Since the pandemic began, police officers have been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Patrol officers have been on the frontline, putting themselves at risk, to keep the city safe. Police cannot reduce or defer frontline work, as in-progress emergencies have continued throughout the city.
Crime has not stopped. Calls from the public have not stopped. I appreciate the hardship faced by employees of the City, the library, and the Park Board who have recently received lay-off notices. I do not want to minimize the impact the pandemic has had on these employees and their families. However, 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.
I’m surprised the City of Vancouver has asked for a reduction to frontline response in the midst of a pandemic – police are an essential, core service. In my view, it is problematic to cut an essential service to fund non-essential services. Ninety-seven percent of the VPD’s budget is non-discretionary (i.e. salaries). Therefore, any reduction equals a reduction in police response.
I’m concerned about the lack of transparency in this process. 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. 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. I learned about the motion on Wednesday afternoon after it was developed, voted on, and passed. I would have appreciated the opportunity to present to Council, in a public forum, on the public safety implications.
Last month, the City asked the Vancouver Police Board to reduce VPD’s operating costs significantly. The board provided a thorough, detailed response about how such a reduction would be detrimental to public safety. However, the board committed to ensuring that VPD works to maximize budget savings throughout the year.
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, the department overcame this staffing deficit to return to 2009 staffing levels. During this same time, the city’s population has increased by eleven percent and calls for police service have increased by 14 per cent.
I will be discussing next steps with the Vancouver Police Board next week.
-Adam Palmer, Chief Constable, Vancouver Police Department