The Nelson Police Department has asked city council for a 7.8 per cent increase over last year.
That would increase the police budget from $3,748,946 in 2021 to $4,042,173 for 2022, an increase of $293,227.
Municipal police departments are required by provincial legislation to give their employer municipalities a provisional budget in the fall preceding the calculation in the spring of the city’s annual budget.
Chief Donovan Fisher, in his budget presentation to council on Nov. 23, said the bulk of the requested increase is for salaries and benefits, mostly for a new position of deputy chief and for the hiring of an additional officer.
The new deputy has already been hired. Fisher explained to the Nelson Star after the meeting that council and management staff had assured him earlier in the year that the money for the deputy would be available.
Also included is a pay increase for some administrative staff, along with anticipated increases for all officers once a past-due collective agreement is signed. The city’s contract with the Nelson Police Association expired in 2019 and negotiations for a new contract have not started.
Nelson is one of 11 communities in B.C. that has its own police force. The Nelson Police Department is governed by the Nelson Police Board, of which the mayor is the chair. The police budget is part of the city budget.
Fisher said the additional officer would be a third beat officer.
“I would like a member to engage more with the outreach workers on the street,” he told council. “I had the good fortune to meet with the outreach workers when I was out walking with the beat officer week or two ago, and had some good conversations (with them), about where they and the police could work together to deal with some community issues, and this goes back to crime prevention and being more visible and more hands on with some of the … marginalized community.”
Fisher provided council with a statistical rationale for his contention that the department is understaffed given Nelson’s population and crime rate.
• Over the past five years on average, Nelson has had more calls for service, and more people charged, per 100,000 population than Vancouver.
• Nelson has fewer police officers per 100,000 population than Vancouver, Victoria, or the country as a whole.
• In Nelson, more people are charged per police officer than in Vancouver, Victoria, or the country as a whole.
• Almost 20 per cent of Nelson officers have been on stress or mental health leave for significant periods in the past year.
Fisher also discussed clearance rates — the portion of criminal incidents solved by police either by charges or otherwise. He said statistics show that Nelson’s clearance rate is higher than every other municipal department in B.C., as well as RCMP detachments in Trail, Castlegar, rural Nelson, Cranbrook, Vernon, Penticton, and the provincial average.
Fisher told council that there are increasing challenges for police in responding to cyber-crime and to public disruptions related to pandemic-related health orders.
For the past 10 years, Nelson’s police budget has consistently represented an average of about 19 per cent of the city budget.
Budget increases or decreases for the department since 2015 have been 5.3 per cent (2015), minus 2.3 per cent (2016), 6.8 per cent (2017), 3.2 per cent (2018), 6.1 per cent (2019), and 3.5 per cent (2020).
The members of the Nelson Police Board are Amed Naqvi, Jane Byers, Liz Edwards, Sue Adam, Lena Horswill and Mayor John Dooley.