Victoria and Esquimalt City Councils vote to curb proposed increase in police budget

Victoria and Esquimalt share police expenses, with Victoria funding the bulk of the budget.  (Ken Mizokoshi/CBC - photo credit)

Victoria and Esquimalt share police expenses, with Victoria funding the bulk of the budget. (Ken Mizokoshi/CBC – photo credit)

Victoria and Esquimalt councilors have voted in separate sessions not to fund several items of the increased budget proposed by the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board in what the Mayor of Victoria said is an attempt to limit spending passed on to taxpayers.

The VicPD Police Board initially presented a budget of $69.456 million for 2023, a 9.6 percent increase from the previous year.

In separate sessions Monday night, Esquimalt council rejected $1.3 million of the increased budget, while Victoria council voted to cut it by $1.7 million.

Victoria and Esquimalt share police expenses, with Victoria funding the majority of the budget. The VicPD has one of the highest police budgets per capita in Canada.

“This budget is a challenge. It’s a year of people fighting and it has to be a year of restraint,” said Barb Desjardins, Mayor of Esquimalt.

In an interview with CBC On the islandVictoria Mayor Marianne Alto said Victoria Council has tried to take a moderate approach to offsetting the high inflation rate without exceeding the inflation rate in its budget.

Rejection of funding for new staff

Victoria Council passed an earlier motion asking the VicPD Police Board to amend its proposed budget to a 6.96 per cent increase in line with inflation.

Police Department Finance Committee Chairman Doug Crowder responded in a letter to the mayor and council urging them to reconsider passing the original budget.

“Removal of items by the Board would conflict with our legal requirement to ensure appropriate and effective oversight; therefore, the board will not make any pre-emptive adjustments,” he wrote.

Esquimalt and Victoria councils on Monday night voted on line items in the police budget not to be funded to reduce the proposed budget increase.

Victoria turned down requests for funding for additional staff, two of three new frontline officers and a pilot body-worn camera, among other things. Esquimalt agreed similarly and was unwilling to fund new staff or officers for the department.

Ken Mizokoshi/CBC

Ken Mizokoshi/CBC

Alto says this line-by-line review was a reluctant move by Victoria Council as it was the only way under the Police Act that local authorities could react critically to police department budgets.

“There’s no permission to say in general, ‘We want you to reduce the amount of X dollars, find out how,'” she said. “[It’s] a special position to bring a community in.”

The VicPD Police Board did not respond to CBC News requests for comment as of the time of publication.

Esquimalt’s concerns

Desjardins says her council’s main concerns stem from a provincial-commissioned report that indicated Esquimalt had more police officers than needed.

The VicPD Police Board approved a deployment model for Esquimalt that would reduce it by three officers – but, she says, the police have not adopted the model.

Until those officers are removed from Esquimalt, Desjardins says the council cannot, in good faith, fund additional officers.

Councils agree

Last year, Esquimalt pushed back VicPD’s proposed budget increase and was asked by the province to pay its share of the cost.

That year, Victoria and Esquimalt councils agreed on several items for which they decided not to approve increased funding.

“This year is unique in that both councils said it’s too big a budget, we can’t afford it,” Desjardins said. “But the reality is that both councils have said year after year that this situation is not working.”

If the board and the communities cannot reach an agreement, the decision goes to the police director to find a solution.

Paul Schachter, a former member of the VicPD Police Committee, says he has seen that police chiefs are not neutral parties and often think increasing the police budget is important.

“Right now I think it’s a question of who has the most influence,” he said.

The Council will consider the draft budget for ratification on Thursday.


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