If city council supports a $6.5 million plan to create a so-called community safety team, the president of the Vancouver Police Union is concerned the decision will cut off future funding to hire new officers.
Tom Stamatakis said council agreed to fund at least 57 new officers in previous budgets but the Vancouver Police Department chose not to hire the officers because of budget constraints.
“If council decides to approve this on the basis that they won’t be filling those 57 vacancies, then we won’t support this proposal,” Stamatakis said.
The department’s proposal calls for the creation of a community safety program composed of 30 unarmed peace officers dressed in uniforms that would differentiate them from regular officers. The $6.5 million would allow the program to run for three years as an experiment.
The safety team’s role will be to respond to more mundane and simple tasks such as traffic control, provide security at crime scenes and respond to non-emergency break-in calls.
The department’s belief is the safety team would free up regular officers and subsequently reduce response times across the city, according to a VPD report that went before city council Tuesday.
Stamatakis said he understands the goal of the department and is aware victims of break-ins can wait upwards of six hours for an officer to respond to a call when no suspect is on the scene.
But, he said, several investigative units in the department have been “working shorthanded for the last three to five years, depending on the unit.” “And it’s just not sustainable to leave those positions vacant,” he added.
Coun. Raymond Louie, who is council’s head of the finance committee and a member of the ruling Vision Vancouver party, said he will vote in support of the new safety team.
“This could be considered a smarter way of doing policing,” he said, adding that his vote shouldn’t be perceived as voting against future funding for officers.
Louie said it’s up to Police Chief Jim Chu to decide on how best to use his budget effectively and show a demonstrated need for more officers. “At this point in time, the chief has come to us with a proposal that makes some sense to me that could reduce costs and provide better response times and free up time for those sworn officers to do higher level police work,” Louie said. “Next year, when and if they bring forward a proposal for additional resources, we will have to test that against outcomes of what this program yields, if it gets passed by council.”
Chu told the Courier the department is “always looking for ways to be efficient and effective, given fiscal constraints.” When asked why not simply request the $6.5 million requested for the new program be spent on hiring new officers, Chu said “this time around, we are asking for this program.”
The chief said he expects jail guards, traffic authority workers and even retired police officers to be interested in joining the program, which will require at least six weeks training.
Chu said the goal is to bring younger people into the program who may want to pursue a career as a police officer.
Council is expected to decide Dec. 11 on the program and the overall operating budget. If approved, the department will continue discussions with the union with the hope the program will be implemented in mid-2013.
When asked about the biggest hurdle with the union, Chu replied: “Ask me when it’s all over what the biggest hurdle was.”