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Vancouver police offer $10K signing bonuses to lure 'experienced officers'

Canadian Police Association president: "This is stupid and a slap in the face of existing officers."
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The Vancouver Police Department’s recruiting section announced Monday that the VPD will offer a $10,000 signing bonus for up to 20 “experienced officers” to join the department.

The Vancouver Police Department has decided to free up $200,000 from its budget in an attempt to lure 20 “experienced officers” from other Canadian police forces by paying each of them a $10,000 signing bonus.

The campaign went public Monday via the VPD recruiting section’s account on the X social media platform. The department said the signing bonus is a “limited-time-only incentive” and only applies to the first 20 officers hired.

“It's a positive thing, and it's part of our ongoing effort to continue our recruiting efforts,” said Sgt. Steve Addison, a VPD media liaison officer, who spoke to reporters Tuesday at the department’s Cambie Street precinct.

Addison pointed to the high cost of living in Vancouver as part of the reason for the $10,000 offer, calling the amount “a gesture to acknowledge the commitment that people are willing to make to come here to join our ranks and to serve the citizens of Vancouver.”

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Sgt. Steve Addison, a VPD media liaison officer, at the department's Cambie Street precinct Jan. 16, 2024. Photo Mike Howell

VPD officers get new contract

The recruiting drive comes as Police Chief Adam Palmer has said at Vancouver Police Board meetings over the past few months that recruiting was going well, with more than 100 officers hired.

Vancouver officers also recently ratified a new collective agreement that effectively makes the 1,400-plus members the highest paid in Canada. Officers will receive pay raises of 4.5 per cent retroactive to 2023 and another 4.5 per cent in 2024.

A constable with five years on the job can expect to earn $116,000 in the first year of the new contract and see that salary increase to almost $122,000 in 2024, according to information supplied to Glacier Media from the Vancouver Police Union.

At the same time, Vancouver historically loses 50 to 75 officers per year to retirement, some of whom join other departments. In the past two years, some senior officers have also left to join the Surrey Police Service.

Asked if the $10,000 incentive was tied to concerns the department might have of not having enough senior officers to guide new recruits, Addison said “certainly hiring an experienced officer does have its benefits.”

'A slap in the face'

Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association and the International Council of Police Representative Associations, used his account on the X social media platform to pan the campaign.

“This is stupid and a slap in the face of existing officers…creates entitlement on one hand and inequity on the other,” wrote Stamatakis, the former president of the Vancouver Police Union.

“Not creative at all, potentially attracts wrong kind of person…look at assisting potential new employees with relocation/moving exp sure, but ‘bonus’…”

He ended his post with a hand in head emoji.

Addison said the department hired 23 experienced officers in 2023 out of a pool of approximately 50, adding that the VPD has “a very detailed and thorough vetting process for all of our prospective recruits.”

Glacier Media emailed Tuesday the Vancouver Police Union’s current president, Ralph Kaisers, for a response on the campaign but had not heard back before this story was posted. (Update: Kaisers has since replied and declined to comment.)

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ABC Vancouver Coun. Brian Montague is a retired Vancouver police officer. Photo Mike Howell

'Sounds like a bargain'

Brian Montague, a retired Vancouver police officer who was elected to city council in October 2022, said offering a $10,000 signing bonus to an experienced officer from another department “sounds like a bargain.”

Montague pointed out there is a cost the department pays to have training spots at the Justice Institute of B.C. for new recruits. In addition, the cost alone of training a recruit is expensive, he said.

“The other thing too is instead of having to wait nine or 10 months — or maybe even a little longer, because you're relying on the Justice Institute to have space for your recruits — you have an immediately deployable officer,” he said.

The offer of a signing bonus is not unique to the Vancouver Police Department, with Montague noting incentives were also offered in recent years by the Seattle and Victoria police departments.

The Seattle Times reported in August 2022 that city council agreed to approve $30,000 hiring bonuses for lateral hires from other departments and $7,500 bonuses for new recruits.

The program will expire at the end of 2024.

In November 2021, the Victoria department announced it was offering a one-time $20,000 incentive to any experienced officers working in other forces to join the department. Victoria Police Chief Del Manak told Glacier Media in December 2021 that his department was in a staffing crisis.

“We have significant vacancies and gaps on our front lines that we want to fill as quickly as possible because we're at a stage now where we want to pull out all stops and get officers deployed,” Manak said at the time, noting the campaign had been effective, with more than 50 inquiries in nine days.

Manak believes Canada’s police chiefs need to launch a national campaign to attract potential recruits, noting one-time incentives for experienced officers is not sustainable and could only lead to bidding wars among departments.

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OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle: “To be offering generous cash bonuses to fill some positions, while eliminating the living wage for other positions, is incredibly frustrating..." Photo Mike Howell

'Respect of a living wage'

Vancouver city councillor Christine Boyle, who has long been a critic of increased budgets for the VPD, said in a text message Tuesday that she wasn’t aware of the department’s incentive campaign until contacted by Glacier Media.

“We have a lot of vacancies at the city,” Boyle said. “And my understanding is that there are still many positions to fill within the promise of 100 mental health workers. I don’t hear that we are offering cash bonuses to fill these positions.”

Glacier Media reported in October 2023 that 14.5 mental health worker positions had been filled since council unlocked funds to hire more mental health workers. The total number of hires is far short of the 58 promised in February.

Boyle said her main concern regarding pay for employees continues to be council’s decision last year to eliminate the city’s “living wage” policy.

Low-wage positions, she said, are hard to fill as well, because the cost of living in Vancouver is getting more and more out of reach for people.

“The people who clean our buildings, or provide security services, or shelve books at the library, deserve the dignity and respect of a living wage,” she said.

“To be offering generous cash bonuses to fill some positions, while eliminating the living wage for other positions, is incredibly frustrating, particularly at a time when so many working people are struggling to cover their basic expenses.”

mhowell@glaciermedia.ca

X/@Howellings