How much for polic­ing? A daunt­ing chal­lenge

Times Colonist - - Islander - STAN BARTLETT Stan Bartlett is the chair of Grumpy Tax­payer$ of Greater Vic­to­ria, a non-par­ti­san ad­vo­cacy group ded­i­cated to lower taxes, less waste and more ac­count­able mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment.

Coun­cils have the un­en­vi­able job of de­cid­ing how much tax money goes to sup­port the safety and well-be­ing of their com­mu­nity.

Dur­ing the next few months, it will be par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing for the 40 per cent of 91 politi­cians in the re­gion who will have the task of scru­ti­niz­ing a po­lice bud­get for the first time. We will see if the elec­tion-trail prom­ises about mak­ing life more af­ford­able was just talk.

So, is a 6.01 per cent in­crease in the VicPD bud­get for 2019 af­ford­able and sus­tain­able for tax­pay­ers?

VicPD al­ready has 233 of­fi­cers — cov­er­ing Vic­to­ria and Esquimalt — the high­est num­ber of po­lice of­fi­cers per 100,000 res­i­dents in Canada. The costs per capita are also con­sid­er­ably more than all other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in British Co­lum­bia, and al­most 20 per cent more than the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Van­cou­ver.

Perhaps it comes down to a pub­lic per­cep­tion of crime that’s much dif­fer­ent from re­al­ity.

There’s a huge dis­con­nect with what we see on Law and Or­der, CSI and Happy Val­ley, and what’s ac­tu­ally go­ing on in Greater Vic­to­ria.

Crime is a com­pelling and eas­ily ob­tain­able story for the me­dia — “if it bleeds it leads” — and it of­ten gets prom­i­nent cov­er­age. We wit­ness the hor­rific crime in the United States in the news daily. Un­der­stand­ably, if some­one is vic­tim­ized any­where, the im­pact can be con­sid­er­able and peo­ple hear about it.

Of­ten, the bud­get de­ci­sion de­pends on a wobbly num­bers game — local, regional, provin­cial and na­tional crime sta­tis­tics — when ar­gu­ing for a boost.

Lo­cally, VicPD weighs in with its num­bers, ar­gu­ing there’s a need for 12 new staff and more than $3.2 mil­lion on top of the ex­ist­ing $54.3-mil­lion bud­get.

Last year, Esquimalt twice re­fused a bud­get-in­crease re­quest for six ad­di­tional of­fi­cers. This is­sue has gone to the prov­ince to rule on, likely within the next cou­ple of months. This year, the po­lice are ask­ing for five more of­fi­cers and a sup­port staff mem­ber.

Re­gion­ally, in the cen­sus metropolitan area of 377,500 in Greater Vic­to­ria, the crime rate is down 39 per cent in the past 10 years. The crime-sever­ity rate is down 42 per cent, ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics Canada.

Provin­cially, the 10-year down­ward trend in crime is also re­flected in the sta­tis­tics. The crime rate for Vic­to­ria and Esquimalt, the area cov­ered by VicPD, dropped from 2008 to 2017 by 36.2 per cent, ac­cord­ing to the prov­ince.

Na­tion­ally, crime rates have dropped by 23 per cent dur­ing the past 10 years. Crime rate is the num­ber of Crim­i­nal Code of­fences (ex­clud­ing traf­fic) re­ported for ev­ery 1,000 per­sons.

As a re­sponse to fall­ing crime rates, most coun­cils in larger com­mu­ni­ties in Canada have trimmed or held the line on the num­ber of po­lice of­fi­cers.

Of the 50 stand­alone po­lice de­part­ments and RCMP de­tach­ments in cities with more than 100,000 peo­ple last year, just eight saw in­creases in their over­all po­lice strength from the pre­vi­ous year, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Sta­tis­tics Canada study. Thirty-one saw de­creases, while 11 re­ported no sig­nif­i­cant change, the study found.

Pro­po­nents ar­gue that VicPD po­lices the core area of Vic­to­ria and Esquimalt and con­se­quently is dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected by so­cial is­sues, in­clud­ing the of­ten-in­ter­re­lated prob­lems of home­less­ness, sub­stance abuse and men­tal health. Tourists, bars and heavy traf­fic flows from the re­gion and be­yond add to the work­load.

Then again, Van­cou­ver is also af­fected by regional so­cial is­sues, tourists, bars and heavy traf­fic flows, yet em­ploys 15 per cent fewer po­lice per 100,000 res­i­dents.

There are press­ing needs in a com­mu­nity in ad­di­tion to polic­ing.

The ex­ist­ing Vic­to­ria/Esquimalt polic­ing bud­get of $54.3 mil­lion rep­re­sents 22.5 per cent of the city’s op­er­at­ing bud­get — a per­cent­age that hasn’t changed much since 2012.

In 2016, other com­pa­ra­ble ju­ris­dic­tions in­clude New West­min­ster (13.8 per cent), Van­cou­ver (19.2 per cent), Ab­bots­ford (20 per cent) and Saanich (18.8 per cent), all of which con­tinue to spend a smaller per­cent­age of their op­er­at­ing bud­get.

Grumpy Tax­payer$ asks ques­tions: How much as a com­mu­nity do we want to pay for polic­ing? Should the leg­isla­tive precinct — Vic­to­ria po­lice were re­cruited to es­cort the ousted clerk and sergeant-at-arms from the leg­is­la­ture — or CRD be tapped for ser­vices ren­dered?

Could po­lice pa­per­work be re­duced? Why aren’t more low­er­cost civil­ian em­ploy­ees uti­lized? Why not re­al­lo­cate re­sources for foot pa­trols down­town? How much money would be saved by the con­sol­i­da­tion of VicPD and Saanich Po­lice De­part­ment?

Pro­tect­ing ci­ti­zens is a fun­da­men­tal duty of coun­cil and ar­guably the most im­por­tant de­ci­sion they make.

In the end, po­lice and emer­gency-ser­vices bud­gets are to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, what health­care costs are to the prov­ince.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.