Port Alberni City Council is considering adding $289,000 to this year’s budget for policing.
In Port Alberni’s 2017-2021 Five Year Financial Plan, council at the time planned for the reduction of one RCMP officer in the 2019 budget. However, during a city council budget meeting last week, Port Alberni RCMP Officer-in-Charge Inspector Brian Hunter requested the addition of two more officers to handle the detachment’s chronic heavy caseload. The cost of one officer is approximately $175,000.
During a follow-up budget meeting on Monday, Feb. 4, some councillors disagreed with the idea of adding $350,000 to the budget for policing costs alone.
Councillor Helen Poon said it would be a good idea to look at other ways to make the community safe without hiring more police officers. She referenced the city’s new enhanced security initiative program, which offers a matching grant to business owners for security enhancements.
“That’s a good initiative that doesn’t cost a lot, but may have a big impact,” she said.
Mayor Sharie Minions agreed that council needs to “expand” the conversation about public safety to include more than policing.
“I think we can be more effective with a more balanced approach, rather than looking strictly at policing, as the way to improve safety in the community,” she said.
She suggested initiatives like improved lighting and security patrols to get more “eyes” on the road, as well as a community policing office Uptown. Housing initiatives are also important, she pointed out.
Councillor Ron Paulson, however, said that police are there to take care of the “hardened criminal element” in town. “We need to take care of a very serious problem that’s going on in our community right now,” he said. “I think we need some short-term pain, financially, to get this thing under control.”
Councillor Cindy Solda agreed, “We have a problem now, and I’d like to see us tackle that problem now.”
During Monday’s meeting, Hunter said there is an opportunity to “civilianize” one RCMP position by replacing the Community Policing Liaison with a municipal employee and redeploying that officer into the field. The liaison’s job, said Hunter, mostly involves duties like volunteer management and program management.
“There are some duties…that require a police officer, but those duties we’d redistribute them among other members at the detachment,” he explained.
Other B.C. communities, such as Nanaimo, also use a municipal employee for their community policing office.
At the end of the meeting, council voted to remove the reduction of one RCMP member from the budget, at a cost of $175,000, and add one municipal employee, at a cost of $114,000.
City council is still in the process of reviewing its project options list, so this budget could still change. Another large-cost item currently in the budget is a $200,000 rehabilitation of the Roger Creek Bridge.
“Everything that’s in here is just a starting point for us,” Minions explained on Monday.
Do you think the Port Alberni RCMP needs more or fewer officers? Vote online in our question of the week.