As the largest cost driver on Victoria’s books, police on Monday (Feb. 6) outlined to council why it’s seeking a 9.55 per cent funding boost this year.
Salaries and benefits make up 80 per cent of VicPD’s $69.4 million draft budget, which states 5.2 of the 9.55 per cent increase is dedicated to those areas.
The department said the increase is needed to address those costs from inflationary pressures on staff pay, along with the province downloading more than $400,000 in police academy tuition and $500,0000 for dispatch services.
“As high as this budget request for 2023 is, it is still barely enough,” said Steve Hurcombe, VicPD’s financial controller.
That perceived shortfall will make it hard for the force to provide adequate services around proactive policing, response wait times and addressing crime trends, he said. Officers on mental health and injury leave, recruiting issues and responding to protests are other challenges facing the department.
Pushed on why the department’s budget is so large on a per-capita basis, VicPD Chief Del Manak said they’re tasked with policing a population much larger than the tax base. That’s why he supports moving to a regional policing system as the capital hosts the region’s largest concentration of tourism, support services and liquor and entertainment venues.
“Clearly the model that’s in place now is not working, there’s a tremendous amount of criminality and victimization going on and exploitation with many of these supportive housing units,” VicPD Chief Del Manak said, adding that he’s set to meet with provincial housing officials Tuesday.
The department seeks funding for three more officers, with Victoria’s portion of that amounting to $367,000, along with four new civilian staff. Manak called the three officers a modest request that’s going toward filling off-duty staff positions. The chief added VicPD needs to bolster its civilian staff as it lacks the necessary organizational resources to run the department and meet legislative requirements on file archiving.
Multiple councillors noted the difficult spot they’re in as policing represents the city’s highest cost driver, but they also want to work together on meeting public safety needs. VicPD makes up more than a third of the city’s proposed nine per cent property tax increase.
A $150,000 budget ask to start a body camera pilot project garnered a lot of discussion Monday. While police across North America are increasingly turning to the officer-worn cameras, councillors flagged issues around video being withheld from the public.
Manak said it would lead to better evidence gathering as well as greater accountability since officers know they’re being recorded – leading to him being questioned on why that degree of professionalism wouldn’t be there already.
“It is,” Manak said, adding it’s a challenging job where individuals don’t want to comply and are sometimes aggressive. “It does help with officer accountability, there’s no doubt about it.”
A small number of incidents end with the use of force when looking at the thousands of interactions officers have daily, he said.
“Does every encounter go the way that we would like it to go? No, it doesn’t because a lot of it is dictated by the individual that we’re dealing with.”
Responding to councillors saying residents aren’t seeing higher police budgets result in less severe crime, Manak said adequate policing levels are needed but he’s always supported partnerships.
“Many times people think it’s well ‘The police are asking for this money, take some of this money and put it into social programming,’” he said. “We need to increase investment and increase service supports and budgets in many areas that are faltering.”
“But it’s just tiring to hear that many people feel that it should be at the expense of the police.”
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