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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

What councils did (and didn’t) discuss about VicPD’s $69.5M budget ask

This budget is a nearly 10% increase from last year

By Brishti Basu
January 19, 2023
Policing
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

What councils did (and didn’t) discuss about VicPD’s $69.5M budget ask

This budget is a nearly 10% increase from last year

By Brishti Basu
Jan 19, 2023
VicPD Chief Del Manak answers questions at the budget meeting with Victoria and Esquimalt councils on Tuesday, sitting next to the department’s financial controller Steve Hurcombe. Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily
VicPD Chief Del Manak answers questions at the budget meeting with Victoria and Esquimalt councils on Tuesday, sitting next to the department’s financial controller Steve Hurcombe. Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily
Policing
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

What councils did (and didn’t) discuss about VicPD’s $69.5M budget ask

This budget is a nearly 10% increase from last year

By Brishti Basu
January 19, 2023
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What councils did (and didn’t) discuss about VicPD’s $69.5M budget ask
VicPD Chief Del Manak answers questions at the budget meeting with Victoria and Esquimalt councils on Tuesday, sitting next to the department’s financial controller Steve Hurcombe. Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily

The Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board asked for a budget increase of $6 million at a meeting with Victoria and Esquimalt councils on Tuesday evening. That brings the told budget request to $69.5 million for 2023.

Over 20 people from the board and two municipalities—including VicPD Chief Del Manak and mayors (and police board co-chairs) Marianne Alto and Barb Desjardins—gathered at the Victoria Conference Centre to discuss their first look at the proposed police budget for the year ahead.

“This presentation is a first blush, it's your opportunity to hear from each other, to ask questions of the board,” Desjardins explained. “After this, there will be another presentation at your council table for more in-depth information…that you as Esquimalt council or Victoria council can really hone in on your thoughts and questions around the budget.”

Like previous years, salary and benefits make up the biggest portion of the increase—a $3.3 million hike over last year. 

The board is also requesting $747,000 to hire three more police officers and four civilian staff. These are separate from two positions they are already in the process of hiring: an in-house psychologist for early intervention and an occupational health nurse who will work in the human resources department to support officers on leave. 

Manak cited two metrics to justify the high budget ask: Victoria’s crime severity index (CSI) which, at first glance, seems worryingly high, and the department’s highest per-officer caseload out of all municipal police forces in BC.

The police board’s presentation led by Steve Hurcombe, VicPD’s financial controller, and Manak was followed by questions from Victoria and Esquimalt councillors who pointed to issues with using CSI as a metric, asked how much is being spent on policing mental health, and quizzed the officers on what happens to new hires when off-duty officers return to work. 

None brought up the workplace culture at VicPD and allegations uncovered by Capital Daily that racism and cronyism at the department have exacerbated officers’ mental health issues. The ongoing human rights complaints filed against VicPD by two employees of colour also went unmentioned in this first meeting.

Weighing the needs

In recent BC history, municipalities have had little control over the approval or denial of a police budget. 

When Esquimalt voted against paying their share ($183,523) for the department to hire 10 new full-time employees in October, VicPD asked the province to step in, and they did, forcing the township to pay. The same thing happened in Vancouver last year: the city had approved $316.4 million for Vancouver PD’s 2021 budget—about $5.7 million short of the department’s ask—and the province took the police’s side during the appeal process.

Still, Tuesday’s discussion offered a look at where Victoria and Esquimalt’s new councils stand on the subject of increasing police budgets. 

Victoria councillor Dave Thompson asked how steps taken by the province to address the mental health crisis—like adding complex care beds—might alleviate the police department’s future budget needs. He was followed soon after by Coun. Jeremy Cardonna who wanted to know how much time the department spends on policing mental health and addictions calls. 

“I don't want to put a percentage on it, you're putting me on the spot there, and I know that numbers matter. We just haven’t done the calculation of it, but I can tell you that it is a drain on our resources” Manak said in response to Caradonna. 

To Thompson, the police chief said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the province’s plans will have a positive impact but that the department does not yet know how it might impact their budget. 

Caradonna also wanted to know whether governments investing in more social services to reduce homelessness and address mental health crises would result in a lower budget ask from VicPD. Manak was less optimistic about this prospect. 

“First off, I'd like to see that put in place…I don't really see it on the horizon. A lot of talk, not a lot of action, and not a lot of funding that is provided,” he said.

 “In an ideological world, yes. If the workload is taken away from the police in many of these areas, I'm not going to be asking for more officers. In fact, I welcome that. That's just not happening.”

Manak also addressed a question about his use of CSI as a barometer for crime rates. 

Officially, Victoria has the highest crime severity rate out of all BC municipalities. However, the province only has 11 municipal forces while the rest of BC is policed by 127 RCMP detachments. None of those RCMP-policed areas are included in the CSI ranking Manak referred to.

Further, experts have noted that CSI is not a good measure of crime severity rates because it fails to take variables like population size into account.

“For population, Vancouver is more than six times the size of Victoria. And so once again, one homicide in Vancouver would be worth a rate of 0.13. Whereas in Victoria, it would be worth around one,” Dr. Tara Hodgkinson, an assistant professor of criminology at Wilfrid Laurier University, told Capital Daily in 2021, analyzing the available data at the time. 

Victoria had zero homicides in 2019, but in 2020, there were two. Despite murder being a rare occurrence—and one that usually doesn’t affect community safety overall—the two homicides dramatically increase the city’s CSI. 

Internal mental health

The mental health portion of the budget also aroused questions for several councillors.

Esquimalt Coun. Tim Morrison wondered why the department wanted $260,000 for psychological and occupational health services, when officers already get mental health benefits as part of their insurance packages. Victoria Coun. Chris Coleman, on the other hand, thought $260,000 was too low, after hearing the department’s presentation. 

Hurcombe replied, saying insurance covers $5,000 per officer (but did not specify whether that is per month or per year). 

“We want our officers to step forward when they're feeling burnout, PTSD, or they witnessed a particular traumatic incident, or it could be a series of incidents that's accumulated by one incident at the very end that brings back flashbacks,” Manak said. “But these are really real concerns for police officers that are working on the frontlines of the Victoria Police Department.”

Neither the department nor councillors discussed the 2021 survey sponsored by VicPD senior management and the Victoria City Police Union that found that the majority of officers described their workplace culture in negative terms, using such words as “toxic,” “micromanaged,” and “crumbling.” Nearly 70% said the department doesn’t have a “respectful workplace.”

None addressed the Capital Daily investigation last year in which journalist Tori Marlan talked to five VicPD officers and former officers who allege the department does not take mental health injuries as seriously as physical health, and described how internal cronyism and discrimination exacerbated their injuries.

The board also did not face questions about human rights complaints filed by First Nations constable Brad Meyers and Karen Hira, a South Asian UVic doctoral student who worked as a civilian employee for VicPD for more than three-and-a-half years before quitting in frustration in August of 2021.

When asked by Esquimalt Coun. Andrea Boardman what happens to the ongoing funding for new hires when officers who are currently off-duty return to work, Manak said officers going on stress leave is an ongoing fixture of the department.

“We're not seeing more officers come back,” Manak said, citing his observations (sans data) of the trends over the past few years. “I will tell you that almost for every two officers that are coming on, there's two that are going off.”

The police budget will be a source of further discussion at future Victoria and Esquimalt council meetings. 

Esquimalt will next meet on Jan. 23. Victoria’s Jan. 19 meeting agenda does not include the police budget, but council will have a closed meeting where it may be brought up.

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What councils did (and didn’t) discuss about VicPD’s $69.5M budget ask
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