The Vancouver Police Department has hired 100 officers this year.
That news, which was shared by Police Chief Adam Palmer at a recent police board meeting, prompted Mayor Ken Sim to address critics who doubted the department would be able to fill the ranks in such numbers.
“When it comes to the hiring and recruiting of new members, I remember about this time last year that people were saying it was impossible to hire 100 new officers — that it would never happen,” Sim said at the Sept. 21 board meeting.
“And today, we stand here with 100 new officers hired. So well done. I know the standards are incredibly high. So that should be celebrated.”
Sim, who doubles as chairperson of the police board, campaigned last year with his ABC Vancouver team to hire 100 officers and 100 mental health nurses. He and his ABC colleagues boosted the VPD’s budget this year to allow that to happen.
But lost in Sim’s comments was the fact that Palmer previously told Glacier Media that the VPD typically hires 50 to 75 officers every year to replace those who retire — no matter the department’s budget, or who is in power at city hall.
As a result, the actual hiring target this year is somewhere between 150 and 175 officers.
Experienced officers hired
Palmer said the majority of officers hired in 2023 are new recruits, with the balance being experienced officers from other departments. Some of those officers have returned from the Surrey Police Service.
Not all recruits will be operational at the same time because it depends when each rookie begins training at the Justice Institute of BC police academy. The turnaround is nine months before an officer graduates.
“So if we put in a class in January, they'll be out in nine months, if we put them in May, they'll be out in nine months, so that already moves them into 2024,” Palmer said in a previous interview.
“The September class will graduate mid-year 2024. So even if everybody's approved right now, the earliest they will all be [working] is mid-2024.”
The chief told the board Sept. 21 the VPD is no longer have recruiting problems.
“I just want to dispel some myths that you hear about police recruiting because I hear [other departments] all around North America always talking how they can't get applicants, we can't find people and all this kind of stuff,” Palmer said.
“I will tell you that our applications for recruit officers are up over 50 per cent, and our applications for experienced officers from other departments across Canada are up over 700 per cent. So we're definitely bucking trends…and our numbers are looking really good.”
The department also hired 40 special municipal constables for what Palmer described as the VPD’s “farm team.” The constables work as community safety officers, jail guards and in the traffic authority section.
Surrey police service
Glacier Media reported in December 2021 that the VPD saw a significant drop in the number of people interested in a career in policing.
Glacier learned that an uptick in assaults against officers, defund police movements and working the front lines during a pandemic were likely reasons for the decrease.
The cost of housing for a person considering a policing career was also a factor in a province that has seen huge spikes in real estate, with Vancouver at the epicentre of the stratospheric prices.
The number of applicants in Vancouver totalled 266 in 2020, a drop from 473 in 2017.
Totals for 2018 were 291 and 234 in 2019, according to data provided at the time by the Vancouver Police Union.
Despite the VPD hiring 100 officers this year, the department has lost “just under 40” officers to the new Surrey Police Service in recent years, Deputy Chief Howard Chow told Glacier Media in June.
He qualified that number by saying some of those officers had retired from the VPD before joining the Surrey force.
“By all accounts, it’s a very small percentage, but it's something that we're keeping an eye on and something that's obviously a concern for all police agencies in the region,” Chow said at the time.
It’s not clear how many officers from Surrey left to join the VPD, or returned to their old job.
The VPD's authorized strength in 2023 is 1,448 officers, but Sgt. Steve Addison, a media liaison officer, said Wednesday in an email that police still haven't reached that number.
"The number of vacancies changes regularly due to new hires and retirements," Addison said. "Any number we give you today is likely to be inaccurate within a week or two. We continue to actively recruit for sworn officers, for special municipal constables and for civilian professionals."
Added Addison: "We can’t accurately tell you how many sworn officers have left for Surrey, or for other agencies, as employees are not required to disclose their reason for leaving. Some have certainly chosen to patch over to other agencies for personal reasons, and others who left were already due to retire."
Property crime below pre-pandemic levels
Crime, meanwhile, persists in some areas in Vancouver and continues to drop in others, according to recent data that covers the first six months of 2023.
Violent crime remained steady when comparing the same six-month periods in 2022 and 2023, although police said unprovoked “stranger attacks” were on a steady decline since 2021.
Robberies were down 9.6 per cent, break-ins to vehicles were down 4.9 per cent and stolen vehicle reports dropped by 9.2 per cent.
Property crime was up by 7.6 per cent, but remains below pre-pandemic levels. Police believe the increase this year in property crime calls can be attributed to the reduction in abandoned calls to the non-emergency line.