Nelson’s police department is asking city council to fund two new officer positions starting in 2024.
Chief Donovan Fisher and Deputy Chief Raj Saini told council at its Nov. 21 meeting that this would involve a 6.45 per cent budget increase.
That would also allow for “moderate increases” in training and operations costs, and pay for an extension of the Community Safety Officer pilot project for another six months.
The proposed two new officer positions’ start dates would be staggered through 2024 so the full cost would not come into effect until 2025.
The budget increase would give the department 23 officer positions, up from the current 21. But the department has not had a full complement of officers on active duty for several years. Currently there are 15 working officers. The remaining members are either in training or on administrative leave or medical leave, and there are two vacant positions.
Fisher said additional officer positions are needed because of an increasing workload. Among the 11 municipal police forces in the province, the department has one of the highest case loads per officer, the second highest call volume (over 7,000 this year, a 17 per cent increase over last year), the second highest crime rate, and one of the lowest police-to-population ratios.
Fisher said the population of Nelson is misleading when it comes to police activity because Nelson is a “core city,” which means its population nearly doubles in the middle of the day because it is a work and shopping hub for a large rural area.
He said he needs more staff time and more resources also because of new mandatory police training, new criminal investigation standards, increased calls for mental health and addiction issues, decriminalization of street drugs, and new procedures in working with Crown counsel.
The officer shortage in the past year has cost the department $276,000 in overtime, Fisher said, adding that this is an understatement of the actual cost because the department has relied on backup from the RCMP in numerous situations.
Adding to Fisher’s concerns about staffing is the fact that 30 per cent of current officers will reach retirement age in 2024.
The 6.45 per cent request would amount to a budget increase of $285,884, from $4,429,942 in 2023 to $4,415,827. Fisher pointed out that the police budget has for many years represented 19-to-20 per cent of the city operations budget, and this year’s request would not increase that proportion.
By provincial legislation, municipal police departments are required to present a provisional budget in the November preceding the budget year. Council received Fisher’s presentation but did not debate it and made no decision on it. The request will be discussed in city budget deliberations beginning early next year.
In B.C. if a municipal police department asks for more officers and council refuses, as happened in Nelson in 2015 when the department asked for two, the department can appeal to the provincial director of police services.
In the 2015 case, the director ordered Nelson City Council to hire and fund one additional officer.