Action: Tell the city to divest from policing and invest in communities

In ‘bc’, every spring municipalities set their budgets and project a 5-year financial plan. They have to as part of this process invite public input. To help with this we’ve done a detailed analysis of the City of ‘victoria’ 2021 Draft Financial Plan (PDF file, 13 MB) that includes info about the City’s input process, an overview of how the City of ‘victoria’ structures its budget, and discussion of our key concerns. We’ve also included a summary that has points that can be copied and pasted into a letter to the City about its proposed plan. Another group has also put together a nifty email template for people who specifically want to call for a freeze to the VicPD budget.

There’s a lot in the budget to be concerned about, and we’ve detailed our concerns in our budget analysis. To make a long story short, the City of ‘victoria’ budget has three related problems: while talking about reconciliation, equity, diversity, and affordability, financially the City is (1) continuing to base the local economy on stealing resources from Lkwungen people, (2) keeping wealth concentrated among settler land ‘owners’ by under-taxing people wealthy enough to have bought stolen land, and (3) spending a massive amount of money on surveillance and punishment, which disproportionally impacts people who are racially and socially profiled — especially people who are unhoused so live 100% of the time in public spaces.

On January 18, 2021 City of ‘victoria’ staff will present to Council on the public feedback. The City’s formal options for feedback as part of that process are:

However, the budget won’t be finalized till April so if you are reading this after the “official” deadline it’s not too late to directly contact Council or present at a Council meeting. To email Council: mayor@victoria.ca, gyoung@victoria.ca, cthornton-joe@victoria.ca, spotts@victoria.ca, jloveday@victoria.ca, bisitt@victoria.ca, sdubow@victoria.ca, malto@victoria.ca, stephen.andrew@victoria.ca; note that Council members get a huge volume of email so might not read details; try to sum up your message in the Subject line.

Also note that you don’t have to use the City’s sanctioned ways to communicate with them. Because of COVID the general public isn’t currently allowed into Council meetings, but people are continuing to rally (with masks and physical distancing), put up posters and other public art, and find other creative ways to express views.

New year, same priorities: KEEP HOARDING STOLEN WEALTH AND POLICING THE POOR

Colonial governments operating under global racialized capitalism can’t create fair, caring, or just budgets — in these systems wealth inherently comes from stolen lands and resources, exploited labour, and violence against the earth. But governments’ budgets do matter in how shitty their impacts are.

This is an issue on both the revenue and expense side of things. The City’s revenue comes largely from tax on land, which the settler-state calls ‘property tax’. This furthers colonial treatment of land as property, shapes hierarchies of whose views are important, and influences which kinds of activities are viewed as desirable. For example more private development = more land taxes = more money for the City budget, incentivizing the City to approve for-profit developments with no consent of Lekwungen people, and also no money or other benefits from those deals going to Lekwungen people.

The decision to constrain land tax to inflation + 1% is also socially irresponsible as it keeps wealth concentrated among settler land-owners rather than redistributing it more equitably and investing in community infrastructure that doesn’t just benefit the rich. This year’s property tax increase is 1.75% which according to the City’s budget summary works out to an annual increase of “$44 for an average household and $124 for a typical business” — minor amounts that will make little difference to people who are wealthy enough to own land, but that if increased could significantly improve real affordability measures like return of stolen lands, rent banks, community-controlled housing, urban agriculture, etc.

In terms of what money is being spent on, the proposed $65 million / year from the City of ‘victoria’ to the VicPD, Bylaw, and private security forces resources violence against Indigenous and Black people, the street community, people who use illicit drugs, people perceived as mentally ill, and others who are disproportionately targeted by these systems of surveillance and punishment. If that money was instead put into safe housing, respectful health care, environmental restoration, and other real needs the money would still come from ill-gotten gains, but at least it would be spent on things that aren’t as harmful.

In 2021/22 the City is proposing more increases to “law and order” while planning to decrease the already tiny amounts for relations with local Indigenous nations and affordable housing.

Dollars in 2021/22% of operating budget
Relationship with local Indigenous nations$86,850 for the Witness Reconciliation Program (dropping to ~$31,000 per year for the following four years)0.03%
Affordable housing financial reserve$650,000 for future builds
(down from $900,000 in 2020/21)
0.25%
Surveillance and punishment$64,544,970 
($61,193,160 VicPD operations + $2,131,480 Bylaw operations + $1,220,330 private security; excludes Bylaw enforcement of Short Term Rental program)
25%

If the budget was a solar system, this would be a proportional scale of the priority for operating expenditures:

SKYROCKETING POLICE BUDGETS ARE A LONG-TERM trend

In 2012/13 — the earliest numbers we could obtain from the City’s website — the VicPD operating budget was $45,851,151. During that fiscal year a two-day federal summit was convened to discuss how to reign in police budgets, which across ‘canada’ had doubled in the previous 15 years. But despite the hand-wringing, nothing has changed in the past 10 years, and if the VicPD has its way the next 5 years will be the same disaster too. In 2021/22 the proposed VicPD operating budget is $60,676,130, an increase of $14,824,979 (32%) from 2012/13. The five-year financial plan for 2021-2026 has the VicPD operating budget at $68,881,880 by 2025/26, up 14% from 2021/22 (for a cumulative increase of $8.2M in 5 years) and a 50% increase from 2012/13. We don’t have the VicPD budget numbers before 2012, but applying the percentage from the The Exploding Costs of Policing in Canada that would mean an increase of approximately $23M from 1997-2012. When we look at the numbers from 2012-2026, which we do have access to through this year’s City budget, that’s also an increase of $23M. So while the percentages may have changed, the same dollar amount increase goverments were saying 15 years ago was unsustainable is still the status quo.

In our analysis of the City’s financial plans, we get into the details of the VicPD operating budget. The VicPD budget is discussed more than other things the City is proposing to fund because it’s the biggest proportion of City operating dollars, and it has a big social justice impact.

The VicPD also has very little transparency, and while they have autonomy to reallocate their line items internally once the budget is approved so the City’s financial plan doesn’t provide certainty about what they’re up to, we get some hints. For example, while there are no new officer positions overall, the shifting of officer salaries to the Patrol Division, Behavioral Assessment & Management Unit, and Financial Crimes Unit is potentially important to people living in poverty who are more vulnerable to the racial and social profiling built into the law enforcement system. We also can see that police overtime is continuing to increase — more than doubling in just three years, with 36 units in the VicPD making a collective ask for $2,962,090 overtime in 2021/22 — creating more financial incentive for policing of people who are visibly poor as a way that cops can make 1.5-2.5 times their usual (already high) salary.

Want to learn more? Check out our full comments on the draft financial plan!

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