On March 14, residents of Vancouver learned that the provincial Director of Police Services had overruled City Council’s 2020 decision on the VPD budget. The Director’s decision restored $5.7 million to the 2021 budget, effectively reversing Council’s decision to freeze the budget.
Now, nearly 17 months after Council froze the VPD budget, senior City Staff are recommending Council approve the $5.7 million increase to the Vancouver Police Board 2022 Operating Budget, bumping up the 2022 budget to $347.2 million.
A Quick Recap
Vancouver Police Board rejects call from city hall to cut 1% of its budget amidst pressures of COVID-19.
Vancouver City Council unanimously approves the motion “Decriminalizing Poverty and Supporting Community-led Safety Initiatives” which states “Council’s priority to respond to mental health, sex work, homelessness, and substance use with initiatives led by community, health agencies, social service providers and non-profit societies rather than policing.”
Vancouver Police Department releases “Our Community in Need,” a report that claims the VPD spends $1.1 million policing mental health, $283 policing homeleness, $4,032 policing substance use, and $0 policing sex workers. These claims continue to be subject to scrutiny as they do not reflect the realities of people with lived & living experiences of criminalization.
Vancouver Police Board approves a $321.7M net operating budget + additional $0.35M for CPCs.
Vancouver City Council freezes the police budget at a $315.3M net operating budget (same as 2020 budget). Budget freeze amounts to a 1.8% budget reduction.
Vancouver Police Board appeals Council decision to the Director of Police Services, through an appeal under Section 27(3) of the Police Act
Vancouver Police Board approves a net operating budget of $341.5M for 2022.
Vancouver City Council approves the budget put forth by VPD, despite the fact that it was $3.9 million over staff’s recommendation.
Director of Police Services contracts Peter Lockie (Inverleith Consulting) and retired RCMP superintendent Peter Lepine to study & report back
Director of Police Services reverses Council’s budget freeze, adding $5.7 million back to the 2021 VPD budget
Council decides how to add $5.7 million to the VPD budget.
Who made this decision?
Wayne Rideout, an Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) and Director of Police Services made the final decision regarding the $5.7 million. Rideout leads the Policing and Security Branch and superintends policing on behalf of the Minister of Public Safety, who is the highest law enforcement official within the province. Prior to his appointment as ADM in February 2021, Rideout had a 34-year career with the RCMP, where he served as a member of the RCMP senior executive team.
Municipal police departments, like the VPD, are independent of the province, but are governed by BC’s Police Act. Through the Police Act, municipalities like Vancouver have legal obligations regarding the provision of policing services.
Rideout’s decision also relied on the reports of two consultants: Peter Lockie of Inverleith Consulting Inc. and Peter Lepine of Peter Lepine Professional Services. Peter Lepine is a retired police officer, with 35 years of policing experience in the RCMP and West Vancouver Police Department.
Inverleith Consulting, Report Dated January 17th, 2022
Inverleith’s review analyzed key documents and interviews with VPD executive and management, Vancouver Police Board members, the president of the Vancouver Police Union, City Manager, and Chief Financial Officer. Inverleith’s review also highlighted the Police Board’s argument that a $5.7 million budget shortfall would put every police budget at risk of deficit going forth.
Peter Lepine Professional Services, Report Dated February 1, 2022
Peter Lepine interviewed stakeholders including the Vancouver Police Board, the City of Vancouver, VPD Police Executive Team members, and the Vancouver Police Association. He also reviewed and considered information from applicable legislation and Standards, strategic plans, financial framework documentation, financial management reports, operational reviews, external/internal financial audits, programs and service delivery statistics and data, collective bargaining agreements, crime trends, Stats Canada data, open-source media, and government reports. Lepine’s report makes one reference to the defund movement:
"Public demands have lent themselves to the phrase “defund the police”. It was suggested that public funds used to pay for policing should be reallocated to community programs directly related to diverse and marginalized communities.
The police, including the VPD, is the first to say that they would be happy to take a back seat to dealing with such calls for service. However, it would be difficult to imagine that the VPD could simply walk away from this duty without increasing the risk to the safety of all people involved, either as a client or service provider."
Since the Defund movement gained traction locally, the VPD has been on a steady offensive - often using anti-poor policing and programs to leverage their work. While Lepine notes the police “would be happy to take a back seat,” he ignores the fact that ever-increasing police budgets are making it impossible to fund viable alternatives.
There is no evidence that either report commissioned by the Director of Police Services reached out to a single person or organization who spoke in favour of defunding the VPD during 2021 budget hearings.
Where will this money come from?
Police budgets don’t just grow on trees. In response to Director Rideout’s decision, City staff have proposed 2 options to increase the VPD budget:
General Revenue Stabilization Reserve
The City’s General Revenue Stabilization Reserve is used to complete each year with a balanced budget. This reserve was also used in both 2020 & 2021. Notably, in the 2022 Budget Highlights report, City Manager Paul Mochrie notes that this approach to balancing budgets “is not a sustainable approach to finance City services.”
Increase property taxes
City Council could amend the 2022 property tax rates.
The Police Board & Director of Police Services Are Ignoring Priorities
Whatever option Council proceeds with will cost residents of Vancouver. The VPD budget amounts to at least ⅕ of the City budget. In his 2021 blog for Pivot, researcher and policy analyst Chuka Ejeckam highlighted the dynamics of police funding:
"In recent years, the VPD budget has roughly equaled the total public revenue that the city draws from utility fees. Utility fees are the city’s second-largest source of revenue, behind property taxes. Since the VPD budget consumes utility fee revenues, that leaves property taxes as the primary revenue source to fund other public expenditures…This circumstance creates a troubling dynamic in which the City of Vancouver caters to property owners (and the profiteering firms who would entice them) above all others, as they provide the bulk of the city’s available discretionary funds." - Blog: Defunding the VPD is an investment in public safety and collective well-being
This circumstance creates a troubling dynamic in which the City of Vancouver caters to property owners (and the profiteering firms who would entice them) above all others...
- Chuka Ejeckam
What could we do with $5.7M?
There has been a clear call to defund the VPD over the past few years. Shortly after the 2021 budget decision, 14 community groups spoke out against the failure of Council and the Police Board to defund the VPD. Responding to the budget freeze, signatories wrote:
We are being told that the voices, lived experiences, and expertise of people speaking out against policing and criminalization will not be considered by the municipal government. Instead, following months of engagement with the municipal government, advocates are met with a budget that maintains the dominion of police.
What could we do with 50% of the police budget?
Although the City of Vancouver has declared its intentions to decriminalize poverty, there has not been any tangible action to advance this work. When community members ask why police are the only crisis response, they are told “there is no alternative.” There is no alternative because the police budget is swallowing funds that could be redirected to support community-led alternatives. The current paradigm of police funding allows the VPD to proliferate problematic initiatives like Street Sweeps, the Trespass Prevention Program, and Neighbourhood Response Teams. Instead of funneling public resources into criminalizing poverty, we could redirect police budgets to root-cause solutions.
Alex Hemingway, Senior Economist and Public Finance Policy Analyst at the CCPA BC Office challenges the province’s decision to refund the VPD:
"Rather than blocking a municipality from putting even modest constraints on police funding, the provincial government should be taking action to address urgent social needs. BC has ample fiscal capacity to increase social investments, including in community-based social services, mental health supports, safe drug supply, and massively ramping up the creation of affordable housing. This is not only the right thing to do, but also makes economic sense. There's no excuse to leave these needs unmet."
This is not only the right thing to do, but also makes economic sense. There's no excuse to leave these needs unmet.
- Alex Hemingway
A Call to Action
Next week, City Council will receive the Report on the Vancouver Police Board Budget Increase. We’re asking our allies to sign up to speak or write to Council in support of Council Member Jean Swanson’s Motion “Rejecting the Increase to the 2021 Police Budget.”
Despite widespread calls to action, ignited by tragedies of police violence and murder across so-called Canada, police budgets continue to grow. These millions could fund public amenities like green and blue space, libraries or affordable housing, or go towards building community-led alternatives. Even when a municipality approves extremely modest budget freezes, police boards and provincial directors can overturn their decision and demand millions more.
Instead of giving police forces a blank cheque
we need to decisively defund their work
NOTE: Speakers to Council Member’s Motions will be considered at a Standing Committee meeting, likely the Standing Committee on Policy and Strategic Priorities meeting on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. On Tuesday, April 12, speakers will be advised about the date and time Council will hear from speakers.
Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.