The Saanich Police Department is asking for an almost 10 per cent budget increase in 2024, citing rising costs and the need for new patrol officers and wage increases. The request for $47.1 million for the department next year — a $4.2 million or 9.7 per cent increase over 2023 — is set to go before Saanich council Monday night.
The new staffing resources include four patrol officers, two special investigations section constables and four civilian support staff.
According to its website, the department currently has 185 police positions, 60 civilian positions and 50 reserve constables.
Mayor Dean Murdock, who chairs the Saanich police board, said both the board and council recognize that Saanich is a growing community, with “increasing complexity around public safety.”
“These are going to be resources that are badly needed by our police,” said Murdock, noting police are dealing with increasing calls that involve mental-health crises and drug addiction, and a lack of resources from senior levels of government to deal with those issues.
The district’s population is also growing and the number of officers has not increased “in quite some time,” he said.
“There’s always concern about additional costs. But I think when it’s coming from the police, there’s the analysis around public safety and ensuring that what we’re supporting is delivering better public safety.”
According to a budget report prepared by the police board, the department’s patrol staffing levels are the same as they were in 2016.
At the same time, the report notes, demands on patrol officers have increased in terms of calls for service and complexity of the work.
The amount of time officers spend at each call or investigation has increased due to myriad factors including the complexity of calls, trauma-informed investigations, crisis intervention, disclosure requirements and changes to critical-incident response tactics.
The report noted that police officers are often the first level of response to social issues including homeless encampments, addiction, and mental-health-related issues.
The budget increase reflects a $2.1 million increase in wages and benefits, increased operating expenses and fleet maintenance that will cost $486,504 more than last year, an $827,460 increase in the E-Comm levy and $626,560 for 10 new staff.
Murdock said one of the goals is to get more police officers on the street.
“I think that’s a really important investment, even if it means an increase to our budget,” he said. “I think people, including council, will recognize this is an investment we need to make in our community.
“These are not nice-to-have items. These are things that are going to properly support the department and our police officers to do their job effectively.”