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B.C. cop director urges Vancouver police, council to ‘re-engage in spirit of collaboration’ to avoid future budget fights

Wayne Rideout: ‘I am not suggesting that a municipal council cannot refuse to approve a police budget item or amount’
Mayor Kennedy Stewart spoke to reporters Tuesday at city hall where he refuted a suggestion that he and Police Chief Adam Palmer don't get along, saying they have "a great relationship."

B.C.’s Director of Police Services Wayne Rideout has urged Vancouver city council, the city’s police department and the police board to “re-engage in the spirit of collaboration” to avoid another budget fight like the one that occurred in 2020.

Wayne Rideout made the statement in a letter he wrote March 14 to Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Faye Wightman, the vice-chairperson of the Vancouver Police Board.

The letter, which was obtained by Vancouver Is Awesome, was to inform the city and board of his decision to restore the $5.7 million that a majority of city council refused to provide to the Vancouver Police Department for its 2021 operating budget.

“I am not suggesting that a municipal council cannot refuse to approve a police budget item or amount,” Rideout said. “Nor am I suggesting that a police department is free to implement any service delivery or deployment model at any cost."

'Visions may not always fully align'

On the contrary, he continued, suggesting the board and Police Chief Adam Palmer “must continually examine and evaluate the service levels, deployment model, programs, services and staffing needs and explore opportunities to reduce costs and leverage operational efficiencies in a manner that reflects the community’s public safety needs and priorities.”

At the same time, Rideout urged city council to consider any budget decisions, in addition to any financial concerns it may have, through the lens of “downstream impacts” to public safety and how police respond.

“I would encourage the parties to re-engage in the spirit of collaboration and, where possible, strive for a shared vision for public safety for the community,” he said.

“While respective visions may not always fully align, I have no doubt this will better serve public safety in the community and will reduce the reliance [on an appeal process] to resolve future budget disputes.”

Rideout’s ruling comes more than one year after the police board appealed council’s December 2020 decision not to fully fund the VPD’s 2021 operating budget. Rideout based his decision on a report done by consultants Peter Lepine and Peter Lockie.

'Negatively impacting'

As reported Monday by Vancouver Is Awesome, the consultants concurred with the police board’s position that the $5.7 million is not simply a one-time budgetary shortfall.

Lepine and Lockie also concluded there is little in terms of significant changes the VPD can reasonably undertake without "negatively impacting its ability to provide an adequate and effective level of service."

Rideout alluded to that point in his letter, saying the $5.7 million loss created a rolling deficit for the department, which ran a deficit of more than $7 million last year — the first time in 16 years that the VPD hadn’t balanced its budget.

“It is conceivable that the budget shortfall and any resulting structural deficit will affect the level of service delivery and the deployment model and the chief constable’s ability to achieve the priorities, goals and objectives set out in [the VPD’s] strategic plan and annual business plans,” Rideout said.

Police Chief Adam Palmer and Mayor Kennedy Stewart at a police board meeting. File photo Dan Toulgoet

The mayor was among the six members of council who voted in December 2020 not to fully fund the VPD’s budget request of $322 million for 2021. The VPD ended up with a $316 million budget, about $766,000 more than the 2020 budget.

At a news conference at city hall Tuesday, Stewart said he was glad the appeal process was over and a decision made. He explained that council’s decision in December 2020 was made during the first year of the pandemic when all other city departments made cuts. Employees were also temporarily laid off.

The mayor refuted a suggestion from a reporter that he and Palmer don’t get along.

"Chief Adam Palmer and I have a great relationship," he said. "I can't name one police chief across the country that would back their mayor in applying [to Health Canada] to decriminalize drugs in the city, and that's exactly what Chief Adam Palmer has done."

Mayor doubles as police board chairperson

Stewart doubles as chairperson of the police board, a defacto appointment when elected mayor in 2018. He doesn’t get a vote on the board, unless there is a tie — which there wasn’t when the board decided to appeal council’s decision. The board sets the budget in consultation with the VPD before it is forwarded to council for a vote.

For at least two decades, the mayor of the day has always been the spokesperson for the board. Stewart has since relinquished that role to board member Faye Wightman, who issued a statement Tuesday on behalf of the board.

“The 2021 budget that was submitted by the board was based on the minimum of what is needed for the VPD to operate, while taking into consideration the financial implications of the pandemic,” Wightman said.

“Had the deficit not been reinstated, the ongoing shortfall to the base-budget would have compromised the VPD’s ability to maintain its existing level of service, negatively impacting public confidence in policing, and member wellness for years to come.”

Wightman pointed out the consultants concluded there is a strong financial management process in place at the board, and that the VPD operates “transparently, efficiently and effectively.”

“This underlines that the VPD budget as submitted by the board [in 2020] was developed within a strong financial management framework, through careful deliberation and analysis,” she said.

Rideout’s decision comes as crime remains below pre-pandemic levels, with property crime seeing the most significant drops. At the same time, random stranger assaults, aggressive shoplifters, sexual offences and racism has increased, as Vancouver Is Awesome reported here.