Nelson Police Department won’t be seeking a staffing increase in 2014, but chief constable Wayne Holland says the city should seriously consider bulking up the department in the future.
Nelson Police Board presented its provisional 2014 budget at a city council meeting Monday. The board is hoping for a $39,000 budget increase — for the cost of inflation and required salary increases for the unionized workers — to keep its 17 officers on the street with no increase in service over the current year.
The current police budget is about $2.7 million, which represents about nine per cent of every tax dollar. Other municipalities across BC dedicate, on average, about 14 per cent of tax revenue to policing.
Holland commended the city for keeping police costs relatively low, saying that budget restraints haven’t caused any deficiency in service.
“Nelson has done one heck of a good job in a very economical way,” he told council. “But eventually we’re going to need to get up to capacity.”
He compared Nelson to municipal police departments in Williams Lake, Oak Bay and Central Saanich, which have a similar population size. He said those departments have at least eight more officers than Nelson.
The Nelson department has no traffic section or major crimes unit. The general investigation department is just one person. There’s no dedicated school liaison officer.
In order to undertake a recent major drug investigation that put 15 drug dealers behind bars, Nelson police had to borrow undercover officers from elsewhere in BC. If there’s a homicide in the city, Kelowna RCMP would investigate it.
“It’s not a sustainable way to run a police department,” Holland said, noting that other departments bill the city for their service, which is okay if they only need them occasionally but if demand increases it becomes more cost effective to have local officers trained to handle the cases.
Inspector Paul Burkart pointed out that while national crime statistics show crime rates and crime severity has been dropping steadily, that’s not necessarily the case in Nelson.
In the past year, Nelson saw an increase in commercial break and enters — but that was largely due to one person who was eventually arrested. More loss prevention staff were hired in stores and shoplifting incidents jumped from 26 to 96 in one year. Mischief files, meanwhile, were down from 214 cases in 2012 to 159 this year.
Breaches of probation, dangerous and impaired driving, drug offenses and mental health calls were all up this year.
But it’s difficult to tell if the rate of crimes are changing or just the number of people being caught as policing priorities change, Burkart explained.
Holland asked council to sit down with the police board to hammer out a business case for increasing the number of police officers gradually over a number of year.
“We recognize times are tough … but we can’t lose sight of the fact we have fewer human resources [at the police department] than we did in 1995,” Holland said. “You can’t sustain a police force that way.”
Last year the police board requested at $124,000 budget increase, but council only approved an increase of about $54,000.