Victoria Police Chief Del Manak says he’ll have to cut the equivalent of nine officers and civilian employees if city council sticks to its budget plan for his department.
“You’re putting me as the chief in a very difficult position,” he told councillors Thursday.
“I will be unable to … keep our city safe and provide the public safety that I currently provide.”
In a 5-3 vote at committee of the whole, councillors reaffirmed their motion to limit the police department to an increase of about $1.8 million on its nearly $54-million budget.
“To be clear, no one’s talking about cutting the police budget,” said Coun. Ben Isitt.
“This motion proposes a very generous increase, bigger than the increase to any other city department, and that’s in the context of declining crime rates.”
But Manak, who had hoped to hire an additional six officers and one civilian this year, said the proposed increase fails to keep pace with the department’s rising costs, including retirements, salary increases, fuel, benefits and other expenses.
The province’s new employer health tax alone will eat up nearly $700,000 of the proposed increase, budget documents show.
Manak said council’s position would mean about a $1.1-million cut to the department’s core budget, including the loss of two officers working on integrated teams to help people with mental health and addictions issues.
“It looks like it’s going to translate to about nine union positions — a combination of police and civilian position reductions,” Manak said. “So there definitely will be service cuts and there will be some challenges in our ability to respond at a time where I think public safety is paramount.”
He added that the move will put officers at risk by reducing their numbers on the street. “You not only have slower response times to get to people who need immediate help, you’re actually putting those officers in jeopardy because they’re now waiting longer for other units to come.”
Mayor Lisa Helps, who co-chairs the police board with Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, opposed council’s motion.
“Our city’s growing, our population’s growing, the complexity of policing is growing, the complexity of the world is growing and I think the exact wrong thing to do at this point is to make cuts to the police budget,” she said.
Councillors Isitt, Jeremy Loveday, Laurel Collins, Sharmarke Dubow and Sarah Potts supported the motion, with Helps, Geoff Young and Charlayne Thornton-Joe in opposition. Coun. Marianne Alto was absent.
Helps said the police board will have to produce a revised budget that reflects council’s decision.
“Council can look at what the police board brings back,” she said. “[Council] may change its mind, it may not.”
The police board would then have the option of appealing to the provincial director of police services. A similar situation developed last year after Victoria council approved Manak’s request for more officers, but Esquimalt council balked, and additional officers were not hired.
In response, Manak cut the department’s school liaison program and deployed its three officers to the front lines along with an intelligence officer, one reserve constable and one community services officer.
The province is still reviewing that dispute and has the power to overrule Esquimalt’s decision and order the municipality to help pay for the six officers.
Manak previously noted that his department, which has 243 officers to police Victoria and Esquimalt, has not had an increase to its ranks since 2010.
He wanted to add six more officers this year to boost traffic enforcement in Esquimalt, create a quick-response team for downtown and step up the fight against a growing cybercrime problem.
“Our communities are growing,” he told the Times Colonist last year. “There’s more densification both in the city and Esquimalt, so to expect that the police department has no resource additions in eight years … it doesn’t make sense.”