As Vancouver city council debated the now-frozen police budget, the Vancouver Police Department was trumpeting increasing crime rates contrary to its own statistics.
Indeed, Vancouver city Coun. Jean Swanson told Glacier Media, the department has been running a campaign aimed at maintaining its funding in the face of calls for cuts.
Coun. Lisa Dominato, however, said that was not her perception of the situation.
Campaign or not, city council voted Dec. 9 for a funding freeze – a decision met with dismay from the force.
It was a month earlier, on Nov. 13, that Deputy Chief Constable Howard Chow tweeted about a convenience store on the 900 block of Granville Street being robbed twice in the same day. The victim was threatened with a hammer and then a gun in the incidents, a police report said. It said nothing about the employee being assaulted or injured other than being distraught.
Chow tweeted the report, adding, “if there’s any doubt violence is increasing in these neighbourhoods, as some would suggest, ask this victim.”
VPD robbery statistics for the city’s central business district show an increase in the past few months after a decline in the summer but, when compared to 2019, the numbers are comparable.
Indeed, robbery numbers for the district run between about 15-25 throughout 2018 and so far in 2020.
Moreover, the force itself reported in October that “violent crime levels for 2020 are similar to 2019. In 2019, there was a 10.4 per cent increase in violent crime during the same reporting period when compared to the previous year.”
And, for 2020, the report said, “robberies have decreased by 6.1 per cent.”
VPD spokesperson Const. Tania Visintin said, “It is important to note that this year was quite the anomaly with the pandemic and the closure of most bars. Comparing the Granville Entertainment District stats this year to last year isn’t an accurate representation as most bars were closed this year.
“We did notice an increase in violent calls in other parts of the city, however, especially in the single room occupancy residences,” Visintin said. “Deputy Chow is responsible for the operations side of the department and was depicting what has been going on in the city the last few months.
However, Visintin noted, Chow could also be referring to 19 of the 24 Vancouver neighbourhoods that had an increase in violent crime.
“The Central Business District does encompass the Granville Entertainment District,” Visintin said.
Visintin did not answer questions about how a robbery with threats of weapon use might differ from a violent crime and how those line items might be recorded in police statistics.
Nor did Visintin answer a question about Chow’s tweet possibly being part of a public campaign to pressure city council as it debated the now-frozen department budget.
“The police definitely had a campaign to keep from getting a budget cut,” Swanson said after the freeze vote.
Swanson said she received numerous emails from strata councils and Block Watch people saying they had been contacted by police to oppose budget cuts.
“I think the police have arranged staff and schedules to make it seem as if they need more money,” Swanson said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.”
She said the defund police and Black Lives Matter movements earlier in 2020 have had an impact on people in Vancouver.
Dominato said she relies on police for data just as she would rely on Vancouver Coastal Health for health information for council to make decisions.
“They’re the ones who track the data,” she said. “They reported to us violent crime was up in 19 of the 24 neighbourhoods.”
And, Dominato said, what she heard from police hasn’t been markedly different from issues raised by residents.
“I don’t know what kind of lobbying or advocacy went on,” she added. “I had conversations with community policing officers who said it was a critical service.”
Chow’s tweet came 11 days before the city released draft budget documents.
A city staff report released with those documents recommended the department’s overall budget be reduced by $3.1 million, or 1%, although implementation of the cut would be at the discretion of the Vancouver Police Board and could mean holding vacancies or reducing staff.
At the same time, the report recommends a $4.5 million increase over the police’s 2020 budget amounts for compensation connected to fixed costs for existing staff related to collective agreements, “including annualization of the budget for 2020 new hires and step/rank increases for existing staff.”
The report notes city manager Sadhu Johnston’s request earlier this year – that the department reduce its budget to offset citywide revenue loss related to the pandemic – was not met.
However, council decided Dec. 9 the department would have to operate on a 2021 budget almost $6 million less than requested after a majority of city council voted to keep police spending at a level similar to the 2020 budget.
The Vancouver Police Board passed a provisional budget of $322 million Dec. 4 but council has approved a budget of $316 million, about $766,000 more than the 2020 budget but $5.7 million less than requested for 2021.
“Some elected officials have tried to position this as a status quo budget by holding the VPD at 2020 funding levels,” Police Chief Adam Palmer said in a statement following the vote. “This is simply not true. Maintaining 2020 budget levels leaves the VPD with a $5.7 million shortfall to meet fixed cost obligations.”
Glacier Media reached out to all city councillors for comment but only Swanson and Dominato responded.
- With files from Mike Howell