Vernon-North Okanagan police officers may face budget axe

There could be fewer police officers walking the beat in Vernon.

City council cut two RCMP members and 1.5 support staff at the detachment Friday, although any changes in staff are on hold until April 30.

“I fear we’ll lose all of the gains we’ve made in crime reduction,” said Supt. Reg Burgess, officer in charge of the detachment.

“This will  impact undercover operations on prostitution and drug activities downtown. Enhanced foot patrols will be gone.”

There are currently 50 police officers.

Burgess doesn’t believe the initiatives targeted for reduction are surplus because of their role in community safety.

“If you remove downtown visibility, you will see a marked increase in crime,” he said.

If the reductions do occur, the downtown enforcement unit will be redeployed to general duties as could the school liaison officer if demands for rank-and-file officers climbs.

In terms of fewer office support staff, Burgess says that could impact time-sensitive record keeping and could lead to officers not having sufficient time for operational police work.

Council approved a 1.8 per cent hike to the RCMP budget Friday while Burgess requested a 6.7 per cent increase. The difference between the two amounts to $413,000.

“We have to apply some fiscal discipline,” said Mayor Rob Sawatzky.

“We all want to reduce crime but most of the evidence doesn’t correlate a greater number of officers with a reduction in crime.”

Sawatzky points out that most RCMP expenses are mandated by senior government and the national force and the city has little flexibility.

Opposition came from Coun. Patrick Nicol.

“This is pretty fundamental to what they believe they pay taxes for,” he said of taxpayers’ interest in policing.

“Given the case loads and gains made with crime levels, we should not be selecting this.”

A final decision on cuts will be made at the end of April when the city’s review of core services is completed.

Sawatzky says the review should provide information on police resources and whether changes are required.

Council debated the city’s 2013 budget Friday and there was a chance of a meeting Saturday.

At press time, the potential tax increase was 3.7 per cent but that was expected to change as council members considered potential revenue sources and service reductions.

During Friday’s public input session, land surveyor Mark Budgen criticized city spending habits.

“The city is over-staffed. The implementation of an austere budget is uncomfortable but it needs to be done,” he said, adding that business is reluctant to invest in Vernon.

“You simply can’t return to the taxpayer well until it runs dry.”



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