Vancouver’s main civic parties agree more police are needed in the city, but just days away from Saturday’s election, it’s not clear either will find funds in the city budget for the additional officers the Vancouver Police Department says they require for the 2010 Oympics.
Non-Partisan Association (NPA) mayoral candidate Peter Ladner stated in early November he would like to see another 100 officers on the streets, which he said could be hired through a $14-million police trust fund from the Federal government.
“I am not committing to anything ‘no matter what’,” said Ladner last night, when pressed on the question of hiring new police officers. “We’re going to have to make some very tough choices, we’re not going to be able to continue all of the services that we’ve committed to.”
Vision Vancouver’s platform indicates that if elected to run the city, when it comes to policing, they would “provide adequate resources to Vancouver’s Police Department.” But that may not mean any more police officers.
“It may be very very difficult for the city to invest any additional funding in police officers,” said Gregor Robertson, Vision Vancouver’s candidate for mayor, during yesterday’s debate, the last one betfore Saturday’s election. “We’re going to have to advocate for the provincial and federal governments to support us on that.”
Paying for the police is already the biggest expense line in Vancouver’s budget. In 2007, the city put almost $190 million into the police, the equivalent of over 16% of Vancouver’s total budget for the year.
Private security with public money?
Vision Vancouver and the NPA differ on city funding of private and semi-private security guards, known as Downtown Ambassadors. Paying for Downtown Ambassadors and setting up other forms of private security is much cheaper than training and hiring police officers.
The Ambassadors are partly funded by Downtown Vancouver’s Business Improvement Association, and started receiving city funding during the last NPA led council. They have no law enforcement capacity, and unlike police, are not bound by the Police Act. There are currently over 30 “ambassadors” patrolling the streets 24 hours a day in Vancouver’s downtown business area.
Related: Candidates clash over Ambassadors
Cuts in the city’s budget to the ambassador programme would mean the patrols would be scaled back to 16 hours a day, according to Charles Gauthier, the Executive Director of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association.
Ladner supported the red-jacketed “ambassadors” as a councillor, and would extend that support if he is re-elected. Their starting wage is $11 an hour for which they must walk city beats in a 90-block area of downtown, helping tourists, reporting break-ins. Many downtown residents allege they also harass people living or working on the streets.
“Unfortunately, it’s become necessary to have private security,” said Ladner, as the audience listened. “I’d love it if that wasn’t the way, and I’d love it if we had enough police to do it all, but it’s proving difficult to do that.”
“I do not support using public dollars for private security in Vancouver,” said Robertson. His comment was met with loud applause from the audience that packed the CBC’s live taping of the mayoral debate.
Push to address the roots of crime
Advocates for Vancouver’s marginalized and homeless communities do not think more police or more private security are the best way to solve the city’s crime problem.
Pivot Legal, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users and United Native Nations launched a complaint against the Ambassadors at the BC Human Rights Commission, alleging “systemic discrimination by the Downtown Ambassadors program” against the city’s homeless population.
“The solution is that we need to talk about what causes a lot of the crime… poverty,” says Theresa Grey, a member of the board of directors of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre. “One of the major reasons why people are not able to get meaningful work or have a good life is because there’s not enough good housing,” she says.
“Eighty per cent of crime in Vancouver is property crime, much of which is caused by drug addiction and poverty,” points out Work Less Party council candidate and UBC professor Chris Shaw. The Work Less Party would “treat crime as primarily a medical-social problem, not a police problem,” and cut the City’s policing budget in half, he says.
There are currently more than 3000 street homeless in Vancouver, and Statistics Canada estimated in 2001 that there were 126,500 people at risk of homelessness in Metro Vancouver.
A report by the BC Progress Board released late last year showed that Vancouver has the highest break-in rate in North America, at 1,121 break ins per 100,000 residents, which is almost four times the break in rate in New York City.
(Photo courtesy of by Neb Smith, CC2.0.