Police board calls for independent audit of police services after council rejects funding for additional staffing
The Nelson Police Board and Nelson city council are at odds over funding for policing in the city, after city council recently rejected a request by the police board for $311,000 worth of extra funding for additional staff the Nelson Police Department (NPD) says is needed to do their jobs properly.
Council rejected the funding request because granting it would require a tax increase of roughly 4 percent to foot the bill – as the city takes in about $75,000 for every 1 percent of additional taxation.
The city allotted an additional $90,000 in funding for the NPD in its proposed 2015 budget and also added on an extra $50,000 to help the department alleviate some pressures while the two sides discuss the matter.
But in response to the funding rejection, the police board voted at their meeting on Tuesday to send the matter to the provincial police services board for an independent audit of the city’s policing that would determine the exact number of police required to meet policing standards.
The move is effectively a veto of the city’s recent budget, and one that NPD Chief, Wayne Holland says wasn’t made lightly.
“The Nelson Police Board has asked the city to fund two additional police constables and one civilian administrative coordinator,” said Holland in a statement. “That will mean we would then have 19 officers as opposed to 17 officers.
“We are not making this request lightly. While men and women of the NPD feel very privileged to serve in the capacity of police officers for Nelson, the times have changed and we have to keep up with those times and trends.”
Holland said the NPD is the only police service in the province that hasn’t had an increase in its police officer authorized strength since 1995 – and the face of policing has changed significantly even since then.
He explains that along with increased time spent doing investigations and taking training in various aspects of modern policing, police are being more and more frequently asked to deal with mental health matters that take up a lot of their time.
“We handle over 1,000 (mental health) calls per year,” said Holland. “It’s 17 percent of our call load.”
Holland added that the police board directors were unanimous in their request for the staffing increase, and noted that the issue of police staffing is not a new one. He said it dates back about four years to the time of the previous mayor and council.
Kozak working to set up talks between two groups
Mayor Deb Kozak finds herself in the difficult position of being on both sides of this debate, in her roles as mayor and chair of the police board – a position she’s legally obliged to hold.
Kozak said the police first asked for the additional staff in their provisional budget, issued in the fall of 2014 – just before the local government elections saw a new mayor and four new councilors elected in the city.
She said council recently asked for more information from the police board on the staffing need, and wanted to have a meeting with the board to get a clearer picture of those needs.
But before that could happen, the police board voted in favour of contacting the provincial police services board for the independent audit at a meeting earlier this week that was attended by four councilors.
In the aftermath, Kozak said she’s now working to get both groups together to discuss the matter.
“Although I’m disappointed as the chair that this happened, I’m working with council and the police board to bring both groups together over the next month to have further discussions about this,” Kozak said.
“The board and council have not had a chance to meet as two groups coming together to discuss this issue,” she added. “We want to have a better understanding of what issues police are dealing with. Are they policing issues, or are they stresses that could and should be handled in other ways by the community.”
Kozak added that the additional $140,000 provided to the police board in this year’s budget can be used however the board decides is best.
“They can use it in whatever way they choose; whatever gives them the best short-term bridging solution.”
Holland said he welcomes the opportunity to start a dialogue with Nelson City Council.
“I have always encouraged such a meeting, as has the Nelson Police Board, in both its past as well as its present composition,” Holland said.
“We will meet with council as often as may be required to resolve this issue, and/or any other issue or problem that may arise in the future.”