2015’s top stories No. 5: City council rejects police budget

How much money should be spent on what kinds of policing?

Nelson police chief Wayne Holland

How should police budget money be spent? Are the police doing work that someone else could be doing? How many police officers does a community need, and how should this be decided? These and similar questions led to a stand-off this year between Nelson city council and the board that oversees the city-funded Nelson Police Department.

Last year, the police board asked city council for a budget increase of $311,000 to cover two more officers and an administrative person. Police Chief Wayne Holland, who presented the request, told council the department hasn’t added any officer positions in 20 years and has had no increase in administrative support in 30 years.

Council refused the request, saying the most it could do was an increase of $50,000. Mayor Deb Kozak said granting the $311,000 increase could involve raising taxes by up to four per cent, as a one per cent increase generates about $75,000.

The Star published nine articles about this issue in 2015, all of them linked below.

One argument made by the police was the increasing amount of time taken up with mental health-related cases, but some city councillors weren’t convinced this was legitimate police work. It became clear that over the years city council and the police board had not been in the habit of talking to each other even though the mayor chairs the police board, as required by provincial legislation.

“There is clearly a lack of trust that goes back to the former city council and we [the new council] have not had a chance to be apprised of that situation and they are not giving us that opportunity,” councillor Michael Dailly said at the time.

“We need to look at what police are doing that is taking police time,” he said, “and whether it is things civilian staff can do. I am not convinced it is police officers we need.”

The police board responded by appealing city council’s refusal to the Director of Police Services in Victoria based on a seldom-used section of the Police Act which, in the case of a budget dispute between a police board and a municipality, gives the director the power to decide how many police officers the community must have. Nine months later, the director hasn’t decided.

Being both the mayor and police board chair, particularly when the two groups are in conflict, can be a fine line to walk. Kozak described it as “like splitting yourself in half.”

In 2012, the BC Association of Police Chiefs recommended to the provincial government that it change the legislation requiring mayors to chair police boards. In 1994, then Attorney General Wally Oppal did the same thing. But the Star discovered this year that changing this requirement isn’t a priority of the present government.

In November, the police department informed council that its budget request for 2016 is the same as last year’s contentious request: an increase to cover two more officers and an administrative staff person. Council will decide in early spring during its budget process, perhaps having by then received a decision from the Director of Police Services about the 2015 budget.

In the meantime, spearheaded by Rona Park of the Nelson Community Services Society, there have been several community meetings about how to approach policing and mental health. That led to the formation of the Nelson Street Culture Collaborative, which has representatives from the social services, government, business, and law enforcement sectors. According to Park, the purpose of the group is “to create a community-wide strategy for how to respond to those who rely on street culture to survive.”

Nelson police board refuses to accept city budget March 12

Nelson council and police board meet to iron out differences April 15

New collaboration proposed for policing and mental health June 18

Nelson police, health authority, politicians meet about ‘street culture’ August 29

Responding to ‘those who rely on street culture to survive‘ October 15

Nelson police seek $311,000 budget increase October 20

No decision yet on Nelson police budget November 2

Nelson police budget report received, but secret November 7

Nelson police ask again for funding increase November 17