Why Some Advocates are Calling to Defund the VPD

Advocates implore their governments to reconsider redistributing funding for police departments

(Kristen Frier)

Calls to defund various police departments have been on the rise since the Black Lives Matter
protests came in full force after the unjust murder of a Black man, George Floyd.

Various cities across the United States like Minneapolis, New York, and Los Angeles have seen an increase in discussions about defunding police departments since then. The same is true for Canadian cities like Toronto and Vancouver.

As these conversations became more prominent, some Canadians started to wonder what defunding the police in Vancouver would look like. The Vancouver Police Board approved the Vancouver Police Department’s 2020 budget, which totals $315,278,281. According to the Vancouver Police Board, this is a 4.6 per cent increase from the 2019 budget.

(Kristen Frier)

The total 2019 budget was at $294,366,398, which represented a 3.5 per cent increase from the 2018 budget.

Many of the calls to defund the Vancouver Police Department have included the request for the money to be put towards expenses that “demonstrably support long-term community safety.”

“The language around defunding is quite straightforward. People are asking for immediate budget cuts to municipal police departments in recognition that money could be directed to upstream systemic changes,” says Meenakshi Mannoe, manager of community education at Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver.

“We’re in this moment where there’s such heightened scrutiny on policing, where we are addressing that … racist policing isn’t an American problem. It’s based on settler colonialism.”

Despite police reforms throughout history, police violence and police-involved fatalities remain relevant and persistent in Canada.

“We have a really inaccessible system of police accountability,” says Mannoe.

The VPD’s 2020 budget report says the document allocates “$9,927,344 for sworn and civilian salaries, benefits, and estimated settlements, $2,398,042 for new hires and related resources for year 3 of the Operational Review,  $402,332 for equipment and fleet, $304,707 for City Allocations, $600,000 for DNA Services, and $150,000 for Community Policing Centres.”

The Vancouver Police Department and the Vancouver Police Foundation also fund certain youth programs in the community. Some examples include the NewKids Police Academy for supporting immigrant and refugee youth, the RestART partnership to teach kids about art and restorative justice, and the VPD Musqueam Basketball Camp.

Dr. Michelle Bonner, a political science professor at the University of Victoria, says people should consider how effectively VPD funds are being used and how they could be reallocated.

“Many police communications departments are quite large and they’re involved not only in reactive work but also proactive work. That is …  public relations for the police,” she says.

“There are many arguments made for why they need this, but it does cost a lot of money and it does give them a lot of power to then resist any police reforms that might change or improve policing.”

She also recommends that the VPD pay social and community workers who are already working for the City of Vancouver. She says it’s important that this is “done in a way that they feel supported and in ways that will best meet the needs of the community.”

When it comes to defunding the police, Bonner says people need to realize “that reforms aren’t cutting it”.

“Defunding the police on its own is not really sufficient,” she says. “You don’t want to defund the police and provide nothing else. These funds need to go to the services that will help deal with those issues in non-coercive ways — so social workers, outreach workers, mental health funding.”

Police and their budgets are under municipal control in B.C., but Bonner suggests that the services that would replace parts of the force come from the provincial and federal government.

“The challenge is if the municipality wants to defund the police, they have no control over whether or not the province is going to increase funding for mental health, or for social workers, or for other … support groups that would allow for the possibility of dealing with some of these difficult situations that police are now currently being in charge of,” says Bonner.

She says these funds should be used to help the community through social services — not just a small community centre, but a network of public health and community groups. A community like the Downtown Eastside would ideally be able to benefit from these kinds of services.

“That certainly needs to be a dialogue between the communities that are most affected and the social services that could go in there, but it also needs to be a dialogue between the  municipality and the provincial government,” says Bonner.

Black Lives Matter Vancouver released a statement detailing how police funds can be redirected in ways that support the community. They highlighted areas such as child care support, comprehensive mental health intervention and social support, local restorative justice services, and employment programs, to name a few.

The organization also mentioned certain commitments the city of Vancouver can make, such as “improving social conditions across the city with a commitment to the goal of eventually abolishing police and prisons.”

“They serve the primary purpose of oppressing marginalized communities and protecting the riches of the wealthy minority of denizens,” it reads.

They also suggest condemning “the actions taken by colonial police forces with respect to silencing and violently suppressing Black voices and demands for systemic change,” among other commitments.

“Police have brought harm on Black, Indigenous, and other marginalized communities,” says Mannoe. “If we invested in eradicating inequality, people would be able to take the work up.”