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New West police department proposes 9% budget hike for 2024

Policing in New Westminster: “I see that as a huge problem on the horizon.”
The New Westminster Police Department's 2024 draft preliminary operating budget calls for a 9% increase over 2023.

The New Westminster Police Department’s 2024 draft preliminary operating budget is currently contemplating a nine per cent increase over its 2023 budget.

A NWPD budget report states the department is proposing a net expenditure increase of $2.6 million, which represents a nine per cent increase from the 2023 budget.

That would include: a 3.52 per cent increase for fixed costs (including salary increases and recruitment costs); a 2.42 per cent increase for non-discretionary costs downloads (including increased costs for integrated teams, Justice Institute of BC training and contractual requirements with E-COMM); and a 3.06 per cent increase for enchantments (including a backfill strategy to address the police department’s staffing needs, the hiring of a human resource manager and staff recruitment costs).

The police board discussed the budget at its Sept. 12 meeting and at a special meeting with city council on Sept. 14.

Since beginning budget discussions in June, Chief Const. Dave Jansen said the budget decreased from more than 11 per cent increase to the nine per cent increase currently being contemplated.

Jacqueline Dairon, the police department’s finance supervisor and the City of New Westminster’s acting finance director, said the $2.589 million increase to the police department is a “preliminary first draft budget” and it will be further discussed at meetings with council in October and November. She said the proposed increases includes funds to help “right size” the organization through the backfilling strategy and to respond to increased costs for items such as training of recruits at the Justice Institute and for E-COMM services.

“This isn’t our final provisional budget,” Jansen stated.

Coun. Tasha Henderson said she’d like to know how a nine per cent increase to the police department’s budget would look within the context of the city’s overall budget.

According to city staff, the nine per cent increase currently being proposed represents an approximate 2.5 per cent increase to property taxes.

Coun. Ruby Campbell said some community members who completed a recent survey about the city’s budget expressed surprise of the amount of the budget that goes to policing.

Police board member Patrick Lalonde said city documents stating the police department accounts for 29 per cent of the city’s budget are “not giving a complete picture” of the scope of activities included in the New Westminster Police Department’s budget. While the City of New Westminster provides services such as human resources, communications and information technology to other city departments, he said the NWPD provides those services on its own.

Jansen outlined some of the challenges impacting the police budget, such as addressing a shortage of operational staff (some officers aren’t deployable as they’re still training at the JIBC, are on maternity, paternity or other leaves)  and dealing with increased competition for recruits.

A growing population

Deputy Chief Const. Paul Hyland said the New Westminster Police Department did a budget analysis and compared itself to other municipal police departments in the region.

“A review of the per capita data shows that amongst other municipal police comparators, the NWPD has been at or near the bottom when it comes to budgetary or staffing increases over the last 20 years, while at the same time being at or near the top in population growth and crime rates measured by the Crime Severity Index,” said a NWPD budget report. “This trend has resulted in a slow but steady decline in the rate of police officers per population, which is exacerbated by the increasing complexities and administrative requirements of policing, including the continued debate of what matters we should be requiring police officers to attend.”

Between 2001 and 2021, the New Westminster Police Department has had the second lowest increase in its per capita budget of other municipal police departments in the region, Hyland said.

Hyland said there are also concerns about the “cop to pop” ratio – which compares the changes in population to police officer ratios. In 2002, there was one police officer for every 511 citizens, but in 2021 that ratio had increased to one police officer for every 719 citizens.

According to Hyland, this year’s calls for service to the police department are up 11 per cent from last year. He said the city has also seen as “steady increase” in its Crime Severity Index, which is calculated by Statistics Canada.

Hyland said the department is concerned about burnout among its frontline staff. He said the NWPD is at a point where it is trying to “right size” the department in terms of its staffing levels.

“It’s never been a more competitive environment to attract and retain police officers,” he said.

At both meetings, Lalonde expressed concerns that the statistics show the police department is “lagging behind” in the number of sworn members.

“I see that as a huge problem on the horizon,” he said.

Rather than “waiting until the bomb explodes” and the city has to play catch-up in a “very difficult” recruiting environment, Lalonde said he supports efforts to gradually increase the strength of the police force.

“If we don’t deal with some of these things now  ... there is going to be a major problem down the road,” he said.

At Tuesday’s police board meeting, police board members Mary Trentadue said it would be helpful to have a better understanding of what’s considered “adequate” policing, which would help when comparing police services in different municipalities.

“It doesn't seem like there's a standard level of policing that should be achieved by all departments in all places, and so it's hard for me to understand,” she said. “Sure, Delta may have more officers than us, but are they over policing? Or are they spending more than perhaps we ought to be? So I find the charts useful, but also not; they don't resolve my questions, really.”

Trentadue said it would also be helpful to quantify outcomes of having more police officers, such as if there are delays in responding to calls because there are not enough officers on patrol or if it takes longer to close cases because of staffing shortages.

“I think that would be interesting information,” she said.