Saanich’s top cop defended his department’s budget, saying capacity gaps not crime statistics determine budget requests.
“Our asks have been never attached to crime severity indexes, or crime rates,” said Chief Constable Bob Downie. They instead orient themselves around gaps in current and future services, he said.
Downie said Tuesday he could not explain the budgetary decisions of the Victoria Police Department and their competing priorities, but warned against drawing links. “But to make a decision about what you are doing in Saanich, based on what Victoria is doing, there is no direct connection,” he said. “Policing issues in Victoria are different than in Saanich. The history of staffing in Victoria is different than the history of staffing in Saanich.”
The provincial government has since ordered Victoria and Esquimalt to hire six new police officers not hired last year because of budget cuts.
Downie made these comments during the course of a presentation that lasted almost three hours (inclusive a break) during budget deliberations. Specifically, he made them while responding to questions from Coun. Karen Harper, who had earlier attempted to draw a comparison between Victoria’s police budget and various measures of crime.
“They have the same kind of pressures that you described, yet their budget increases have been substantially less over the same time,” said Harper. “That is what I am struggling with, and I’m not quite sure how to wrap around where we go from here.”
During her earlier remarks, she noted that Victoria’s crime rate has generally been lower than Saanich’s.
Victoria’s total number of criminal code offences per thousand between 2012 and 2017 has hovered between a high of 114.9 (2015) and a low of 93.5 (2013) with the latest available figure from 2017 recording 104.3 criminal code offences. During the same period between 2012 and 2017, Saanich’s rate has hovered between a high of 43.9 (2012) and a low of 34.4 (2014) with 2017 showing 34.7 criminal code offences per 1,000 residents.
Roughly speaking, Victoria has recorded three times as many criminal code offences as Saanich.
At look at Statistics Canada’s Crime Severity Index (CSI) reveals a comparable pattern. While Saanich’s CSI has hovered between a high of 42.5 (2015) and a low of 37.36 (2017) for the period 2013 to 2017, Victoria’s CSI for the same period has hovered between a high of 138.88 (2015) and a low of 102.72 (2013) with 2017 figures coming in at 114.23.
It was against this backdrop that Harper offered her critique of the provisional budget that Saanich submitted. This year’s provisional police budget calls for an additional $1.668 million in funding – an increase of 4.97 per cent over last year’s budget, for a total request of $35.2 million.
By comparison, Victoria council in January asked police to come up with a new budget with an increase of 3.4 per cent after rejecting a budget that proposed an increase of six per cent on its budget of nearly $54 million.
Downie’s presentation opened with the point that crime statistics alone do not tell a complete picture, a point to which he returned several times in his remarks detailing various funding requests and needs that result “partly from funding shortfalls in previous years, and partly from existing and new demands for service flowing from the increased complexity of policing,” according to the budget. In fact, he said that the additional request could have been larger, and the draft budget passes that Saanich grow police staff by a minimum of two per year, or approximately five positions, to meet ongoing demands.
Among other points, Downie argued that Saanich as a whole is safe, but that some members of Saanich’s community are not.
“We are a safe community,” he said. “But that does not mean everybody is safe.”
Saanich police, for example, would need more resources to deal with cyber-crime cases, especially those involving children. Other departments, including Victoria, are ahead of Saanich in that regard. He also painted the picture of a department that has scaled back – at least seasonally – some services, like the bike patrol and traffic control, while needing additional expertise in the areas of information technology, and community outreach.
Downie acknowledged that the police department budget exists within a larger financial context, whose final shape remains at the timing and discretion of council. But he also left open the possibility that the department could take its case to provincial authorities if council said no the budget, and the response of the provincial in the Victoria-Esquimalt case suggests that the province has an open ear.
Council, for its part, has plans to hear more from Downie at a future date in light of questions raised and the recent history of political conflict.