While Vancouver’s City Council deferred voting on the budget until 2023, you couldn’t possibly expect us to close out the year without at least peeking at next year’s police budget.
Unfortunately, it’s been a year of unprecedented growth in the VPD budget.
The VPD started the year with a fresh new budget of $367 million (total), or over $1 million per day. A few months later, in April, they got a multimillion cash infusion, when the provincial Director of Police services reinstated $5.7 million to the VPD budget, following Vancouver City Council’s decision to freeze the 2021 budget 32 months earlier.
What to expect in 2023
At the final Police Board meeting of the year, the VPD’s 2023 budget proposal was $383,138,062 (net). This figure amounts to an 11.17% increase – though Council has been decidedly quiet on how this budget will be funded. The budget put forth by the VPD (and approved by the Police Board) is well-above the “current state budget” of $361.8 million (net), proposed by City staff and the previous council’s decision to limit the City’s 2023 property tax increase to 5% or less. The City’s proposal would lead to 0 increase in staff (including sworn officers), whereas the VPD’s proposal includes funding for the hiring of 100 new police officers. Other new funding initiatives proposed by the VPD include a pilot for body-worn cameras, boat replacement, more funding for community policing centres, and an increase to the Police Board budget as well.
Since taking office, Vancouver’s newly elected mayor and Council have already voted on a number of motions that relate to the VPD - including the widely touted hiring of 100 cops and a plan to equip all VPD officers with body-worn cameras by 2025. Similarly, the Vancouver School Board has asked the VPD to reinstate a new School Liaison Officer program, despite calls from Black and Indigenous community members to remove police from schools and redress anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism within the education and criminal injustice systems. While ABC Vancouver scrubbed its platform from its website, it’s been archived and a quick glance shows that they are maintaining their promises when it comes to increasing funding for the VPD (while asking other city services to seek their own revenue opportunities).
While Council is ostensibly grappling with rapidly augmenting police resources with “accountability” measures (though the evidence is quite murky when it comes to body-worn cameras), we maintain that the most effective policy when it comes to police is defunding the VPD and investing in community-led crisis response and prevention. Mutual aid through community-led responses to crisis and violence are important sites of collective resistance.
Since 2019, Pivot has advocated for responses that build peer-led responses. This advocacy is informed by our 5 campaign areas, and the harms of policing in racialized, low-income, illegalized, and criminalized communities. While our work in this area is not always popular, it is a vital response to a system of economic, social, and political relationships that require the constant threat of violence to maintain “order.”
At both municipal and provincial levels of government, elected officials are relying on fear-mongering and anti-drug user, anti-homeless stigma to reinforce their authority – and to justify budgets for cops, courts, and corrections. This province boasts a $5.7 billion surplus, yet human rights leaders holding positions of power have made the barest improvements (if any) to the conditions of people who rely on public space, refusing to increase units for people who require affordable housing or raise the rates for people who rely on income or disability assistance.
And, yes, the VPD did report that $5 billion annually goes to Vancouver’s “social safety net,” it’s clear that any semblance of a safety net is in shambles. Rhetoric about “prolific offenders” and “stranger attacks” has been used to further conflate criminality with the conditions of people living in the Downtown Eastside. Summer and fall of 2022 became a backdrop for the municipal election, though politics as usual were clouded by the urgent conditions on Hastings Street, which eventually gave rise to the Hastings Tent City. While the VPD did yield to community pressure and announced its officers would no longer accompany City Engineering workers on street sweeps, effective July 1, the City scrambled to actually implement the infrastructure and supports needed for people who lived on the street. While organizers from #StopTheSweeps kept the pressure on throughout the election, anti-homeless and anti-drug user backlash was also shaping the political landscape. This backlash was well-funded by right-wing political groups, who mobilized their resources to bring together tough-on-crime advocates.
READ: Defunding the VPD is an investment in public safety and collective well-being, 2021 blog by Chuka Ejeckam, featuring graphics by Amy Wu
In retrospect, the big winner in this year’s election was the VPD. Their guy won the election, since the Vancouver Police Union did endorse a mayoral candidate and his political party, ABC Vancouver this year.
The Realities of Police Violence
Of course, the budget growth will mean that precious property tax dollars are increasingly stretched to fund the force. Moreover, putting dollars into the police force as the sole source of “public safety” ignores the realities of the VPD: a force that’s come under scrutiny as police shootings hit a 15-year high in Vancouver. So far in 2022, there were 38 incidents of serious harm involving the VPD and 5 police-involved deaths. At least 2 of the people killed by the VPD were Indigenous men.
Police negligence, specifically in investigations that relate to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls & Two-Spirit Folks, has dovetailed with police violence. We know that racism and racial profiling is rampant within policing systems, such that members of particular groups and communities are subject to heightened surveillance, that includes the patrolling and policing of communities and spaces that have higher concentrations of Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities.
|READ: They Sigh of Give You the Look: Discrimination and Status Card Usage, 2022 report authored by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs|
The legacies of racialized policing and controls continue to be replicated under expanding police budgets, with devastating impacts of state violence shouldered by Black and Indigenous communities, often resulting in the harassment, assault, disappearance, and murders of racialized community members. While the Families and advocates for MMIWG2S have been organizing their own searches, as they cannot rely on police to undertake this heart-wrenching work. Organizations like Butterflies in Spirit have been organizing searches alongside Indigenous families for years, in recognition that their communities are so fundamentally over-policed and under-protected.
All these dollars going towards the police mean that equity-driven responses that don’t rely on police, or police-partnerships, are fewer and further between. We know that oversight agencies have been vocal that they do not have the resources to keep up with investigations into police conduct, and we also know that survivors of violence must navigate institutions like the OPCC (Office of Police Complaints Commissioner) or IIO (Independent Investigations Office) on their own, as there is no dedicated funding to support them in the aftermath of harm.
Pivot campaigners will be keeping an eye on the 2023 budget next year, and we will also continue amplifying calls for justice and mutual aid from the communities we work alongside.
As we close out December, we remember the 5 people who were killed during encounters with the VPD this year:
Unknown – April 11, 2022
Kerry Flanders – April 27, 2022
Unknown – May 5, 2022
Unknown – May 31, 2022
Chris Amyotte – August 22, 2022
Photo by: Meenakshi Mannoe
We also remember the following Missing & Murdered relations:
Chelsea Poorman – found in April 2022
Noelle O’Soup - found on May 1, 2022
Tatyanna Harrison – found on May 2, 2022
Kwemcxenalqs Manuel-Gottfriedson – found on July 30, 2022
Darius James Rex Smallboy – found on November 4, 2022
We will keep advocating for a future where no community member fears policing or criminalization, and we will continue to call for investment in life-affirming programming and supports that are dignified, culturally safe, and anti-violent. Our work is grounded in the experiences of directly impacted community members and their families, who so often must fight the very institutions that they are told protect them, in searching for justice.
Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.