Should Nelson Spend an Additional $310,000 Annually on Policing?

poverty

Photo by Cathrine Idsøe

No doubt most people have heard that the police have come to City Council to request a $310,000 increase to their annual budget. This increase alone could add as much as 4.4% to our municipal taxes (a 1% increase in taxes produces about $70,000) which are already some of the highest in the province. (In a 2010 survey by the Vancouver Sun, Nelson’s tax rates placed us 27th out of 166 BC communities.)

Regardless of the expense, ensuring that our community is safe and secure must be one of our core priorities. In addition, we must also make sure our officers are safe doing a job that can be anything but safe. I can fully appreciate this, as my nephew and his wife both serve on Toronto’s police force, and I often worry about their safety.

But before we make a commitment to increasing our police budget and living with the extra taxes required to support this increase, we need to take a deeper look at how our police services compare to other communities. We also need to examine the root causes of crime in our community to see if there is a better way to address these problems.

First, a quick look at the numbers…

According to the NPD’s presentation to council, Nelson has a population of just over 10,000, but they claim we are closer to 16,000 due to a daily influx of people who come to shop, work and visit. This would bump our officer-per-citizen ratio up from 1:577 to 1:941. Using this argument, the NPD state that we need a police force appropriate to a community with a population of 16,000. The problem with this approach to looking at the numbers is that almost any other city could make the exact same case for adjusting their numbers, yet they don’t. Castlegar, Trail, Kamloops, Revelstoke — all undoubtedly have thousands of visitors who come into town every day to work, shop, and access services, so could they not adjust their numbers upwards as well?

Take Whistler for example. With a population of 10,620, it is almost identical in size to Nelson, but it has a police force of 24 officers compared to our 17. The key difference between Nelson and Whistler is that they also have the capacity for 35,000 overnight visitors compared with our maximum capacity of maybe 1,200. (We have 358 hotel rooms and approximately 50+ vacation rentals.)

If Whistler’s population can swell up to four times its normal size, as it routinely does, it’s justifiable that Whistler should have a larger police force. And even with those extra officers, Whistler also has a much higher police incident rate, with 1,717 annual Canadian Criminal Code offences compared to our 994. Whistler also reports case loads of 72 per officer compared to our 58 case loads per officer. To put these numbers into perspective, Whistler experiences about 70% more criminal offences than we do, with a police force that is only 40% larger.

How do we compare to other communities?

When compared to other BC communities in the 5,000 to 14,999 population range, our police force does pretty well:

  • Average case load per officer: 70
  • Nelson case load per officer: 58
  • Average crime rate: 102
  • Nelson crime rate: 101
  • Average population per officer: 689
  • Nelson population per officer: 577
  • Average policing cost per capita: $205
  • Nelson policing cost per capita: $301

It’s important to note that, currently, our per-capita spending on policing is almost 50% greater than average spending in similar-sized communities.

But instead of comparing Nelson to similar-sized communities across BC, the NPD’s presentation compares us only to Oak Bay and Central Saanich on Vancouver Island. The only similarities between these communities and Nelson — besides our similar sizes — is the fact that these cities also have independent municipal police forces, rather than RCMP. But in many other important respects, Oak Bay and Central Saanich are nothing like Nelson. Both are essentially suburbs of Victoria, both boast significantly higher median household incomes, and both have older populations (meaning fewer people in the age demographics that are statistically more likely to commit crimes).

We need to address the root causes of crime in our community

Which brings me to my point about getting to the bottom of what might be contributing to crime in our community. Most criminologists agree that poverty is one of the key drivers of crime. Low household income, inadequate housing, and persistent unemployment/underemployment can all contribute to the kind of frustration and social isolation that exacerbates crime. Nelson has all of these problems.

Police are ultimately a band-aid solution. And that’s not to disparage band-aid solutions. We need them. But the nature of a band-aid is to staunch a wound after it’s been inflicted. If we can avoid wounds in the first place, so much the better.

So before Nelson City Council approves such a significant increase to our police budget, we should investigate how that money might be better spent. If we truly want to reduce crime in our community, perhaps the way to do it is to tackle things like poverty and housing affordability. The question is, if we are prepared to invest another $300,000+ annually to combat crime that may result from poverty, are we prepared to do the same to fight poverty itself?

To summarize my key points…

  • Nelson already has property taxes that are higher than 80% of other communities in BC.
  • Adding $310,000 to police budget would mean a 4.4% increase to annual municipal taxes.
  • Nelson already has a higher ratio of police to citizens than other BC communities.
  • Our per capita spending on policing is already 50% higher than other similar-sized BC communities.

Related post: Creativity Starts When You Cut A Zero from Your Budget

On November 15, please remember to VOTE. You are eligible to vote in Nelson if you are 18 years or older, have lived in BC for at least six months, and are a Canadian citizen.  You do not need to own property to vote. All you need is two pieces of ID. At least one piece must have a signature and/or provide proof of residency. Details on what you can use HERE.
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15 thoughts on “Should Nelson Spend an Additional $310,000 Annually on Policing?

  1. Even when I first saw the headline my auto reaction was..No, address poverty and housing issues first and prevention of crime through other means. And now that I have read it, I am sure. What a huge difference it would make, let’s say if $310,000 were available to donate to Ward Street place restoration and other affordable housing, free recreation for teens, neighbourhood watch…There are alternatives and we already are overtaxed and the police have a lighter load than many communities..Get the police out of the cruisers giving out ‘cash cow ‘ tickets – and onto the streets with the public creating a presence and guidance to the community.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The first thing that could be done, after the aforementioned giving out of unnecessary traffic tickets, which is basically low-level harassment of otherwise law-abiding citizens, is to make arrests for marijuana possession the lowest priority possible. The amount of money wasted on pot arrests is ridiculous, and the amount of harm it does to young people who end up with a criminal record for doing something that is commonplace is also unacceptable. The annual searching of the surrounding countryside for grow-ops by helicopters and other means is also unnecessary and very expensive. Policing is basically bout keeping the peace and apprehending those who do harm to others, either by theft or injury, and the closer we can stay to that the better it will be for all of us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Glad I don’t pay property taxes in Nelson any longer. Great community of people but between taxes and aggressive bylaw enforcement, bizarre rules about dogs downtown…, it was easier to leave.

    Support people in need and you’ll likely see a drop in calls to NCP and overall cost savings. It’s been shown over and over the cost of supporting people is cheaper than the cost of cleaning up afterwards. This issue of poverty and homelessness isn’t confined to Nelson and it gets tiring listening to the “woe is me” chatter from some in the community. Sadly, there are people who are homeless and in poverty all over this land.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. spending more money on the nelson city police is less than a Band-Aid. it is a clear waste of tax payers hard earned money. they are over staffed & over paid. take the nelson city police & the nelson fire department budgets and cut them by 10% ,then put this extra wasted money towards programs & housing for the homeless & poverty stricken families. the productivity and
    performance of either department will not change. thanks Charlie bourgeois

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent article, how about the proposed 16-30 year payback(never!) for the biomass boiler that could cost $2-$6M?? Or the community solar garden which all nelson hydro ratepayers will fund, regressive tax again, a hidden subsidy from all of us, there will be NO payback, more tax on those that can least afford it, something is out of control at city hall!

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  6. How about us low income people that pay taxes,it already is putting us in the poor house.We constantly think of moving out of town,even though we have lived here all our lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have a couple of questions: What does Average case load per officer actually mean ? I am only interested in serious crime such as murder, sexual assaults, home invasions, driving while under the influence. I am only interested in violent crime. Does anyone know the case load per officer on violent crime?

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    • I don’t have that information, but those are the kind of questions we need to ask. The violent crime rate in Nelson is higher than the national average, but what does this mean? We don’t really read about it in the police report in the Nelson Star, so does this mean it’s just fights when the bars close? Or that we have a disturbingly high number of domestic assaults? These are all issues we need clarity on before any kind of decisions are made.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. The Nelson City Police should make marijuana possession charges their lowest priority. That would save a lot of police time and taxpayers’ money. The Nelson City Police should also support ending marijuana prohibition. It’s time to be sensible. Why are we continuing to waste so much taxpayers’ money in a futile attempt to eliminate marijuana? Nelson needs a Mayor that supports making marijuana possession charges the lowest priority of the Nelson City Police. For example, Dave Ellliott was elected Mayor in 2002. In 2003, there were only 2 marijuana possession charges. John Dooley was elected Mayor in 2005 and marijuana possession charges increased. In 2009, there were 31 marijuana possession charges. It’s time for a change. See: http://mapinc.org/url/RUTY1uOj

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