Greater Victoria’s domestic violence team has been forced to turn away six potentially serious cases of abuse in the last few months because of a staff shortage caused by Victoria Police Department cutbacks.
The regional unit, which brings together police, victims services and child support workers, acted on 24 cases between August 2012 and January 2013, after Victoria police removed one of two officers from the team, said Oak Bay Police Chief Mark Fisher, who chairs the unit’s steering committee.
That’s six fewer cases than they handled during the same time last year, he said. “We obviously have less staff and are able to take less referrals,” he said.
The six cases were returned to local police departments.
The 20 per cent reduction in cases for the Greater Victoria team comes as the provincial government recommends that regional domestic violence units be set up in other communities because of their successes in tackling the most serious cases.
“These units are a proven option for enhancing the criminal justice system response to domestic violence,” the B.C. Justice Ministry said Tuesday in a white paper on justice reform.
Representative for children and youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said the Victoria unit’s success has been undercut by the loss of the officer.
“That does worry me and I’m very concerned about the safety of victims as a result,” she said.
“For sure, take that example throughout the province, but at least here in Victoria, where we’ve had horrific and preventable homicides, keep a strong and fulsome unit in operation.”
Victims groups have said the specialized teams increase conviction rates because they make female and child victims feel safe enough to proceed through the court system to confront their attackers.
The capital region team was created in 2010, after a review of an Oak Bay murder-suicide.
Peter Lee killed his wife, Sunny Park, her parents and his six-year-old son Christian before taking his own life. In the weeks before the murders, Park had complained about domestic violence to three municipal police departments, but nobody was able to protect her.
Gaps in the system, where victims are bounced among police departments while fleeing dangerous relationships, prompted Victoria police to spearhead a cross-border team about two years ago.
But VicPD announced in September that it was removing an officer to handle a backlog in its own domestic violence cases. Critics called it a step backward.
Justice Minister Shirley Bond praised the specialized units this week but refused to pass judgment on Victoria’s move.
“VicPD made some operational decisions, and in their view they believe that there will still be an effective way to manage domestic violence calls. And I think that still is an operational decision, and I don’t get involved in those.”
The unit is now made up of a Victoria police sergeant, an investigator from Saanich police and an investigator from West Shore RCMP.
There’s been no offer from other police forces to make up the missing officer, Fisher said. “For the immediate future, we’re resigned to using what we have now.”
Victoria police recognize the importance of the regional domestic violence unit but also need the extra officer to handle other lower-risk files in Victoria, said Const. Mike Russell.
“There has to be a compromise where we’re able to get to those lower- and mid-level risk files before they become the high-level files that the regional domestic violence unit works on.”
© Copyright 2013