how the process is going because it can't reflect the individual communities' requirements."
READ MORE: Esquimalt council votes to end VicPD police agreement
Desjardins says the process is frustrating because over the past six years, VicPD's budget has gone to the province because the police department wanted a larger increase than the municipalities were budgeting for.
"The province has come back with different opinions, most of the time it is approving the board's budget, but it has come back not approving some of it," Desjardins said. "But it's a frustrating process all the way around because nobody feels heard. The individual communities are suffering because they're not really getting what their the council's input is for that change, and then we go back into the cycle again."
School Police Liaison Officer program criticized
On the same evening, the Greater Victoria School Board (SD 61) was considering a letter from the Greater Victoria Teachers' Association asking the board to end the School Police Liaison Officer (SPLO) program.
The letter notes that research done by the B.C. Teachers' Federation and reports by various organizations and civilian review committees found a negative effect on marginalized people in schools, and the B.C. Human Rights Commissioner recommended ending SPLO programs for the same reason.
"While school budgets have been drastically reduced over the last 20 years, police budgets in British Columbia have increased beyond the rate of inflation," the letter from GVTA says.
"Victoria Teachers and school counsellors are working in a chronically underfunded system marked by insufficient staffing, inadequate resources, and an expectation to do more with less."
"In this underfunded system, police have, at times, been used to fill gaps in school supports, by taking on a variety of roles, including supporting the work of school counsellors. The presence of SPLO’s not only harms many marginalized students, but also does nothing to solve the broader systemic issues caused by underfunding and austerity."
Del Manak, chief of VicPD, pushed back on the contents of the letter saying that it does not reflect the accuracy of VicPD's SPLO program, which was discontinued in 2018 due to there not being room in the police's budget to accommodate the program, though the stated goal at the time was to eventually bring the program back.
"I want to clarify the current role that the police have in schools, as this letter paints a picture of officers surveilling students and patrolling hallways, getting to make arrests. This is simply not true. The role of the school liaison officers is to build positive relationships and trust with students, which organically establishes mentorship and role models," Manak told the board in the March 13 meeting.
"The program also allows us to deal with worrisome behaviours are not criminal but they're beyond the capacity of school teachers and counsellors to manage."
Manak also noted that the letter and the one written by the B.C. Human Rights Commissioner states there is a lack of research on SPLO programs in Canada, and the research is mainly conducted in the U.S.
Nicole Duncan, the school board chair, said there is a committee that is currently reviewing the program and it has not yet come to a decision. The board did not discuss the letter in Monday's meeting.