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New West police budget: “It’s not an insignificant number”

A 11.55 per cent increase is the starting point for the New Westminster Police Department’s 2025 operating budget.
The police board got its first look at the 2025 budget at its June meeting.

It’s early days for the New Westminster Police Department’s 2025 operating budget, but the starting point is an 11.55 per cent increase.

At its June 18 meeting, the New Westminster police board received its first report about the 2025 operational budget. Next year’s operating budget – still considered very preliminary – currently sits at $31.75 million.

Jacqueline Dairon, manager of police financial services, said a lot of the costs in the preliminary budget are estimates, and she will continue to meet with third parities to get more concrete figures.

“The leadership team has worked diligently to prioritize the operational needs of the department, while also recognizing the fiscal realities of municipal budgets,” said the report. “Based on our initial estimates, approximately 60 per cent of our proposed 2025 budget enhancements are due to non-discretionary pressures. Future reports will include more detailed information as it becomes available.”

Deputy Chief Const. Paul Hyland said the report is about the department’s initial budget.

“As the board will see, it's not an insignificant number. That's the first blush, looking at this – 60 per cent of that is non-discretionary items. We have really whittled down on the non-discretionary side.”

Hyland said the police department conducted a review and cut items from the budget, recognizing the financial challenges being faced. Of the currently proposed 11.55 per cent increase, he said about 6.7 per cent is for non-discretionary items such as salary increases and projected increases from third-party contracts like E-COMM.

“We don't know what those final numbers will look like,” he said.

The report outlined some of the costs that will impact the police department’s 2025 budget, including collective agreements, a new human resources manager who begins in July 2024, E-COMM costs, integrated police teams (such as the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, Police Service Dogs, and Emergency Response Team), other contractual increases (such as jail cards, transcription, background investigations).

The report also detailed some of the “discretionary operational enhancements” proposed for consideration in 2025. These requests currently total $1.5 million, or 4.87 per cent of the proposed budget.

Proposed enhancements related to backfilling positions, which is part of a three-year backfill strategy to address temporary staffing shortages to ensure continuity of operations, minimize disruptions and maintain productivity.

Hyland said the department had originally considered proposing two child sexual exploitation investigator positions but decided one may be more appropriate at this time.

A staff report stated more than 4,000 third-party reports of chid sexual exploitation offences (primarily the creation, possession or distribution of child pornography) are reported to police each year; the BC Integrated Child Exploitation Unit forwards an average of about 30 files to the NWPD each year to be investigated.

Increased costs are also expected related to digital evidence management systems (relating to the amount of digital evidence that police must disclose to Crown counsel), training, police officer recruitment costs, and IT.

“Nothing scares me more than cybersecurity in the world that we're living in. So, it's a real priority for the organization,” Hyland told the board. “Other organizations, as we've heard recently, have had some challenges with that. … We, obviously, retain a lot of sensitive information.”

The retirement of a member of the NWPD’s forensic identification unit has resulted in the selection of a new member to the unit, who is now required to complete a course to perform this “highly specialized” work. That course costs $30,000.

Hyland said the police department will have to gradually assume the costs of funding the Gang Suppression Unit, as the provincial and federal governments are slowly reducing their funding for that unit.

Hyland told the board that a request for proposals has gone out regarding an operational review of the police department, which will provide more data that about the department’s needs.

“I think every unit in the organization is feeling the pressures of being over worked,” he said. “There's a lot of great work going on; I wouldn't say it's at a crisis point by any stretch at this time, but the city is growing fast, and we have to have a plan to keep pace with that, whether it's service delivery, or staffing. And the challenge we're having right now is huge increases on the non-discretionary side which impedes in our ability to have our own internal enhancements.”

Engagement with city council

While the City of New Westminster does not have to approve its budget until May 15, 2025, the New Westminster police board must approve a provisional budget by Nov. 30, 2024.

Hyland said the police department has not yet begun to engage with the City of New Westminster about the budget, so those discussions will contribute to the conversation as the city starts to develop its budget.

A timeline for the NWPD’s 2025 budget includes an initial discussion with the police board on budget timelines and priorities at its June meeting, followed by a further discussion about the operating budget and a presentation about the capital budget at its July 16 meeting.

The proposed timeline includes a meeting with city council in September to discuss the budget, as well as a presentation about the updated budget at September’s police board meeting. That will be followed by another update to the board in October, a meeting between council and the board in November, and approval of the 2025 budget at the Nov. 19 police board meeting.

Board member Mary Trentadue questioned if the September meeting with council should be pushed back until late September or early October, noting the board has had only one discussion the budget.

“When we go to council, I feel like we should have a really clear sense of where we're at, and I'm not sure we will by September,” she said.

Mayor Patrick Johnstone, chair of the police board, said council would like to talk to the police board about the NWPD budget earlier in the process. He said a preliminary conversation with council in September would inform the deeper discussions that occur in November.

“I think having a bit of a preliminary first pass of the budget pressures at a council meeting early would help them feel like they were engaged in the conversation earlier, instead of us showing up with a complete budget for them,” he said.

Based on feedback the police department received from city council about last year’s budget, Dairon said this year’s September meeting is intended to be less of a presentation and more of a workshop format.

Knowing that, Trentadue was comfortable with the proposed timeline, saying she had been worried the board may not be ready to present to council in September.

“I feel like we have a lot of work to do,” she said.

Police board member Drew Hart it’s likely the police board will have to add a meeting in August to discuss the budget.