Will the Vancouver Police Department balance its budget this year?
It’s a question worth asking since we’re almost halfway through 2022.
It’s an answer the VPD has sort of provided in a report that goes before the Vancouver Police Board Thursday (June 23).
I say sort of because the report only covers the first three months of the year — the most recent public data available — but says the VPD was over budget by $804,139, or 0.9 per cent, as of March 31.
"How can that be?" you ask, knowing city council was good to the department in the last budget go-round in December 2021.
The increase in funds — particularly $15.7 million in arbitrated wage increases for officers —translated to a net operating budget this year of $341.5 million; it was $316 million for 2021.
Added to that increase is $5.7 million that Wayne Rideout, the director of police services, decided in March should be restored to the VPD budget.
Some of you may recall this is the money a majority of city council decided in December 2020 that should not be included in the VPD’s 2021 budget.
Rideout ruled otherwise, agreeing with the findings of two consultants who concurred with the police board’s position that the $5.7 million is not simply a one-time budgetary shortfall.
If the sum was not added back, it would put the VPD budget at risk of deficit in every year going forward, according to the report authored by Peter Lockie and Peter Lepine and obtained by Vancouver Is Awesome.
Without that $5.7 million last year, and other cost pressures including an unprecedented increase in police deployments to protests, it led to the VPD running a deficit for the first time in 16 years.
Is that likely to happen again this year?
First, the reason the VPD is currently over budget is “primarily due to higher than anticipated recoveries, offset by higher spend on overtime and timing of purchases spent on uniforms and equipment.”
“Recoveries,” by the way, refers to money the VPD collects for a variety of services, including working a film set, a sports or community event, road closures and secondments to other agencies.
Grants and donations are also considered recoveries.
So the VPD recovered a lot of money for services — $1.4 million — but not enough apparently to help balance the budget for the first three months of the year.
'Significant public safety challenges'
It should be noted that it’s not unusual for the VPD’s budget to fluctuate between showing a deficit and being under budget during a given year. That comes with the unpredictable nature of policing and ongoing and emerging issues, as alluded to in the report.
“The VPD continues to face significant public safety challenges throughout the city,” the report said.
“This includes random and unprovoked stranger violence, teen violence, organized crime, and repeat offenders. An increasing number of environmental and COVID-19 protests have disrupted traffic and led to clashes between people of opposing views, forcing police to deploy additional resources to maintain order.”
In the downtown core, the report continued, broken windows, street disorder and violent shoplifters “continue to impact peoples’ quality of life, while in Chinatown prolific graffiti, arsons and street crimes have led to a decreased sense of safety for some.”
All that said, here’s a prediction from the VPD on how the budget should play out by the end of the year.
“While risk exists as a result of the increasing number of protests and demonstrations, and other unpredictable costs that can vary significantly in response to community circumstances, at this time, management projects it may finish the year slightly under budget,” the report said.
City council will be watching.