The New Westminster Police Department has come to the city with a big ask for 2023: an 11.9 per cent increase to its budget.
New Westminster city council and police board met Wednesday in a joint open meeting in council chambers to hold their first discussions on the department’s 2023 budget. Chief Const. Dave Jansen and Deputy Chief Const. Paul Hyland laid out the NWPD’s budget ask, which totals $29.26 million — up $3.1 million from last year’s $26.1 million.
Jansen acknowledged the size of the request.
“I understand that frustration; I understand that feeling of council feeling like an ATM machine where we come, we put in the card, and we just expect (money),” Jansen said.
But he said much of the increase would simply allow the department to continue to do what it’s already doing.
The requested includes $1.25 million more for base budget costs, stemming largely from an anticipated three per cent salary increase for both police officers and civilian staff.
Another $900,000 comes from what the department classifies as downloaded costs, including taking over some handling of non-emergency calls from E-COMM, increased costs for recruit training at the Justice Institute of B.C., and a reduction in what the NWPD expects to get from provincial traffic fine revenue sharing.
It also includes $960,000 in new spending, with the largest chunk being $655,000 dedicated to backfilling five positions.
The department officially has 114 sworn officers but, in practice, has only 95 officers who are what the NWPD calls “operationally deployable.” The others are recruits who are still within their training period or officers currently on leave (parental, medical or otherwise).
With the five backfilled positions, Jansen said the department wouldn’t increase its numbers but would simply use the five officers to “float” into whatever positions are required to cover for those leaves.
The department does want to add one new officer, at a budgeted amount of $150,000, to bring its sworn strength to 115.
Specifically, the NWPD wants to create a position for a dedicated missing persons investigator, to be part of its Special Investigations Unit.
Insp. Aman Gosal, who heads the department’s prevention services division, said the request stems from the 2019 findings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. She said the NWPD has a disproportionate number of very high-risk, complex investigations involving vulnerable people; having one dedicated staff member to deal with those cases would help the department to deal with them more effectively.
Other new asks include extra spending for recruitment, firearms and clothing, information technology and legal fees, among others.
'Sticker shock': Police budget increase would equal 3% property tax hike
Harji Varn, the city’s finance director, said the proposed NWPD budget increase would amount to about a three per cent property tax increase — an idea that didn’t sit well with councillors.
“It was a bit of sticker shock for me looking at 12%,” said new councillor Daniel Fontaine.
He pointed out council must consider the NWPD’s budget in the context of what taxpayers are already facing on the inflationary front, plus all the other expenses facing the city. Fontaine asked Jansen whether, in fact, the requested budget was really the “best and most efficient” it could be.
Jansen’s reply: yes.
“Based upon what we want to serve and how we want to serve our community … this is what I need to do,” Jansen said, adding he understands the inflationary pressures facing the city and realizes that cuts may be needed. “But then we're going to have to have a really tough discussion of the board, and ultimately the council and the community, about what it is that we're going to have to look at cutting.”
Mayor Patrick Johnstone said council would need to have further conversations about how to deal with the police budget and how to demonstrate “value for the dollar” for members of the community. But he reminded everyone at the table there was no need to come to an agreement right then and there.
The New Westminster police board needs to approve the department’s budget by Nov. 30. It then comes to the city council table for provisional approval by council.
If city council and police board are unable to come to an agreement on the New Westminster Police Department budget, it would need to move to a provincially mandated dispute process.
But chief administrative officer Lisa Spitale said the city can use the period between Dec. 1 and March 1, 2023 — when the final budget must be adopted — to figure out how best to approach the police budget in the context of how council wants to serve the needs of the community.
She pointed out that, coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city’s reserves are down.
“We’ve had a tough three years in the context of a lot of other challenges. … Right now, we are besieged by complexities around homelessness, housing affordability, addictions, and none of us want to be in the position of continuing that. We all want to be in a position of improving that,” she said.
She said the city’s discussions will need to look at what that means for both policing and for advocacy for additional senior government support.
“Then I think it’s easier to get onto the same side of what can we afford, and what are we going to be OK saying no to right now?” she said.