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New West police department budget: Too much? Not enough?

Debating the New Westminster police budget: Time for a change?
The New Westminster Police Department budget process could be seeing some changes in the future.

Should the New Westminster Police Department’s budget be increased? Should it be cut?

It depends on who you ask.

On Monday night, council heard from delegations regarding the City of New Westminster’s 2023 budget. During those discussions, two residents offered different takes about the city’s budget allocation to the police department.

Debra Parkes, a New West resident and chair of the chair in feminist legal studies at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia, supported the overall budget, but voiced concerns about the police budget. She said the city’s police budget is more than $37 million, which is the largest expenditure in the city.

“As I understand it, there's relatively limited transparency at the council level, and the opportunity to review and question police spending. This, I think, is particularly concerning at a time when there's much research and rising awareness of the need for community-based alternatives to policing models to address safety and security, as well as mental health and wellness in our communities,” she told council. “I'd like to register my concern as a New West resident, as someone whose research addresses the failures of the criminal justice system to deliver on its promises of public safety and security for all. We could and should do much better in this regard.”

Longtime New West resident David Brett said he attended a November 2022 meeting between city council and the police board, where the police budget was thoroughly discussed.

“There is a great deal of transparency in the police budget, I thought,” he said. “A lot of things were covered in that.”

Brett believes the statistics presented by the police department as part of its 2023 budget proposal – such as the number of officers working on the streets, the ratio of police officers to citizens and New Westminster’s Crime Severity Index ranking – demonstrate the need for an increase to the police budget. While he appreciates that council didn’t “pick apart and nitpick the police budget and send it back for a reduction” as it has done in the past, he said he’d like the city to gear up to increase the NWPD’s budget next year.

As the parent of a child who has been homeless, mentally ill, addicted and living on the streets of New Westminster for the better part of 20 years, he said he’s grateful for the work done by local police.

“My son overdosed 10 times in New Westminster, and many of those times he was revived by police officers,” he said. “So that's my message: Let's find more money starting now for next year.”

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa supported the budget, but expressed concern about the process related to approving the police department’s budget. She doesn’t think it makes sense to discuss that department’s budget in isolation from the rest of the budget.

“I also think that a process of real transparent dialogue needs to start now,” she said. “We need to start talking with the police board now about the budget for 2024.”

Nakagawa said she’ll soon be bringing a motion to council asking that the police board engage in dialogue with council as soon as possible about its next budget.

“I don't support the way that we do police budgets,” she said. “So this is a no for me about the police budget, but it's a yes overall for the larger budget.”

Coun. Tasha Henderson also believes there’s a need for more dialogue and transparency in the process.

Coun. Daniel Fontaine said he supports the dollars in the budget that are going to the police department.

“They put themselves on the line every single day…. Our police deserve our respect,” he said. “And our police deserve the funding to make sure that they have the necessary resources to make sure that we can prevent crime on the street and behind closed doors when it happens to individuals.”

Police board weighs in

Former city councillor Mary Trentadue, one of two new police board members attending their first meeting on April 18, asked for a high-level description of the police budget process.

Jacqueline Dairon, manager of finance services for the New Westminster Police Department, said she reviews the budget all year long, and begins the process of building the following year’s budget in May or June when she brings that information to the board and the NWPD’s senior management team.

“June and July, we're kind of discussing where we think we need to go. Then September is another big month, where we sort of take all of the feedback from June and July, and in September, I do another report out,” she said. “And then October, usually is when we do our big joint report with council as well.”

Chief Const. Dave Jansen said the police board is statutorily required (by the Police Act) to approve a provisional budget by Nov. 30. He said changes can only be made until March 15.

Johnstone said that having council and the police board to work together earlier in the process would ensure budget conversations aren’t be happening in October when the police board is under pressure to complete its provisional budget.

“The police board can decide how they want to engage with council on that conversation,” he said. “I think it'll be a really useful thing. I think it will also be really useful for us.”

Jansen said he supports efforts to have better discussions between city council and the police board, with the police department providing any support that’s needed.

“That's really how it should be, right?” he told the board. “I mean, this is your budget: you're running the police department in regards to setting the budget and the priorities and the goals and the objectives. We're there to support you on that. So, I think we're getting closer and closer to where I think we all want to get to.”

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