Vancouver’s next mayor says he expects the first of 100 additional police officers promised in his election platform to hit the streets within a year.
Ken Sim, who takes office Nov. 7, said Monday that adding the officers and the same number of mental-health nurses is one of the top priorities in his party’s 94-point platform, alongside accelerating property permitting and making more daycare spaces available.
“You should see some movement fairly quickly on the first bunch (of hires),” he said, adding that the Vancouver Police Department had indicated the target number of 100 was “completely doable.”
Sim was elected Saturday in a decisive victory, ousting incumbent Kennedy Stewart. The mayor-elect’s ABC Vancouver party will hold a strong majority on city council, as well as the park board and school board.
He’s among several candidates who were elected across British Columbia after identifying public safety as a campaign priority.
“We’re super excited that the city of Vancouver gave us a very clear message that they want change. And we’re excited to be part of that change,” Sim said.
Recent attention has been focused in the city on random acts of violence and crimes by repeat offenders. A group formed by B.C.’s big-city mayors lobbied the provincial government early this year asking for help, and a report by a former Vancouver police deputy chief made more than two dozen recommendations for change.
Provincial Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth has said they would begin implementing some of the recommendations right away.
Farnworth said in a news release Monday that Canada’s provincial and territorial justice and public safety ministers have secured a commitment from the federal government on addressing repeat offending, which is a countrywide problem.
The ministers unanimously agreed to an urgent followup meeting to address bail provisions for repeat and violent offenders, he said.
Sim said during a news conference the party’s transition team had its first meeting Sunday and it will spend the next three weeks mapping out an implementation plan of the platform commitments.
He declined to commit to a specific property tax cap, a delivery timeline for the city budget or any other immediate actions before the transition team does its work.
The team is led by ABC Vancouver campaign manager Kareem Allam and Dianne Watts, a former member of Parliament and mayor of Surrey.
“There’ll be more to come in the next few weeks on what we will be rolling out and the timing of it.”
Sim also declined to answer what he called “operational questions” about whether the new mental-health nurses would work directly for the city or if the hiring would involve a partnership with senior levels of government.
However, he pointed to Car 87, a program that pairs nurses with police constables through a partnership between the police department and Vancouver Coastal Health, as a model that works.
He also said he wanted to attract nurses exhausted by difficult working conditions in public health, who might welcome the opportunity instead of leaving the profession.
“At the end of the day, as mayor and council what we do is we paint the vision and we lend our support,” Sim said.
Aman Grewal, president of the BC Nurses’ Union, said the union welcomes any initiative that supports mental health. However, she questioned where the nurses would come from when there is a staffing shortage across B.C., involving 4,300 nursing vacancies.
“I hope that they’re not looking to pull out of hospitals that are already short-staffed, or the clinics that are short-staffed. So, we need to find out more details as to where they are going to get these 100 nurses from because they aren’t just going to magically appear,” Grewal said.
It’s also critical that the nurses have adequate training and support, she said.
The Car 87 program, for example, may not be the most appropriate placement for nurses who are already burnt out, because it requires responding to high-stress crisis situations, Grewal said.
Vancouver police Chief Adam Palmer was unavailable to comment Monday.
The police department was already actively recruiting officers and the process outlined online includes two interviews plus physical fitness, medical, psychological and polygraph exams, a written test and background check.
Sim’s plan comes as the neighbouring city of Surrey elected a mayor who committed to halting a partially complete transition from RCMP to a municipal force that has involved recruiting officers from other police departments in the region.
Surrey mayor-elect Brenda Locke, who defeated incumbent Doug McCallum, pledged to keep the RCMP in Surrey during her victory speech Saturday.
However, her pro-Mountie comments drew swift responses Sunday from the provincial government, the Surrey municipal force and the police board, who all suggested switching back to the RCMP is not a done deal.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 17, 2022.
By Amy Smart in Vancouver