Victoria councillors have voted to slash a total of $1.1 million from the proposed $56 million core budget of the Victoria Police Department, a move that Chief Const. Del Manak said could reduce the police force by nine members.
In a lengthy debate on Thursday, the committee of the whole discussed how they could limit the proposed budget increase to not exceed inflation plus 1 per cent tax, for a total of 3.4 per cent increase. This meant cutting $858,000 from the core budget, as well as not extending a two-officer pilot project known as the assertive community treatment (ACT) team, which sees officers working with health care workers to better accommodate people with mental health problems and addictions.
Council voted five-to-three to accept this reduction, a move that Manak said puts the community in danger.
“I’m being put into a very difficult position to try to run a major urban core police department that has tremendous challenges,” Manak said. “It’s frustrating when I know that in additional revenue the City has $8 million… It’s not a money issue, it’s a priority issue. They’ve sent a clear message to the police department that public safety is not a priority.”
Manak further argued that the police department is being treated unfairly as they have to include a new provincial health tax into their budget, which totals $690,000, when no other city division needs to do so.
“Why is the police department being treated differently?” Manak said. “The same rules don’t apply to any other part of the city; not public works, not the Victoria Fire department.”
Within the proposed budget, VicPD also requested funding to hire seven additional officers and civilian staff members to increase their staff roster, which hasn’t seen a new permanent position since 2010.
Losing nine members, including the two ACT team members, and being denied seven new staff, totals a $1.67 million reduction in the budget, Manak said.
The Victoria Police Department faced similar challenges in 2018, when a request for six more officers was denied by the Township of Esquimalt, resulting in the loss of liaison officers in local schools.
Manak said cutting nine staff members from his team would have devastating effects as policing is getting more and more complex.
“We have no positions in our organization that are redundant or overlapping that provide an enhancement of service,” Manak said. “No matter where I go, it’s going to lead to service reductions, more delays to 911 calls and lower investigative capacity.”
Manak felt especially frustrated that the ACT team was cut before a third-party study at the University of Victoria researching the effectiveness of the team was finished. The study is scheduled to result in a final report next month.
“Let’s wait for results, let’s continue the pilot,” Manak said. “But they’ve made the decision – they’re not going to fund it while we’re in the middle of the review.”
Council members spent hours making the decision, debating back and forth on the necessity of the budget increase.
“To be clear, no one is talking about cutting a police budget,” said Coun. Ben Isitt. “This motion proposes a very generous increase, bigger than the increase to any other city department.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who co-chairs the police board, did not agree with the cuts.
“Our city is growing, our population is growing, the complexity of police is growing and the complexity of the world is growing,” Help said. “I think the exact wrong thing to do is make cuts to the police budget so I don’t support this.”
The Victoria Police Department must now revise its budget and resubmit it to the police board with council’s considerations in mind before it is presented to council once again. Any final decisions for the budget are anticipated to happen in April.
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