A local citizens group has raised questions about the substance and process of Saanich’s police budget.
Laurie and Bruce Kennedy of the Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria have questioned why Saanich’s provisional police budget is adding staff, just as crime rates are dropping.
“We are concerned that the cost of policing is increasing at an unsustainable rate,” they write in an email to Police Chief Bob Downie, the Saanich police board and members of Saanich council.
This year’s provisional police budget calls for an additional $1.668 million in funding — an increase of 4.97 per cent over last year’s budget. Last year’s submission caused considerable political strife between Saanich council and police.
The department’s submission states that it “faces significant pressures to provide adequate police services” to the municipality and the region at large, noting that jurisdictions across Canada recorded an increase after more than a decade of dropping rates. Specifically, the report cited 2015.
According to Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, all Criminal Code violations (excluding traffic) rose 9.5 per cent in Saanich. The report, however, does not appear to mention that crime rates have been dropping again since 2015, first by 5.61 per cent in 2016 and 3.88 per cent in 2017.
The report submitted in late 2018 also said that service calls have been rising following a decline between 2006 and 2014. “Saanich saw a 20 per cent increase in calls for service between 2014 (25,555) and 2017 (30,834), and this is projected to increase to 25 per cent by the end of 2018,” it reads.
The Kennedys, however, question the argument that the requested increase is justifiable in light of the available figures that not only measure crime but also citizens satisfaction with existing police services. Specifically, they point to the Crime Severity Index, a Statistics Canada measure of all police-reported crime, which takes into consideration both the volume and seriousness of offences. In 2014, it stood at 41.07 out of 100. By 2017, it had dropped to 37.36. By comparison, the provincial figure has barely budged. In 2014, it stood at 88.48, rising to 88.93 in 2017.
The Kennedys also cite Saanich’s citizen and business survey that shows 97 per cent of survey respondents were satisfied with the quality of police services in Saanich.
“Can the Chief [Bob Downie] explain, given the declining crime rate and the level of citizen satisfaction, why 12 additional staff [with nine full-time positions] is needed in this budget year?” the Kennedys write. “This suggests a crisis that we are not seeing.”
The Kennedys said they wrote the note to give Downie “ample” time to consider their questions, as Saanich’s coming budget process has “provided insufficient time and opportunity” to ask some “basic questions” about the provisional budget.
While multiple speakers could ask these questions, their questions would be disjointed and convey an “aggressive image,” they write.
Saanich budget discussions start Feb. 26 with three days of presentations from various departments including protective services running until Feb. 28. Four sessions are also scheduled for March.
The Saanich News has asked Saanich Police for official comment and will update the story accordingly.