Vancouver activists, community leaders torn over police budget ruling

Downtown Vancouver community groups are reacting to Vancouver Police getting millions of dollars the city said they just couldn't fit into the budget. This follows an appeal to the Provincial Police Services arbiter ultimately siding with VPD. Liza Yuzda has more.

Debate continues over whether Vancouver police should receive a $5.7 million funding boost, even after the province sided with the force following the city’s decision to deny the increase in the 2021 budget.

The decision to overturn council’s original decision was made by B.C.’s Director of Police Services, Wayne Rideout. Rideout, who was appointed the position, is a former police officer.

City Coun. Christine Boyle says there is a “major gap” in public accountability and transparency.

“Police budgets shouldn’t be a blank cheque Councils are forced to rubber stamp,” she said on Twitter on Tuesday.

Boyle is calling on B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth will overrule the decision or for the province cover the increased budget.

“We need a major overhaul of the Police Act to strengthen local oversight and control of the VPD … We should be in charge of how much we pay for police, and local residents can then hold us accountable.”

Police are currently responding to issues beyond law enforcement, something the province has the power to change. However, activists and business leaders have different opinions about whether more money for police will lead to a safer community.

“It wasn’t defunded, it was a freeze,” said Meenakshi Mannoe with Pivot Legal Society, which wants to see far less police funding. “We do advocate for defunding the police. We want deep and lasting cuts to the police budget so we can actually invest in community-based crisis response.”

She argues this money is needed for mental health, safe supply, and housing supports.

“We need to see a radical re-investment in community-led safety and crisis supports,” Mannoe said, adding she’s disappointed the “status quo” around funding for the VPD has been upheld.

Related article: Vancouver Police Board wins appeal of city council’s 2021 budget decision

Meanwhile, Teri Smith with the West End Business Improvement Association says they’ve seen increases in community issues during the pandemic, including property crime.

“Shoplifting, there’s been a lot of graffiti, a lot of window smashing,” Smith described, adding she hopes hopes the millions in funding could help.

“We hope that of course there will be an increased physical presence on our streets and perhaps some more proactive policing in the areas that really need some addressing,” she said, adding she would also like to see community policing.

For her part, Mannoe feels there is work “inappropriately” funneled into policing services in Vancouver.

“Whether they’re talking about community outreach, supporting marginalized members of our communities, unhoused neighbours … they’re very quick to tell us that that’s part of their work,” Mannoe said. “However, we know that work would be better led by the community, by peers, by people with lived or living experience who can actually meet people where they’re at, without a badge and a gun.”

Smith argues increased police presence “provides a level of comfort and a feeling of safety” for the general public, but acknowledged some people do not find police presence comforting.

“There needs to be the appropriate supports in place for folks that are facing such severe mental health and substance abuse problems, and services that they can access when they need them — not be on a waitlist … It really needs to be available when they need it,” Smith said.

Coun. Pete Fry says at the start of the pandemic, the City asked all departments to curtail spending, including police. He says there will have to be cuts or taxes to cover this money in future years.

In December, 2021, council voted not to approve a proposed increase of $5.7 million. The board asked the province to review the decision, arguing the budget freeze was effectively a cut, and failed to account for the board’s legal obligations and inflationary increases. It also said the decision was made without analysis or risk assessment to public safety, and would result in hiring delays.

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Vancouver’s city manager says the city will have to allocate the money from the its reserves, since the 2022 budget has already been approved. Residents won’t see the impact of this decision until 2023.

Chief Adam Palmer welcomed the decision, saying it will allow the Vancouver Police Department to better serve residents. He claims the city has been “gripped by an abundance of public safety challenges” since the budget decision was made.

“I am committed to ensuring everyone feels safe again, and I have every confidence that a fully-funded Vancouver Police Department can continue to combat the public safety challenges we face,” he said in a statement.

Mannoe feels let down not only by the Vancouver Police Board, but also governments on the municipal and provincial levels.

“We haven’t seen any real enthusiasm from a single level of government around defunding,” she said.

With files from Sonia Aslam and Lisa Steacy

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