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New auditor general to examine ‘cost effectiveness’ of Vancouver police department

Mike Macdonell’s office will also audit the city’s cybersecurity program and climate change plan
Examining the Vancouver Police Department’s “cost effectiveness” is among the audits the office of the auditor-general will undertake over the next three years. File photo Chung Chow

Monitoring the Vancouver Police Department’s performance, investigating the effectiveness of the city’s cybersecurity program and a look at how the city is adapting to climate change are on the new auditor general’s to-do list over the next three years.

Mike Macdonell finalized his office’s audit plan last week and it was posted to the independent agency’s website Jan. 28. City council nor city staff had final approval on areas to be reviewed by Macdonell, whose first day on the job was in September.

“I took a number of factors into account when preparing this plan including risks facing the city, the significance of programs, potential return on investment, concerns expressed by members of council, city managers and members of the public, and my office’s capacity,” Macdonell wrote in a preamble to his report.

“And while I have sought input, consistent with the independent nature of this office, ultimately the choice of audits remains entirely mine.”

Macdonell is still assembling his team and expects to have eight people in place by April.

'Demonstrate fiscal responsibility'

This year, his office is scheduled to audit the city’s purchases of office furnishings, the administration of building permit fees, lease agreements of properties with third parties and services the city receives from contractors.

The audit of the police department is scheduled to begin in 2023, with some details on scope of the investigation included in the plan. Macdonell noted the VPD represents more than 20 per cent of the city’s total $1.7 billion budget.

“This makes it particularly important that the police services demonstrate fiscal accountability and transparency,” he wrote. “This audit will examine the framework used to demonstrate the quality, adequacy and cost effectiveness of the Vancouver Police Department.”

Also scheduled for 2023 is a look at the city’s efforts to address climate change, which will most likely mean an examination of the city council-driven $500-million climate emergency action plan.  

“As a coastal city, Vancouver is on the front lines in dealing with the effects of climate change,” Macdonell said. “This audit will examine the city’s efforts to prepare and adapt to expected environmental changes.”

Mike Macdonell is Vancouver's first-ever auditor general. Photo courtesy City of Vancouver

The city’s cybersecurity program is on Macdonell’s agenda for 2024.

“Cybersecurity is often likened to an arms race between organizations constantly seeking to defend against unwanted digital intrusions and hackers continuously seeking ways around these defences,” he said, noting the audit will focus on whether the city’s program is effective in combatting such attacks.

Contacted Monday via email, Macdonell said there was nothing more he could say about specific projects identified in the plan.

“The projects identified represent a high-level expression of interest,” he said.

“Each audit will begin with the gathering of preliminary information, which will be used to refine and focus the audit scope. It would be inappropriate for me to comment further until that work has been done.”

Real estate and property development

Other areas of investigation include a review of the city’s risk management process, how the city and park board coordinate maintenance and other services between them, a look at the city’s new equity framework, the distribution of community grants and the city’s plan for its aging capital infrastructure.

Coun. Colleen Hardwick led council’s charge to get an independent auditor in place.

Reached Monday via email, Hardwick agreed an audit of the VPD’s budget made sense, considering it was one of the city’s larger areas of expense.

“I have interest in other areas that are not covered in this report, particularly in the area of real estate and property development,” she said, but noted Macdonell pointed out in his plan that his office will be responsive to changing priorities over time.

“That said, a key characteristic of the Office of the Auditor General is its independence. Council cannot direct the [office] as to what audit areas they pursue.”

The inclusion of a VPD audit comes after the department’s budget became a focus of city council in the 2021 and 2022 budget cycles.

For the first time in 16 years, the department ran a deficit in 2021.

VPD budget $341.5 million

The Vancouver Police Board, meanwhile, awaits a decision from B.C.’s director of police services on council’s decision not to fully fund almost $6 million of the VPD’s 2021 budget request.

Two months ago, council approved the VPD’s budget 2022 request and was obligated to add $15.7 million in arbitrated wage increases for officers, bringing the total gross dollar amount to $366.9 million, before expenditures.

Which means the VPD will operate this year with a net budget of $341.5 million.

Meanwhile, Macdonell didn’t say in his report or in his email which other programs or departments were contemplated for his three-year audit plan.

But he acknowledged there were more areas “I would like to look at than my team will have the capacity to examine in the period covered by this plan.”

“This plan is just the beginning,” he said. “I’ve spent the last four months putting in place the elements necessary for the City of Vancouver’s Office of the Auditor General to become operational, and am eager to see these efforts bear fruit.”

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